Ad Nauseam: “In New York, I Can’t Get Anything Done Without a Car”

Meet Erin Walsh, Manhattan fashion stylist. In a video series, Vogue follows Walsh around New York as she visits celebrity clients preparing for a gala. And because the videos are sponsored by Cadillac, they relay an important message: Walsh could not function if she weren’t being driven around the city in a large Cadillac SUV.

“I think in terms of working in a city like New York, especially in New York, I can’t get anything done without a car,” Walsh says shortly before the 30-second mark, as the video shows her typing and texting in the back seat. “I might be in the car with my computer prepping for another job while we’re en route to the next one.”

Her SUV, which the videos miraculously never show stuck in traffic, also shields her from the hustle and bustle of the city — you know, other people. “My work demands as much and as many moments of concentration as you can allot. You need that quiet amidst the chaos,” Walsh explains.

But the chauffer-driven car offers more than just a stress-free work space. Walsh gets her inspiration by looking out her car window at pedestrians. “Even between appointments, my eyes and my ears are always open because you’ll see the way a certain woman walks down the street and the way she carries her handbag,” she says over gauzy shots out the window.

It looks like Veronica Moss has found her stylist.
  • Guest

    I think it’s fine to say that you can’t get anything done without a car in New York. That may be true for a lot of people. But if driving is so essential to your livelihood then you ought to be willing to pay a congestion charge of $8 or $10 to get around the CBD.

    A fashion stylist in a chauffeur-driven luxury SUV doesn’t exactly scream “hardscrabble, working-class, real New Yorker.”

  • Mark Walker

    The car-as-social-promotion meme has never looked more ludicrous. A peasant who buys an SUV becomes a peasant in an SUV. And there’s no glory in having a chauffeur. Every subway, bus, and taxi rider has a one of those.

  • SGreenberg
  • I have absolutely no problem with this. Moral judgments aside, this woman is clearly paid a lot of money, so somebody puts a very high value on what she does. In that case, it makes perfect sense that she try to get as much work done as possible en route and spend as little time as possible jostling for space on a busy subway/bus/sidewalk. In all likelihood, this is and always will be best accomplished by a chauffer-driven car.

    In fact, Walsh and others like her should support our causes, since better transit and cycling infrastructure = fewer people on the road = a faster ride for those who really need/want/can afford it. As one commenter already noted, she should easily be able to afford a nominal congestion charge, and since that congestion charge will get even more cars off the road, it will further speed her trips. Frankly, the driven elite should be our allies. It is the suburban upper middle class who insists on driving when transit options are available that must be incentivized to switch modes.

  • Daniel Winks

    No, a peasant who buys an SUV becomes a starving peasant who can’t afford food. There’s so many things better in life to spend money on (or save, so you can retire earlier) than a car.

  • Anonymous

    Well, that settles it. As a nation, WE CANNOT AFFORD A STYLE GAP with Moscow. Our elite must look its finest, its fiercest!

    Fit Walsh’s SUV with lights and sirens!

  • Joe R.

    If getting around by car is so important to her, perhaps she shouldn’t be working in NYC. And in these days of video conferencing and internet connectivity, there is less and less need to meet with clients on a regular basis. People still use that as an excuse to go driving and jetting around unfortunately. I really wish someone in power would start evaluating businesses from a overall perspective. Frequently I hear people justifying driving around constantly by saying the city needs the business activity. Well, what are the negative externalities of that? If a business costs the city more due to negative externalities than it gives the city in tax revenue, I submit that business is better off not existing. I’m really tired of this “all business is good and we serfs have to accept the negative consequences of it” mentality. All businesses aren’t equal. I’d much rather have a bike shop or a grocery store than a gas station or a parking garage. The latter two probably cost the city money when all is said and done.

  • Wouldn’t we all just be better off if she were allowed to go on doing her business but were made to pay some of the costs of the negative externalities via a congestion charge? I think you are way off the mark regarding video conferencing and internet connectivity. In this highly connected age, the value of a face-to-face meeting is greater than ever, and that is exactly why NYC and other large cities are booming while secondary cities are struggling. Why not let her drive around NYC, but just ask her to pay the full cost?

  • Joe R.

