Water toys of the wealthy

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, April 8, 2009, at 5:29 pm

I boarded a $1.6 million boat a couple of weeks ago and it felt really good. Sitting in the air-conditioned lounge area, I was reminded that this boat sells for more than most people's lifetime earnings. The 24th annual Palm Beach International Boat Show sailed into West Palm Beach, Fla., the last weekend in March, and I was there for my first look at the water toys of the wealthy. More than 1,000 boats valued at more than $350 million were on display along Flagler Drive and the Intracoastal Waterway.

I was socializing with a group of 20 and 30-somethings who have the capital to drop $2 million on recreational boats. The ethos among those in my age demographic seemed to be this: Do whatever it takes to get people together, have the most fun possible, and do it with the best toys. It was truly one of the few times in my life where I was absolutely speechless in conversation. I was completely out of my element.

During lunch with my wealthier peers I mentioned what "I did." I tried to avoid it but soon I was asked, "So Anthony, what do you do?" The sighs of "Ahhh, isn't that cute?" I received after confessing my vocation made me wonder if I said that I was teaching kindergarten. I was also racking my brain trying to figure out how one of my new best friends in his late 20s could afford to scout million dollar boats as a "first boat" because he didn't "want to get too carried away." I sat there and chuckled, saying, "Yeah, I know what you mean."

From what I could tell, plastic surgeons in South Florida must be very, very busy. If collagen were illegal, the police would have needed several buses to remove all the Barbies prancing around in Versace sunglasses and Hermès handbags. I also got the sense that this is a community of people where marriages do not last very long. Or, maybe I simply witnessed a culture where fathers like hanging out with their daughters? At any rate, this is where the beautiful people hang out.

I should have known it was going to be an interesting day when the closest marina parking lot was packed not with middle-class and "new money" cars like Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes Benzes but cars driven by rich people like Porsches, Rolls-Royces, Lamborghinis, and Maseratis. Overall I felt like I was on the set of the 2002 reality TV show Single in the Hamptons.

Many of these people were beyond coveting. One of my friends spoke of people down there not thinking twice about dropping $1,000 to $2,000 per night hanging with friends on the weekends at bars and restaurants. Near the end of my weekend I decided that it is good that I don't live there. I couldn't afford it now, and if I was wealthy, I'm afraid the toys might seduce me.

I'm oddly thankful for my negative net worth of $52,000 with my $72,000 school loan constraints. It certainly forces me to keep life simple and makes a community like this only one that I can visit for a few hours a year.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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