Playing Hardball

16 Jun

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This weekend, I learned a thing or two about shopping for cars, and a thing or twenty about my parents.

When I’ve shopped with my mom and dad in the past, we’ve been on the hunt for things like plants, or towels, or “decorative throw pillows,” or discounted lawn chairs, or, “the perfect end table for the living room,” or, “the perfect end table for the family room,” or, “the perfect end table for the dining room.” (My question is, what happened to all of the first halves of tables?)

For the past several weeks, my parents have been trying to find me a car that I can drive to and from work this summer.

Until beginning this project, I was under the impression that buying a car was like buying a pair of really durable socks – you want something protective and functional that is also comfortable and sweat-wicking. But, you also want something flashy that says, “Hi, hello, HERE I AM, WORLD!”

Creative expression and sweat-wicking. Those were my car-buying criteria.

I was also under the impression that I would be able to drive up to any dealership, pick out a car, name it, take a bunch of selfies with it, and then drive off into the sunset.

We are now almost a month into the process, and the only selfies I have are of my face next to strangers’ vehicles that I thought were for sale but really weren’t.

It turns out that buying a car is a process. There are important details that need to be considered carefully, and there are tactics that need to be implemented with finesse, and there are things like time and energy that need to be devoted to the process…

What was supposed to be a brief process has morphed into a month long ordeal. In other words, we could have purchased about ten end tables in the same amount of time that it has taken us to “look for cars.”

So, this past weekend, we decided that action needed to be taken.

Actually, my mother decided that action needed to be taken. She said that my dad and I were not being “action-oriented,” and that we needed a “concrete plan of attack,” and that we had to “buckle down and get shit done.” Were we preparing to purchase a car or to enter a medieval battle? I’m not sure.

She did have a point, though. The process was becoming grueling and unproductive.

Let me preface this story by saying that my dad is a car expert. I don’t mean that he just collects little toy cars and reads car magazines once a month (both of which he does). I mean that when we walk into car dealerships, dealers lift their heads and say, “Hey, Mike!” Dealerships are my dad’s candy stores.

Let me also preface this by saying that when my dad and I try to make decisions together, we look like two chickens that are locked in a hall of mirrors. We get confused, and distracted, and my feathers fall out from stress.

For example, here’s what it’s like to buy ice cream with us:

“Dad, what should we get?”

“I don’t know, how about vanilla?”

“Ew, I hate vanilla.”

“Okay, get chocolate.”

*Sophie and Dad stare aimlessly at the glass case, in contemplative silence*

“Fine. Wait, what if mom doesn’t like chocolate?”

“Get Oreo, then.”

*More staring. More silence.*

“One time, Lydia had Oreo and she said it gave her gas. What about mocha?”

“Soph, get the peppermint, it’s on sale.”

“What is this, Christmas? I hate mint. I’m getting mocha.”

*Sophie and Dad continue to stare in confused silence*

“Wait, maybe we should get steak tips, instead?”

*Two hours later, the entire family ends up skipping dessert and going to bed because Sophie and Dad couldn’t make a decision*

So, you can imagine why the car purchasing process would be a bit *delayed*.

Let me also just mention that my parents – for some reason – like to go car shopping on Saturday mornings…which come after Friday nights

So there we were, Saturday morning, driving to yet another car dealership. I was guzzling water out of an industrial sized bottle and eating Wheat Thins crumbs that I found in a plastic bag in the back of the car, while my mom laughed at me and said, “Someone’s had better days!”

When we got to the dealership, I was prepared to stay in the car and to have my dad consult with the dealers. Why try to insert myself into something I know nothing about? (That’s mature person speak for “My butt feels really comfortable in this seat and also, I need more water.”)

But then, it became clear that my participation would be necessary. Also, my mom kicked me out of the car.

It was ninety degrees outside and sunny, and my dad and I were wandering around the car lot, looking for a Jetta that he’d seen online.

Just when I thought I’d have to give up and tell my parents I was fine biking thirty miles to work every day, Raj appeared.

Raj the car dealer was from India and was very cute in an older person (but not old enough to be my dad) kind of way. He was wearing cool sunglasses and had the smile of a baby angel. I was sold. (On him, that is. You can’t just buy a car without looking at it, first! That would be irresponsible.)

Raj said he would locate the Jetta in question and bring it to the front of the dealership. I smiled and nodded and said something like “Grlbblarbdfhfhiaf, thanks!”

When Raj returned with the vehicle, I was too distracted by my newfound adoration to notice the golden turd-mobile that he was driving.

