New York Boldfacers Get Behind the Wheel
by neal santelmann
illustrations by daniel o’leary
Though Collins acknowledges it’s tough to make generalizations, she believes driving style is always revealing. “It shows your character, your personality,” she says, adding, “Often very powerful women in the city end up absolutely powerless and dependent in this one area of life.”
One thing Collins cannot tolerate: “Aggression is for losers.”
Wait—did Collins just call New Yorkers losers? Perhaps not all of them, but certainly an unhealthy percentage. Anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of area drivers could be termed “aggressive” or “very aggressive,” notes Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for AAA New York, who is quick to point out that there are plenty of reasons for the city’s trademark driving style.
Beyond hordes of taxi and limo drivers rushing to squeeze as many fares as possible into a day, many of the city’s leading industries—finance, media, fashion— are populated with type A personalities who focus on their own needs behind the wheel. Advanced technologies like smartphones and onboard GPS create contemporary distractions light-years beyond dashboard radios. Vehicle repairs and maintenance resulting from poor roads frustrate NYC-area drivers to the tune of $640 a year on average, compared to a national average of $402 for urban motorists. And the New York region is prime selling ground for luxury carmakers such as Lamborghini, Lotus, Ferrari, and Porsche that design cars specifically to be driven very, very fast.
As for New York’s most powerful, who are seemingly well in control of their lives—how do they wrangle uncontrollable New York traffic? Like the cars they keep, their driving styles are all over the road. “Most people achieve success doing one thing or a set of things really well, but what does that say about other things?” ponders Philip Muskin, MD, head of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. “You may be master of the universe in the boardroom, but you get in a car and there are crazies out there who don’t care about red lights or going 100 miles per hour. I could see a CEO saying, ‘I don’t like driving in the city because I’m not in control of this world.’ It’s not a sign of not being confident, but a recognition of what they’re good at and not good at.”
“I feel very comfortable with Jonathan driving,” says society doyenne Somers Farkas of tooling around the city behind tinted windows in a Lincoln MKT with her husband, Jonathan, heir to the Alexander’s department store fortune and a former racecar driver himself. The couple employ a driver, but Jonathan drives in the city and both do elsewhere. “When we go to Long Island, Jonathan drives out and I drive back. But when we hit the city, I become very timid.” One fender bender can cause injuries, she explains, adding that overall she’d prefer to walk. “I always love the opportunity to exercise.”
While plenty of couples share driving like the Farkases do, others on the New York social scene decidedly do not split them down the middle. “My wife can’t drive at all,” admits Euan Rellie in good humor about life with fashion fixture Lucy Sykes Rellie. “There are times when I’d love to have a few drinks and have her drive home, but I can’t. So driving is one way to assert myself. Lucy can be quite assertive in many respects, so at least I have the wheel.”
Though as senior managing director of Business Development Asia, Rellie could doubtless meet payments on stylish wheels, he makes due with monthly rentals from Hertz—a style statement in itself. “I just returned my very glamorous Ford Escape, and now I have a Nissan Rogue,” he says with a laugh, content that he never fears parking on the street because Hertz, he says, doesn’t fuss over scratches. “Whatever the car, there aren’t many people who enjoy driving around the city as much as I do. There’s a certain sort of odd masculine pride in figuring out the most efficient way through traffic. I’m happy to ferry people anywhere.”
Driving pays pluses beyond friendship for shoe designer Frank Zambrelli, whose Banfi Zambrelli outfit recently developed lines for Hunter Boots and Dana Davis. Zambrelli’s driving style is all about family routine, starting each morning when he and husband George fetch their dark charcoal Mercedes-Benz 550 from a downtown garage to drive their five-year-old daughter, Gia, to kindergarten on the Upper West Side. “We’re Ozzie and Ozzie on the road, led by an almost suburban mentality,” says Zambrelli. “Frankly, the car is a way to treat the city as the place we live in spite of itself.”
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