People like me are terrible for the economy. As consumers, we bring nothing to the table. There’s no impulse shopping in my cartoon. End caps, check-out displays, 8-foot stacks of on-sale items never even catch my eye. From groceries to sneakers to plywood, whatever I came in for, that’s all I leave with. And I keep things forever. Jeans and sweatshirts so thin and worn, they don’t even take up room in the washing machine. A slide rule that I never mastered but carried around when I was smart. A tennis racket that hit the market about the same time as John McEnroe. All my friends are from high school and college.
Among all these treasures is a ’95 pick-up truck that I bought new. With great reservation, it was time for her retirement. I knew the next vehicle I buy will probably have to see me through so I was determined to take my time (which I never do) and shop around (which I more than never do). Stopping at a car lot on Route 88 in Lakewood, I took out a little notebook. I was committed to due diligence. No one’s selling me on anything. I’m too smart for that. Just getting prices and shopping around.
First sticker I looked at — $40,000! I stuck my little pad back in my pocket. Even my pen was too old to write a number like that. The vehicle description read like the Dead Sea Scrolls, only longer. “Auto Start Stop Tech”? What what? “Curve control”? Does that mean without it, I can only drive in a straight line? “Hill Start Assist.” Come on now: even my old truck made it up hills without help. “Standard Equipment” was included at “no extra charge.” At forty large, my spidey-sense told me that somewhere in there is a charge.
Then there was the “destination and delivery” fee of $1,300. And here I thought it was already there. Probably just an illusion — my bad! Still, I really liked this truck so I went inside. Why not? I’m only looking. I’m definitely not buying anything today. I found a salesman. I mean I found him; he didn’t find me. No sales guy wants to blow his “up” on some Jamoke that pulled up in a rusted-out ’95 pick-up. But he was nice enough. All I wanted anyway was the bottom line: what could he sell it to me for?
Apparently this is a question that cannot be answered. At least not within the span of one day. And not without a detailed dossier. Would this be my main vehicle? For forty grand, this would be my main residence. “What kind of car does your wife drive?” This is an important question because it’s against the law to ask your marital status and he needs to prepare for the “I’ll have to talk to my wife” excuse that might pop up later. “I don’t know,”’ I said. “You don’t know what kind of car your wife drives?,” came the incredulous reply. “I never looked,” said I. See how clever I can be?
Then the big one. “What are you looking to spend?” Wouldn’t it be nice if I could buy everything for what I wanted. “$200 a month.” I know I was low-balling him but it didn’t matter. I’m definitely not buying anything now anyway. “That’s impossible but let me see what I can do for you. How’s your credit rating?” It had been a while since I needed that information. “700”, I said; although I wasn’t really sure if that was my credit rating or the combined score on my SATs.
“That will definitely help,” he offered as he disappeared into what was either a conference room or a walk-in closet. I wanted to run but I still didn’t know how much I would pay and, besides, he was so genial, I just knew he was my friend and I didn’t want to let him down. I don’t know how long I waited but I did have time to do the daily crossword puzzle and call everyone I ever knew. When he came back (I think it was still the same day), he had a dapper looking man in tow. They call this the T.O. system. T.O. stands for Take Over. When a salesperson feels the deal slipping away, he trots out a bigger gun who turns out to be an even better friend because he can give you a deal you can’t refuse. Of course, I didn’t care. I’m only here for a price. I’m definitely not buying anything today.
They needed to work some more numbers. I told them I had been here way longer than I planned. They got me a cuppa’ Joe and asked to just give them a minute. I guess “minute” means different things to different people. Theirs must coincide with Daylight Saving Time when you gain an hour.
When they returned, the news was nothing but good. They could make it work; we just had to sit down with the finance manager. This takes place in a windowless tomb adorned with enough forms to cover every imaginable catastrophe. I’m not sure but I think I waived my rights for flood damage and life support. But it was my lucky day. They were able to get me a once-in-a-lifetime factory rebate and valued customer credit which, when parlayed with a seven-year pay-off, brought it into an affordable range. Still I hedged; I’m not buying anything today!
“Have you considered leasing?” they asked. “You mean rent a car?” I answered their question with a question. “No, not rent, lease.” Now, I’m a writer. I choose words carefully. “Let me understand this.” I continued. “If I lease, I make a down payment, make payments every month for three years and at the end, own nothing. Isn’t that the same as renting?” The answer to that was as obscure as the cost that I wanted when I walked in.
But then they found a way that no one ever before in history had ever thought of to bring the interest down a half percent. They had me. I had been there all day; I was tired, hungry and, by now, probably smelly. I was never going to get out of there; never get away from my new best friends; never binge-watch Netflix again. I bought the truck that I definitely was not going to buy.
Can I please go home now? ‘Fraid not. I needed an extended warranty because I keep my cars so long. What the hell. It’s only a few dollars a month. And the tire and wheel protection? Only eight pages long and I can read it when I get home. It’s just a few dollars a month more. So why not? Finance charge, sales tax, registration fees, motor vehicle tire fee. When all was said and done, total cost, after discounts: $47,000. I’m so glad I’m not buying anything today.