The car’s interior leather was tan and looked like someone had dragged a muddy cow through the back of the car and then had tried to wipe up the mess with a single CVS Brand paper towel. There was also giant tear in the leather of the passenger’s seat. Not a tear like, “Oh, the car has been through some wear and tear,” but a tear like, “Oh, someone shanked the seat with a steak knife after finding out who died on the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy.”

In addition to these *minor* character flaws, the car has also been the victim of some sort of collision, because the front bumper was one curb away from disassociating with the vehicle.

“Want to take it for a test drive?” Raj inquired. “I can come with you to make sure you don’t get lost.”

“Yes!” I responded, enthusiastically. “Please join us!”

Driving with my dad and Raj was incredibly overwhelming and made me feel like I was back in driver’s ed. Every time Raj told me to turn right or left, I caught myself wondering if I’d pass the test and get my license. Raj did not help my identity crisis by asking me “how I was liking college.”

After the stressful test drive, it was time to talk business.

Raj brought the three of us to his desk and gave us each a miniature water bottle.

“Wasn’t that sooooo nice how Raj gave us water, Mom and Dad?”

They weren’t quite as thrilled…which is how I knew my parents were gearing up to play hardball. And let me tell you, hardball they played.

The scene was something out of a pacifist’s version of The Godfather, or a Wild West film.

……..

Raj tells them the price of the car – which I will refer to as $50. My dad responds by looking dramatically into the distance and saying, “Ill give you $30.”

“No, Mike,” says Raj. “I can’t sell you this car for $30.”

Sophie guzzles water as a way to prevent awkwardly bursting into laughter.

“How do you rationalize this car being worth $30,” Raj asks.

“I know Jettas. And I know this car. And I can tell you, it’s not worth more than $30.”

Dad then proceeds to list – from memory – all of the Jettas in the area that are of a similar caliber but at a lower price.

Raj leans back in his chair, puts his hands behind his head, and sighs dramatically.

Sophie swoons and chokes on her water.

“What can I do…to help you…to help yourself?” asks Raj.

The question is unclear.

“I want the bumper fixed, the seat fixed, and the price brought down to $30,” Dad responds.

Mom and Dad exchange a look. Mom crosses her arms and glares at Raj.

“There’s not enough room in this town for us and a bumper like that,” says Mom.

“Cynthia,” says Raj. “Don’t be rash. Talk some sense into Mike. I can’t just go back to my guy and tell him I’m selling one of his cars for $30.”

(I picture Raj’s “guy” as a large, sweaty man, sitting in the back of the dealership, crunching numbers and licking cheese puff dust off his fingers.)

Raj and Mom and Dad stare at each other for a long time. I notice that there are ants on the floor. I wonder if they’ve been sent by Raj’s “guy” to torture us into agreeing on Raj’s price. I also wonder if the ants found crumbs on the floor, and if that means there is food nearby.

Raj leaves for a while to talk to his “guy.” Mom and Dad discuss.

“I don’t trust the guy,” Dad says. “He’s throwing red herrings.”

I wonder how my Dad knows that Raj abuses animals.

“I say we walk,” Mom says.

“No,” Dad says, dramatically. “If we walk now, we lose the deal. Let’s see what he says.”

Raj returns.

“I can give you the bumper and the repaired seat for $50.”

“I have a plane to catch. We’ll call you,” Dad says.

Raj shakes Sophie’s hand and says, “Sophia, I hope you can talk your dad into buying this car.”

…….

Spoiler alert: I didn’t talk anyone into doing anything.

As I shook Raj’s hand, though, several thoughts raced through my head.

1.) I was really sad to leave Raj on such negative terms. Even though he’d called me the wrong name, I was hoping we could be friends.

2.) I’d always wondered if my parents lead double lives, but after this interaction with Raj, it was clearer than ever that my parents either work for the CIA or are Wild West enthusiasts.

3.) I still didn’t have a vehicle.

Later, on the drive home, my dad went on and on about how Raj was a crook and how he didn’t like the “vibe” of the place and how dare Raj act like he knows more about selling cars than my dad. (Yes. Why would anyone ever act like they are experienced in their own profession. Foolish.)

Personally, I was impressed by Raj. It’s not everyday you go up to bat against two CIA professionals/Wild West enthusiasts and make it out to tell the tale.

As for the car, I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t settle for the golden turd-mobile with the steak knifed seat and the broken front. In life, quality is important. And so is choice. That’s why, the next time I go to a car dealership, I will pop an Advil and wear a pair of horse blinders – if you’re going to play the game, you’ve got to be prepared.

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