The first time I went to Germany and saw BMW and Mercedes Benz taxis, it was a real eye-opener. I don’t mean the top-end, private chauffeur market. We’re talking route taxi. I once took a BMW taxi from Cologne to Bonn to pick up a visa for Ghana. I’d gone to a conference and decided to make a quick side trip to West Africa. I figured that since I was so far from home I might as well keep on travelling back to roots.
Of course, because Bimmers and Mercs are manufactured in Germany they don’t attract the same kind of blind worship there as they do on this side of the Atlantic. True, even in Germany the BMW brand is synonymous with exceptional luxury. But it is in the export market, particularly in economically impoverished countries like Jamaica, that a BMW becomes such a highly valued commodity that a man would kill for it.
On that score, I keep wondering why did it take so long for the name of the anonymous man to be released. Is this yet another example of the insightful jackass’ perception that ‘di world no level’? You can bet your last dollar that if a DJ had been driving that killer car his/her name would have been plastered all over the media as on a dancehall billboard. He or she would have been loudly declared a ‘person of interest.’
But, I suppose, if you drive an X6 in Jamaica you must have lots of money. And you can use it to buy privacy in a corrupt culture where many law enforcement agents appear to consider themselves above the law. The alleged killer immediately fled to the U.S. But how did he manage to get away so easily? Cynics fear that nothing will come of this case. But people of good conscience in this country must insist that justice prevail.
A driving obsession
The new association of the BMW brand with murder is an extension of the negative stereotypes the luxury vehicles attract. BMW must take much of the responsibility for the classist way in which the brand is perceived. When you define your car as ‘the ultimate driving machine’, you seductively invite your customers to think of themselves as the ultimate human being. And that’s where the problem starts.
Quite by accident, flipping channels, I ran into CNBC’s documentary on BMW which premiered last Wednesday evening. The subtitle for the programme, “A Driving Obsession,” is a lovely play on the word ‘driving’. The primary meaning seems to be an obsession with the pleasure of driving. But a more worrying interpretation seems to be that BMW is obsessively driven to produce the ultimate driving machine – beyond all reason.
The documentary takes viewers inside the BMW factory. Oops, dare one say ‘factory’? It’s more like a temple of totally obsessive materialism. The most absurd bit of information I picked up for the few minutes I watched is that ‘classically’ trained musicians are employed to produce just the right notes for the sounds the BMW makes to signal various functions.
And talking of ‘classical’ music, I was most amused to discover that the Nexus chorale has done a remix of Mr. Clifton Brown’s serendipitous composition, “Nobody Canna Cross It”. The inventive arranger has transposed DJ Powa’s pop mix into an ‘upscale’ fine art key. It is pure theatre:
The much celebrated Mr. Brown made his debut as a performer at
Reggae Sumfest. Despite his earlier reservations about being exploited, he now appears to be enjoying his celebrity ride. Unfortunately, he wasn’t so good at riding di riddim. But he did sound like a powerful fundamentalist preacher. Perhaps he should stick to the church and not get tempted into the dancehall:
BMW also owns the Mini and Rolls Royce brands. I turned off the TV when it was reported that a Rolls Royce customer wanted his car to be custom-coloured to match his dog. I couldn’t stomach it. Too many people in this world have more cents than sense, as my friend Leahcim Semaj puts it.
‘Bad mind and grudgeful’
Just in case it’s assumed that ‘is bad mind and grudgeful’ that’s motivating my critique of the material excesses of the BMW brand, I must admit that I do drive a BMW. But, for me, it’s just a car. It’s not the ultimate anything. And I routinely provide taxi service. I just can’t pass people trekking up or down the hill and not offer them a ride. Most are happy to get off their feet after a hard day’s work. And my payment is lots of ‘God bless yous.’
In assessing potential passengers, I try not to discriminate against young men on principle. I think it most unfortunate that we tend to criminalise working class youth, most of whom do not fit the stereotype of predator. The young men who come to work in my neigbourhood are mostly gardeners, plumbers, electricians, masons, painters and the occasional security guard. They are decent youth struggling to make a living in a society that doesn’t adequately reward honest labour.
I must confess that I did have a rather unusual experience once that made me suspend my taxi service for a while. One Sunday morning bright and early, as I was heading out to church for a christening, I stopped to give a ride to a young man I thought I recognised. As soon as he got in the car, he pulled out a gun in an entirely non-threatening manner.
With great glee, my passenger, who was a security guard, explained that he had just gotten the licence to carry a gun and this would now greatly increase his prospects of getting a better-paid job. I cautiously asked if he wasn’t tempted to use the gun for crime and he assured me that ‘im deh pon di level.’
In retrospect, I realise that it could have gone quite differently. The guard could have turned the gun on me. And my BMW couldn’t have saved me from the evils of the human heart. There are limits to what the ultimate driving machine can do.