• Stephanie Wallcraft

The world is getting angrier, and now it's being directed at our cars

A Wheels writer shares her first-hand experience with feeling threatened over a vehicle

Stephanie Wallcraft By: Stephanie Wallcraft October 5, 2021

I’ve been getting away with writing about cars for a living for almost a decade now, and I recently reached a new milestone: for the first time, I experienced an incident that made me feel genuinely threatened while doing my job.

To explain what happened, I need to get a little inside-baseball about how automotive journalism works. It’s different elsewhere, but here in Toronto we automotive reviewers usually pick up a test vehicle at an automaker’s head office on a Monday, drive it for a week, drop it off on the following Monday, then head off to pick up the next one. Most of us use our own cars for those in-between trips, which we drive for less than an hour a week on average. The rest of the time, the vehicles we’re driving are the property of the automakers, loaned to us for objective professional evaluation.

Two weeks ago, I was driving a 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS – the vehicle itself is only mildly consequential, but more on that in a minute – when I stopped at my local bank for a quick errand. My part of the city isn’t what anyone would call a rough part of town, but it’s also hardly a bastion of privilege. And this Cayenne was in no way attempting to be understated: it was bright red with 22-inch wheels and enormous centre-mounted gloss black exhaust tips. It was designed to attract attention, and it did, of both the wanted and unwanted varieties.

cayenne GTS

(That said, Porsche is hardly the only automaker building vehicles with this intent, and this commentary shouldn’t be taken as being directed at Porsche specifically. I could have ended up in this situation with any similarly equipped high-end SUV.)

Anyway, the Cayenne looked out of place in its surroundings, to be sure. Still, I visit this bank regularly, and I didn’t think twice about leaving the car outside while I went in to see a teller.

When I came out to leave, I was shocked to find a passer-by had left me a message: a large, all-caps, angry-looking four-letter expletive starting with the letter F—, scrawled in an unidentified liquid on the pavement and followed by the word YOU, greeted me as I approached the driver’s side door.

I don’t think the person who did this connected me with the vehicle in any way. Regardless, I’m a woman and I was alone, so the idea there might be an aggressor nearby put me instantly on edge. I jumped into the Cayenne, immediately locked the doors, and high-tailed it out of there. I left so quickly that I forgot to snap a photo, which is just as well since we couldn’t have run it anyway.

Once I started to gather my thoughts about this incident, I realized I have a lot of them.

Whether this person’s anger was directed at the blatant display of privilege, clear disregard for climate change concerns, or something else, I can’t say. And judging people for the cars they drive is nothing new, of course. It doesn’t help that a study released early in 2020 shows some of our prejudices may be founded.

But there’s also that old saying about what happens when we assume, and this situation brings that to mind. Whoever created these profanities was making presumptions about who I am based on the car I was driving at that moment. That person couldn’t have known that I felt self-conscious behind the wheel of it more than once, or that I’m acutely concerned about climate change and my once-a-week vehicle is an eight-year-old hybrid, or that this targeting put me through reliving some deeply personal trauma.

Granted, that I’d be driving such a vehicle without owning it is unusual. But that’s precisely why it’s not right that these snap judgments were made in the first place. It shows a tragic lack of empathy, and it serves as a glaring reminder of just how angry and isolated so many of us have become.

Whatever this person’s beef is with the car, it’s not worth making another human feel frightened or threatened over. Mental health is a much bigger issue than cars, but the fact that the topic has made it to these pages illustrates just how widespread this issue is in today’s world. In this age of rapid-fire, internet-fueled angry discourse, too many of us are too quick to react and to judge others superficially.

I was raised to treat every person around me as I would want to be treated, even those who may not be right in front of me at a given moment. So, if this article happens to fall into the perpetrator’s hands: I see you, I forgive you, and I hope you’re able to find help with managing your anger and recovering your compassion.

Please, let’s all try to remember that whatever situation we may find ourselves in, we never know what the people around us are living. We all could stand to benefit from approaching the world around us with open hearts and open minds — about the cars we drive, and a great deal more.