This is my old car, “Karen.”
Karen’s a/c didn’t work, so she had to be retired. We “sent her away to a farm” where she could run and play and blow hot air out of her vents in 100 degree weather all day long.
On The Fourth of July we did what JFK told us was the most patriotic thing we could do: we shopped. I don’t usually pay attention to car ads barking at me about ZERO DOWN! and ZERO PERCENT INTEREST! But I did spend enough of my formative years in front of the television to know that “Independence Day” is just the prefix for “Sale.”
Really it was Lewis’s idea, after picking me up from the gym. I would never have tried to negotiate interest rates and down payments in my sweaty gym clothes, but I have learned that when Lewis gets the wild hair to spontaneously spend money, I’d better hop right on that, regardless of how I smell.
The distinct disadvantage was that I felt like anyone liberal enough to be nice to me looking like a vagrant the way I did, deserved to make a sale. I wanted to buy a car as a way of saying, “Thank you for not laughing at me.”
The day was fairly uneventful from a car-buying standpoint. We test drove three vehicles. Purchased one. Traded in Karen for beans (more beans than she may be worth, however). Pretty efficient day of shopping, really.
But along the way we heard two stories that together convinced us that car salesmen might have a more interesting job than most us.
As we were getting into the Prius V, we asked how often people wreck the cars when they take them out for a test drive.
“You’d be surprised how rarely that happens,” our 30-something salesman replied.
“Have you ever seen anyone try to steal one?”
“Not really,” he said. I was thinking that the conversation was a dud, and that we would have to make halting holiday-based conversation (“Any plans for the fourth?” “Well…we’re buying a car…you?” “I’m at work…”).
But then he continued.
“But I did have a guy try to carjack me once on a test drive.”
Suddenly I thought about it. This guy gets in the car with strangers every day. Strangers who have wandered in knowing full well that there are hundreds of brand new cars available for joyriding. All they have to do is ask.
But even if people do have honest intentions, they might be hazardous. Salesmen have to pull out onto busy access roads with grandmas behind the wheel. Or slam to a stop 2 feet from the tailgate of the giant truck when a 16 year old finally applies the brakes at a red light. Bickering couples. Distracted parents. Dudes trying to impress their girlfriends. Women who drive like Cruella de Vil.
It’s a really dangerous job.
A highlight of our return to the Volkswagen dealership to trade Karen (no, we didn’t really euthanize her) was when Lewis found a stuffed monkey under one of her seats. We then had to proceed with negotiating, discussing interest rates, credit scores, and down payments with a stuffed monkey in tow, in addition to me being smelly.
“Is that your good luck charm?” people kept asking.
We would laugh, assuming they were being funny. I mean, they were definitely being funny, but we assumed they knew that. Finally, when the Finance manager, Frank, looked back at us, earnestly waiting for our response, Lewis clued in.
“Do people bring good luck charms to buy cars?”
From there we got a laundry list of the good luck charms he had seen in his time in sales. It crescendoed to this story.
Frank took a man out for a test drive, and it was clear on the drive that the man was loving the car. It was everything he wanted. The deal was so close, Frank could taste it. Suddenly, while behind the wheel, the man said, “This is it. This is the car I want. I just gotta ask my wife.”
Frank totally understood, though probably rolled his eyes a little that the man hadn’t gotten the major purchase pre-approved by the home office. He tried to keep the momentum going, should they need it to overcome whatever obstacle the wife presented. He waited for the man to pull out a cell phone, but instead, they just drove further from the dealership.
And kept driving.
Until they pulled up to a cemetery. The man parked the car and told Frank he would be right back. True to his word, the man came back shortly thereafter, a smile on his face, and good news for all.
“She’s fine with it.”