the power of the dark side

The Dark Side

In America I was never really one for luxury cars. Not that I could ever afford one, but I never even dreamed of owning one. Never wanted to. Luxury car in the US means a big, bulky SUV that annoys me more than it impresses me. Cadillac Escalades, Ford Excursions, Mercedes M-class, Cayenne, Humvees, I used to see all of them as a form of overcompensation for deficiencies in their drivers’ character and personality. I was satisfied driving in my fuel efficient, small, toyota.

Then I moved to Croatia and for the first time felt the power of the dark side.

There is a power emanating from Croatia’s Holy Trinity of automobiles: The black Mercedes, black BMW and black Audi. While in America these cars may reflect prestige, they do not surround themselves with the same aura of enigmatic dominance as they do in Croatia. Here it is a strange force coming from these cars, both terrifying and alluring at the same time. A power that says beware and in the same breath, behold.

In front of my Zagreb apartment the black BMW parked crookedly across three parking spaces, abutting a spot for invalids, gives me the same feeling of apprehension as a proud black panther waiting to pounce. I know the car is in the wrong. The car knows it is in the wrong. It knows I know, and it silently dares me, in a low and ominous growl, to do something about it. I don’t. I won’t. No one will. Such is the power of the dark side.

If that same car was a Yugo (OK, it couldn’t take up three spaces) or a Hyundai you might be tempted to say something. If you saw the driver you might suggest that they not park like that, that they be respectful of invalids and other drivers. If you don’t say anything, well at least with these lesser cars you feel like you could. They do not command the silent obedience as the mysterious Holy three.

Walking past the Mercedes sedan parked on the sidewalk I feel like Luke Skywalker at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. The car beckons to me like Darth Vader. In a deep, sonorous voice it temps me to join the Dark Side.

Just look at how this car breaks the rules with careless abandon, obstructing half the sidewalk with impunity. Its value is nearly 30 times what the average person in Croatia makes a year. To me it says the person driving this car is important. It is someone who may very well be above and beyond the law. In any case, the driver certainly lives out of the bounds of my mortal world.

In the US, rightly or wrongly, we still live under the impression that anyone who works hard enough can afford a luxury car. In America wealth is not yet a mystery. In Croatia, however, no such illusion exists. Rather, wealth is shrouded in impossibility. I cannot understand how someone in Croatia affords a BMW (Mercedes or Audi) and to me this is the source of theses cars’ mystique and power. Of course not everyone who drives a German luxury car is a scoundrel or a rogue. Yet, in Croatia these vehicles are more than mere symbols of success. They are symbols of someone who has defeated an impossible system, used the system, and dominated the system to their advantage while the rest of us just putter along in the distance. In a society where our lives appear to be increasingly subject to vindictive and arbitrary forces, unresponsive bureaucracy and indifferent politicians, the black BMW is a symbol of dark triumph.

What makes the gods divine is the unrevealed source of their power. We cannot fully understand why the gods are more powerful than us. Nor can we comprehend the full extent of that power. Though the origins of the Holy German automobiles’ symbolic strength may be part of the very forces we hate (unfair advantage, better connections, crony capitalism), just like the gods we curse, the Promethean part of us would give anything to be one of the divine. If we only knew how. If only we knew the power of the dark side.