Various wise men have, over the years,, reminded us that in America, where no inherited aristocracy ever existed and where we’re all supposed to be equal, people will persistently seek advantages and privileges so as to distinguish themselves from the rest. Knowing this, those catering to the public seek to capitalize on this urge for exclusivity, differentiation and distinction.
I was reminded of this the other day when a friend spoke of a ferry trip recently undertaken along the coasts of New York and Connecticut. The ferry company requested that passengers and their cars be at the dock an hour before departure. Unwilling to wait around he inquired whether another category of reservation was available. Sure enough, by paying a premium price he could arrive later and what’s more proceed to the front of the line of cars, so positioned that he could, upon docking, immediately drive off the ferry. He proudly displayed a picture he’d taken of his car’s forward position at the boat’s bow.
Advantaged people are everywhere. First class passengers on airplanes have long been treated to superior accommodations and service. Even before boarding they’ve been able to wait most comfortably in airline VIP lounges prior to take-off and, for an annual fee, been entitled to avoid the inconvenience and indignities of the security lines.
“Membership has its privileges,” proclaim our credit card companies, which accordingly offer a somewhat bewildering deck of cards of various colorations (platinum, gold, silver, etc.) that enable bearers to select from a wide variety of special services and opportunities. The banks have followed suit by encouraging well-heeled depositors to sign up for special treatment whether it involves free checking, waiver of fees, overdraft immunity or the attentions of “personal” bankers.
The list goes on and would include those so favored as to be able to avoid rope lines and enter a “hot” night spot directly; to those purchasing same-day preferred seating to a sold-out Broadway hit show. Then there are those able to command highly desirable tables at chic restaurants, get “comped” at plush gambling hotels or get seated comfortably at exclusive sky boxes above the crowds at major sporting events.
The top one percent are automatically privileged given their enormous wealth and unquestioned influence, but that doesn’t stop strivers within the remaining 99% from scrambling for advantages, ever eager to rise above the common herd.