Verona, the older daughter, cried, “Oh, Dad, if you do, why don’t you get a sedan? That would be perfectly slick! A closed car is so much more comfy than an open one.”
“Well now, I don’t know about that. I kind of like an open car. You get more fresh air that way.”
“Oh, shoot, that’s just because you never tried a sedan. Let’s get one. It’s got a lot more class,” said Ted.
“A closed car does keep the clothes nicer,” from Mrs. Babbitt; “You don’t get your hair blown all to pieces,” from Verona; “It’s a lot sportier,” from Ted; and from Tinka, the youngest, “Oh, let’s have a sedan! Mary Ellen’s father has got one.” Ted wound up, “Oh, everybody’s got a closed car now, except us!”
Babbitt faced them: “I guess you got nothing very terrible to complain about! Anyway, I don’t keep a car just to enable you children to look like millionaires! And I like an open car, so you can put the top down on summer evenings and go out for a drive and get some good fresh air. Besides—A closed car costs more money.”
“Aw, gee whiz, if the Doppelbraus can afford a closed car, I guess we can!” prodded Ted.
“Humph! I make eight thousand a year to his seven! But I don’t blow it all in and waste it and throw it around, the way he does! Don’t believe in this business of going and spending a whole lot of money to show off and—”
They went, with ardor and some thoroughness, into the matters of streamline bodies, hill-climbing power, wire wheels, chrome steel, ignition systems, and body colors. It was much more than a study of transportation. It was an aspiration for knightly rank. In the city of Zenith, in the barbarous twentieth century, a family’s motor indicated its social rank as precisely as the grades of the peerage determined the rank of an English family—indeed, more precisely, considering the opinion of old county families upon newly created brewery barons and woolen-mill viscounts. The details of precedence were never officially determined. There was no court to decide whether the second son of a Pierce Arrow limousine should go in to dinner before the first son of a Buick roadster, but of their respective social importance there was no doubt; and where Babbitt as a boy had aspired to the presidency, his son Ted aspired to a Packard twin-six and an established position in the motored gentry.
The favor which Babbitt had won from his family by speaking of a new car evaporated as they realized that he didn’t intend to buy one this year. Ted lamented, “Oh, punk! The old boat looks as if it’d had fleas and been scratching its varnish off.” Mrs. Babbitt said abstractedly, “Snoway talkcher father.” Babbitt raged, “If you’re too much of a high-class gentleman, and you belong to the bon ton and so on, why, you needn’t take the car out this evening.” Ted explained, “I didn’t mean—” and dinner dragged on with normal domestic delight to the inevitable point at which Babbitt protested, “Come, come now, we can’t sit here all evening. Give the girl a chance to clear away the table.”