    At least if she had to pay a congestion change it would partially offset the negative externalities of all this driving. I question though why people who drive a lot of short hops in the city like this can’t use electric vehicles. Maybe she really does need to drive around to make her rounds, but why must it be in a gas guzzler?

  • Joe R.

    That’s nice in theory but I’ll bet people like her would be the most vocal ones opposing congestion charges even though she would benefit enormously from them. And as I said above, even if she must drive, why can’t it be in something like a Nissan Leaf instead of a big gas guzzling SUV? The Leaf actually makes more sense on streets where you’re rarely able to go faster than about 40 mph.

  • EVs are not that much more environmentally friendly when considering the higher cost of manufacture and the emissions generated by electricity production. And she needs a big car because she needs to be able to work on her laptop in the back seat, what is wrong with that?

  • Joe R.

    So make larger EVs. And even if EVs overall aren’t much more environmentally friendly, they have one big plus-they don’t dump their pollution right in the heart of population centers. They also make less noise pollution. Now that we’re into warmer weather, I literally can’t go out before the sun sets because of the air pollution. It would be nice if that wasn’t so. Air pollution from vehicles kills about ten times as many people annually as crashes. That’s over 300,000 annual deaths in the US from vehicle pollution. Certainly it makes sense to use vehicles which don’t pollute population centers.

  • Lol. Some people will always be willfully unwilling to do anything but drive. And those people will pay dearly for it, in terms of money, health, time, and well-being.

  • A valid point, but the fact is these don’t exist yet, or they are much more expensive, so in the meantime, let’s not hate on people responding rationally to the system as it exists today. Let’s try to change the system.

  • Jared R

    Political difficulties aside, I agree with Tal. We need to be honest with ourselves over the costs of congestion, road maintenance, etc. She needs to be held accountable for her impact on NYC.

  • Jared R

    I completely agree.

  • Joe R.

    “Much more expensive” in this case is moot. It sounds like she’s doing quite well and could easily afford to have her Cadillac SUV retrofitted. It might even be a good selling point for her business because quite a few celebrities are environmentally conscious. I’m also sure she probably doesn’t even think about any of the things we’re discussing, so perhaps it’s up to us her at Streetsblog to at least make people like her aware that other, better options to conduct their business exist.

    I’m all for changing the system. Unfortunately, thanks to the influence of suburban constituents it may be a long time before we pass a congestion tax. In truth, I’d much rather keep out the suburban auto commuters than stop people like her from driving around, but without a congestion tax that’s not happening.

  • Jared R

    Funny, her tune would completely change if she actually had to drive and wasn’t driven. Of course the driven elite are going to continue to be driven. It is amazing when you can sprawl out on a big backseat with your laptop and work in an air conditioned space.

    Robert Caro made a number of references to the fact that Robert Moses never had to feel the impact of his highway building or else he may have made different decisions and pushed for different projects. He was part of the driven elite and rarely drove himself. He rarely experienced the anxiety of sitting in traffic. He believed riding in a car was incredibly productive. Cars are only productive when you are the driven elite.

  • Joe R.

    Additionally, Robert Moses may have felt differently if he had to walk or bike around. People who are driven everywhere only see the benefits of this to themselves. If they rarely walk they never see the negatives of so much traffic or air pollution. I’m all for people being able to set up their life to be as convenient as possible, but their right to do that ends when it interferes with the health of others. Overuse of automobiles needs to be looked at as a health problem. Perhaps if we did that, the “cure” would be more politically palatable.

  • Joe R.

    Putting aside for a moment being judgmental about her, how on Earth can she even use a computer or do much of anything in a moving car? I get physically ill trying to read in a car or bus after 30 seconds. I couldn’t imagine using a laptop computer in the back seat of an SUV driving on the lunar landscape which passes for NYC streets. I can’t imagine I’m the only one with this problem, either. In fact, what I experience is actually relatively common based on my research (and here’s an explanation of why it happens: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-does-reading-in-a-mov ). Even people who don’t normally get car sick will get nauseous if they try to read in a car. The only vehicle I can be productive on is a train. Maybe she’s among the minority who can read in a car, but of course that’s never mentioned in the video. Hey, get driven around in a Cadillac and be productive! At least in between the times you’re puking your brains out.

