Let Me Upgrade You?

I know times are rough, but sometimes, it's just time.

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Kyle had just purchased a fresh pearl white Lexus coupe for his birthday. He said he'd rock it for a year or two, then trade it in.

"Oh, it's a lease," I assumed.

"No," Kyle replied.

"Two years…you're not going to have it paid off by then, will you?"

"I'll probably never pay off a car. If I've had it four or five years, I've had it too long."

I bristled at his decadence. The nerve of trading in a perfectly good vehicle just because you're ready for a new one—preposterous! How wastefully indulgent!

At the time of this conversation, I was a loyal fan of my worn, rain-damaged, non-air-conditioned, don't-let-the-back-windows-down 1994 Honda Civic, affectionately known as "Babygirl," bought used when I was in high school. The navy blue champion had traversed more than 150,000 miles of asphalt and showed every scratch, dent and ding of it. So, as a member of the "Ride-it-'til-the-wheels-fall-off" cartel, I could not relate to the lavishness of Kyle's idea of trading in his brand new Lexus after a mere two years.

But as my mom used to admonish, "Keep sayin' good morning." So I left it alone. About a year later, Babygirl's chronic sputtering signaled that it was time for well-deserved retirement. I purchased a brand new jet black Nissan Altima, so fresh that it still sported factory papers on the hood, fenders and trunk. The sexy beast's odometer displayed a cool six miles.

The roads felt buttered as I glided home that night, new car smell titillating my nostrils. I recalled the conversation with Kyle, and suddenly it all did not seem so far-fetched.

What's so bad about upgrading? Hadn't I earned the right?

I had a similar epiphany when I stopped by an out-of-town acquaintance's hotel room recently. I paused in the doorway; the carpet was damp, the art was tacky and the room smelled of mildew. Wow, I thought. It's been a minute since I've been in a hotel room that opens directly to the parking lot.

Some of my earliest trips as a child were to Disney World, when as many as seven family members mashed into the same sort of economy rooms that strike me as foreign now. So somewhere along the way, I upgraded.

They say once you've had filet mignon, it's hard to go back to Hamburger Helper. For some, it's elevating from an old school TV set to HD, upper level to courtside, Wal-Mart to Whole Foods, coach to first class.

But are we sometimes better off in the unknown? Ignorance is not only blissful, it's often cheaper. After all, upgrades come with strings attached, usually dollar signs. Other times, drama—mo' money, mo' problems.

Jay-Z, who seems to be in a constant struggle with his rags-to-riches existence, explains it like this in "Success" from the American Gangster album: "What do I think of success? It sucks, too much stress. [...] I use to give a sh--, now I don't give a sh-- more. Truth be told, I had more fun when I was piss poor."

And often, there can be a fair amount of discomfort associated with the embrace of of these elevated tastes; When Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit, they were no longer down with chillin' in the buff. It's exposure to people, places and experiences outside the norm that may render the customs and habits of old less satisfying.

The upgrade also means saying peace to defining elements of your past. It's moving into a house and missing the convenience of an apartment, or striking out on your own and yearning for the company and cahoots of family or roommates. Progression can be bittersweet.

For me, realizing all the ways in which I had upgraded my tastes, my life, my identity over the years was a bit disturbing. It was like, my preferences changed, and I didn't get the memo. What happened to the down-for-whatever me? Is she bourgeois now? Stuck up?

Not at all..Sure, I have developed a taste for top-shelf spirits. I like getting my eyebrows threaded instead of plucking them myself, and I will happily pay for decent hotel accommodations. But when my $10 purse was stolen, I went out and bought another $10 purse. I'm okay with most store-brand groceries. I'm loyal to my $9 L'Oreal foundation. As a java junkie, I actually prefer Burger King's coffee to Starbucks. And these days, I'm so glad the Altima takes plain ol' regular gas!

Who knows, maybe this time next year I'll trade in my '07 for an '09, just for the heck of it?

But it's too early to tell.

Faith Maginley is a freelance writer and journalist in Central Florida.

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