The job is done

The photo is of me, salesman Tim, Peggy, and our new car. After an intensive two and half week search, we finally brought home a Toyota yesterday (it's not the prettiest car we looked at, but I don't want to be stranded on the side of the road in a pretty car). Peggy wanted to celebrate by going out to eat, but I am so deficient in the emotional and physical ability to deal with the stress of car-buying, that I just wanted to go to bed. 

Tim was our final salesman, and Peggy quickly trusted him. Because Peggy doesn't trust easily, and because I have confidence in her discernment, I paid attention to that and started looking for the good in Tim even while trying to find a better price elsewhere and wondering if we shouldn't wait for the end-of-year rebates. Tim soon won me over to the point that Peggy and I decided that we would buy from him even if we could get a better price elsewhere, this based upon our belief that he was caring and had integrity in a field where such virtues are little found. I'll give you an example.

We initially worked with another salesman at the same dealership (Lithia of Springfield). The man's name was Rodney, and he and I had spoken on the phone, so when Peggy and I went to the dealership, we asked for him, and only started working with Tim when Rodney wasn't available. After talking with Tim for at least an hour, Peggy came down with a migraine about the time that Rodney appeared. I found him dour and aggressive, an observation that was confirmed when Peggy said that she really needed to go home, only to have Rodney continue trying to sell her a car. We went home anyway, and I wrote to Tim that I didn't want to work with Rodney anymore because he had shown no concern for Peggy's welfare. Because I had let him get away with it for several minutes, I was also mad at myself for not taking care of my wife when she wasn't in a good place to take care of herself. As Peggy later said, "I was too sick to think clearly, and I really need to think clearly when I'm buying a car."

I like to believe that Peggy and I work as an effective team, but when it comes to anything having to do with numbers, she's better than I because she's more detail oriented, and, as skeptical as I am, I don't know but what she's also quicker to spot bullshit. For example, when we were in Jack's office (Jack being the guy who has you sign all of the many papers that it takes to buy a car even when you're paying cash for it), Peggy expressed interest in the "lifetime oil change" for $649. I wasn't keen on this--I've always done my own oil changes--but she was, and I was willing to give in. The problem was that your first two years of oil changes are free anyway, so I asked Jack why we shouldn't wait and buy-in after the two years were up. He said we could, but that it would cost $200 more. I said, okay then, we'll get it now. Only later did it occur to me that he was almost surely lying (prices tend to go down rather than up when it's the last chance to sell something to a customer), but Peggy recognized it right away and rolled her eyes at Jack. The question I had to ask myself was why I didn't catch-on. Is it because people are more easily taken in the older they get? I think that was probably the reason, and it's why I feel the need to run my decisions past Peggy. The leads me to regard myself as moving in the direction of ever greater helplessness, of being a burden as it were.

When I was young, I could be cheated due to a lack of experience, whereas I am now more vulnerable to being cheated due to a lack of quick thinking and discernment. It's also true that society operates on the premise that, in most situations, most people are going to tell us the truth, so when we get into a situation in which we're blitzkrieged by lies, we're not prepared to deal with it other than by dismissing everything we're told as just another lie, but doing this leaves us with no basis upon which to make an intelligent decision. At some point, we have to believe someone, and our job became easier when we started to believe Tim, although it didn't keep us from learning all we could from sites like Consumer Reports, U.S. News and World Report, and Kelley Blue Book.

When I was a young man, I worked in a series of funeral homes, and found them like car sales in that they relied upon tricks and misinformation at a time when their customers (who were, of course, referred to as the bereaved) were vulnerable. For instance, the customers would be slowly guided through two well-furnished rooms of expensive caskets before reaching the small, unadorned room which contained the poorly-lit cheap ones, and as a final indignity, the funeral home would try to sell the shipping crate that the casket came in. Burying a casket in a pine shipping crate that offered no protection from anything and would soon collapse entirely was just too stupid for words, but it happened more often than not in situations where the customer didn't purchase a steel or concrete vault. I never doubted but what the sales of shipping crates was nothing more than an acknowledged scam within the funeral industry until I overheard two funeral directors trashing a man who refused to buy one, saying, "I guess he didn't care much about his old mama." My god, I thought, they believe their lies. Maybe that's how it is in car sales too, but it doesn't look that way. It just looks like an assault by at least two salesmen and a backroom manager who are out to wear the customer down to the point that he'll do whatever they say just to go home. Every time we buy a car, I tell myself that, this time, it's going to be fun, but with every passing day, I feel a little more worn down.

Tim, though, went out of his way to be helpful, never pressured us, never teamed-up against us (except in the case of Rodney, which he couldn't help), and answered our questions fully. Since I asked a few questions that he could have found insulting (i.e. why is it that so many car salesmen are unethical bullies who are oblivious to people's feelings?), I came to regard him with affection. Even Tim's appearance was non-threatening, due to his being on the elfin side with a magnificently expressive face that portrayed not only his own feelings but his awareness of the feelings of others. He also had striking blue eyes, and I considered him a handsome man. Oddly enough, he was also a bit of a motor mouth, and while I usually find such people tiring due to their self-absorption, Tim was not only a talker, he was also a listener, and I soon came to find his talk soothing because the more he talked, the less I had to. If nothing else, it showed that he had things on his mind other than pressuring us into buying a car. Tim is the kind of person who is so good at what he does that I wish I had a job for him so I could hire him away. And as I said, Peggy trusted him, and this alone was reason enough for me to trust him. 

My biggest problem with Peggy in such situations as buying a car is that the older she gets, the more willful she gets, and once she says that such and such is very important to her, I give up even trying to discuss it. So it was with the lifetime oil change. It probably will save us money, if Lithia honors its word, but only time will tell. Only today did Peggy tell me all of the reasons that she was so set on it: (1) Her father will pay for it if we buy it now (he's buying this car for us); (2) I might become frail or die, making it necessary for her to take charge of car maintenance;  (3) The service includes tire rotation and various inspections; (4) The car requires synthetic oil, and synthetic oil is expensive, so the cost of doing it myself would be higher than with the conventional oil I've always used. I could have added two other considerations: I very much hate doing oil changes during winter when it's raining and so cold that my Raynaud's Disease makes my fingers turn yellow and lose feeling. Also, Toyota will have less excuse to deny warranty-related work if they're the ones doing the servicing.

In all fairness to Peggy, I'm not immune to putting my own foot down, my do-or-die issue being the color of the car--it has to be white. It's also true that I have other go to the grave defending values. For example, at my insistence, we've painted three of the four houses we've owned the same colors (soft blue with beige trim), and I can be equally adamant about other work we do and things we buy. Even agreeing on a new doormat can turn into a major decision for us because we are both (a) strong-willed about home decoration, and (b) we have different preferences; and these factors oblige us to find acceptable compromises no matter how long it takes. I attribute our difficulty to the fact that I have better taste than Peggy, not that she's astute enough to admit it.

This talk of color brings to mind the paper-signing at the dealership. Jack put a blue mark everywhere I was to sign and a pink mark where Peggy was to sign. The funny thing about this was that I prefer pink to blue (my room is pink), and Peggy prefers blue to pink. Although I'm not effeminate, and she's not masculine, there are many ways in which we fit the stereotypes of the opposite gender.