  • Bolwerk

    It’s a common problem, but it doesn’t affect everyone. I can read or play with the Internet comfortably on the bus. Most of the productivity problems for me are moving vehicles besides conventional passenger trains are just too cramped, crowded, or busy. Short of business class, planes aren’t even that great.

  • Bolwerk

    At least operating an EV is only about as dirty as the fuel source. And fuel sources can be very clean.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Even between appointments, my eyes and my ears are always open because you’ll see the way a certain woman walks down the street and the way she carries her handbag.”

    It’s like we’re in a zoo. At least its the modern, real habitat variety.

  • Joe R.

    Not to mention how superficial this all is. Clothing and bags are there to serve a functional purpose. Somewhere along the line we started thinking people are “better” because they wear designer clothing.

  • Joe R.

    Not to mention how superficial this all is. Clothing and bags are there to serve a functional purpose. Somewhere along the line we started thinking people are “better” because they wear designer clothing.

  • Joe R.

    Not to mention how superficial this all is. Clothing and bags are there to serve a functional purpose. Somewhere along the line we started thinking people are “better” because they wear designer clothing.

  • Joe R.

    Not to mention how superficial this all is. Clothing and bags are there to serve a functional purpose. Somewhere along the line we started thinking people are “better” because they wear designer clothing.

  • Jules Verne

    – Mr Fogg, this island city looks like a zoo. How are we to cross it?
    – My dear, Passepartout! This Manhattan looks rather a jungle. But we travel in style nonetheless. We shall use one of these self moving carriages. 80 minutes and we are on the banks of East River.
    – Master, how about these steely ringing horses?
    – Savages. The man beside the our driver posesses a shotgun. The carriage is armoured.
    – Master, it looks primal, yes, but also fun….
    – Remember you are a Christian! Beside, a true noble person wears a helmet and an armour while riding. Come now, we should not be distracted by their pagan ways. We are civilized men, not children. The carriage will give us intimacy to plan our journey….

  • Anonymous

    Until I stopped driving I could never read in the car. Now I can read on the bus or train with no issues. Just takes some getting used to.

  • Nate Briggs

    Just what Dorothy Rabinowitz is talking about. New York City should be a place of capitalist display: people who only travel in stretch limos, or the black executive cars (which reminded us of congregations of enormous cockroaches while we were there). Bringing in the Bikeshare stations means turning the city over to the Reds. Might as well have everyone wearing Mao jackets.

  • Rabi Abonour

    This is exactly the kind of position that makes mass transit look bad. Making the argument that she could potentially live with public transit or a more fuel-efficient car is one thing, but to criticize her business is another. To imply that she only meets with clients to justify driving around the city is a ridiculous strawman. She meets clients because that’s how her business works, and you aren’t the one who gets to decide that her business is bad and a bike shop is good (and I say this as a commuter cyclist). The concept of an “essential” business is arbitrary and egotistic.

  • Joe R.

    Try rereading my post. I mentioned that businesses should be evaluated in their entirety, including any negative effects they have which cost municipalities money. I personally don’t care about the nature of her business or any other business. I do care though if any given business costs the city more in services than it gives back in taxes. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but I do know that motor vehicle use has heavy negative externalities. If a business using motor vehicles is willing to pay for those externalities, then I have no objection. I do strongly object to the mantra that all business is good and should be encouraged because that’s not true. Do you really think the city should be engaging in corporate welfare because that’s what it is if a business costs considerably more in services than it gives in tax revenue. Again, I’m not saying that’s the case here. In fact, it probably isn’t because she and her clients likely have large incomes and pay lots of taxes, far more than her motor vehicle use is costing here. However, that’s not so for other types of businesses. For example, I bet many types of businesses involving motor vehicles cost the city more than they give in taxes. Those are the businesses which are better off not existing.

  • Joe R.

    I never had any problem reading on trains, even the subway. I can’t read in buses and cars at all unless they’re on the highway at a steady speed. Any rapid changes in speed or bumps while trying to read make me nauseous. As a general rule, rail vehicles tend to bump around less, and have far lower acceleration rates than road vehicles.

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