1. Socio-Economic status
I know you are supposed to be anything you can be here in America, but Economically I have always been a Middle-Class person. Even when I was a kid and my family was broke and it was just my mom as the breadwinner, we were Middle-Class, and I think if we could have embraced being Lower-Class, it would have been cheaper, because when you are Middle-Class and you’re slipping, and you think you’re doing the right thing by not getting Government Assistance, you end up doing a bunch of stupid money stuff like borrowing, and credit cards, to stay Middle-Class, while you are actually broke enough to be Lower-Class, and the borrowing and the credit cards make you even more broke, does that make sense? But anyway, I have a Middle-Class Sensibility; my ideas of what are High-Class and Aspirational are shaped by my Economic Life.
Like the Cadillac automobile, for instance. In my youth this was the Aspirational car, the car you got to reward yourself and prove to the world that you were High Class, and sure, if you dig cars, some Cadillacs are pretty amazing examples of Detroit’s greatest moments in bending sheets of steel into Baroque ornamentation, but the Cadillac was an overpriced car for suckers, expensive to operate and maintain, especially if you are in a Middle-Class lifestyle thinking you’re High Class. The Cadillac will try and keep you out of High Class.
2. What is the Experience
OK, since I am Middle Class, beyond maybe wanting to look at Art Deco buildings, I have been conditioned to think places like Miami’s South Beach are places which I should aspire to visit, and I am a regular visitor to other spots in Florida for the sunny beaches, but also to certain spots for what I think is the High-Class Experience: fancy hotels and expensive restaurants and bars, where I can sit around and think I’m High Class, or at least having the High-Class Experience.
One of the things you do here in Miami is go to the beach in front of your hotel, where they have a stock of beach chairs and umbrellas, and because you are at the not-inexpensive hotel, you of course are entitled to “complimentary” beach chairs, but if you want an umbrella to protect yourself from the sun’s rays while you are enjoying the salubrious ocean breezes, you gotta dig down for an extra $15, and because you figure the person who is leading you to your complimentary beach chairs is not doing this for their health, you tip them for professionally driving that umbrella stake into the sand and angling it correctly against the sun.
So I haven’t even dipped a toe in the Atlantic yet and I’m down $20 for the setup, but we are on a High-Class Experience vacation, and we are on the beach, and now it’s time for some refreshing day-drinking. According to a guy who is at one of the stands where you can get a sandwich but not an alco-beverage, the way this works that there is no vending allowed of alcohol on the beach proper, so instead of having people walk around with unsold drinks to offer customers, each hotel has a person walking around taking drink orders, and then that person walks back to the hotel and picks up the now-already-sold drinks and brings them back out to the beach to fulfill the orders. Beers—in this case, four servings of Corona Extra—were $9 a can, but since we bought enough to fill a plastic bucket with ice and cans (which they delivered with a little plastic table to set it on, plus cups), we got a deal for $8 per serving, and it immediately occurred to me (still smarting from the $15 umbrella experience) I coulda went across the street from the hotel to the I [HEART] LIQUOR store and scored a much better deal.
Later on, I checked. That single 12-oz. can of Corona Extra delivered to my beach chair is 8 or 9 bucks, before tax, plus gratuity. A single can of Corona Extra at I [HEART] LIQUOR is $2.99 before tax, still ridiculously high, but nevertheless way cheaper than on the beach, and a sixer of Corona Extra is $9.99 before tax, so roughly $1.67 per 12-oz. dose.
3. What is the Lesson
If consumption were just a matter of spending this or that amount of money to buy the same amount of stuff, the lesson would be to ignore the beach waiters and hit the liquor store for a relative bargain. But Middle-Class financial decisions are about behavior. The lesson for me is it was well and good that my High-Class hotel beachside beer cost me eight bucks a pop, because it changed my behavior. Working through the service and support staff, I drank four beers over a six-hour beach session. That’s two fewer beers than I’d have consumed by “pacing myself” at one beer per hour, and easily four to six fewer than I would have consumed knocking back $1.67-a-can (before tax) Coronas. I leave the beach still feeling fresh for dinner, without any gathering hangover and without having blown money on drunken overtipping, which the alcohol-fuzzed Middle-Class person always mistakes for the High-Class thing to do. However, I’m still pissed about the umbrella hustle.