” I love this one!! The color is so pretty!!”.
Those two sentences basically sum up my approach to buying a vehicle. At 19, when attempting to buy my first car, a used, maroon-colored Saab, those were the only two sentences that the salesman needed to hear as he pulled out the paperwork and handed me a pen, a smug twinkle in his eye. As I giddily bent down to sign, 23-year-old Jon put out his hand in front of me.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a minute”.
My father had agreed to buy me a car for college and put Jon to the task of actually going with me and helping me. As I drooled over the Saab, Jon explained that it might not be the best investment for my first car, especially because the parts were foreign and would be harder to come by and much more expensive.
Thankfully, Jon didn’t let me get that Saab. Nope. I ended up with a purple Dodge Neon. Stick shift. And I was as equally excited because it was my own. I’ll never forget Jon sitting in the passenger seat of that lemon teaching me how to shift. “If ever you feel like the car might stall, just push in the clutch, okay?”. It was a bumpy, jerking, momentous ride home.
Fast-forward twenty years later, and Jon and I are once again sitting before a car salesman. The only difference is the two kids seated next to us, bored out of their little minds, and our increasingly grey hairs. Virtually nothing has changed otherwise. I’m still taken in by the new, shiny, metallic-colored Jeep with matching rims and sunroof. He’d showed me a Toyota, which he felt might be a better investment, but I have a soft-spot for Jeeps and couldn’t hide my excitement when I sat in the driver’s seat.
In all honestly, I could drive my current Jeep into the ground and not care about buying a new one at all, but my husband is certain that it is time to trade-in my aging vehicle and so, who am I to argue?
Unfortunately for him, I am completely useless when it comes to the daunting task of purchasing a new vehicle. And he knows it. And I know it. We learned this twenty years ago and I have made no progress whatsoever on this.
Sitting before Bill, our overly accommodating car salesman who is probably hating that he is still at work at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon, I am reminded of how ignorant I am of this entire process, and how utterly alone my husband really is.
“I’ve already started this process with the place down the road and here is what they can do for me”. He hands them some official printed piece of paper loaded with numbers and sits back. The salesman looks over the piece of paper, makes some notes in his notepad and says, “Well, we want to beat this, so let me go back and see what my Manager says”. The boys sit adjacent to us, playing on their kindles. They had misbehaved earlier in the day and so were not going to be able to play on them at all, but we both agreed to make an exception under the circumstances.
Only minutes later, Bill returns with more numbers scribbled at the bottom of his piece of paper and has, as far as I can tell, gotten the numbers where my husband wanted them. I smile at the care salesman and start daydreaming about cruising down Main St. in the summertime, in the new Silver Jeep, the wind from the open sunroof blowing my hair. My husband takes the piece of paper, looks it over at length, and then looks up toward the sky as though there were some Calculator In The Clouds before going back to the piece of paper, frowning and replying with, “Oh…no, no. I dont’ want 72 months. I want this price at 60 months”.
What? What’s happening? What’s wrong with 72 months? 72 months seems okay with me? Why 60? What’s the big deal with 12 more months? Bill nods slightly and takes the piece of paper away back to The Room where some mysterious, nameless Sales Manager awaits. My husband sits back in his chair, whips out his calculator while I field whiny comments from our boys about being hungry and bored.
Bill returns with more numbers on his piece of paper and places it in front of Jon, who skeptically looks it over while the two of them go back and forth:
“So, that there is at 60 months, 0% down and at the percentage rate quoted on the sticker”.
“You can’t do better than that percentage rate?” my husband asks.
And from there, the two of them go back and forth about things I don’t fully understand. Earlier in the week Jon tweaked his knee and so, while stuck on the couch with his leg elevated for days in a row, he crunched numbers, researched vehicles online, made comparisons, called multiple dealerships and accumulated pieces of paper with numbers written all over them, littering the end table next to his ibuprofen and melted ice packs. Changing his ice packs and fetching him things was the only way in which I could be helpful throughout the entire process. Even now, as he and Bill banter back and forth, all I can do is watch and hone in on the non-verbal tensions that keep arising.
A half-hour later, Bill comes back with yet another figure scribbled on his pad of paper, to which my husband picks up and reads before placing it back down on the desk..
“I don’t know. I’d like to get it closer to this monthly payment” he replies. What was so wrong with the figure we had? It seemed okay. It was below the other guys’ figure? Why does my husband keep pushing? Bill looks like he’s getting annoyed and I start to fidget. Jon merely sits in his chair, slouched only slightly, like this isn’t bothering him at all. Bill stares down at the piece of paper, a tight smile stretched across his face. “If we can get there, will we have a deal?” he asks.
Oh my goodness, “say yes”, I think, “say yes before Bill really starts to get mad at us”! At this point, it is no longer about me wanting the Jeep so much as it is I can’t stand thinking that maybe all of these car salesmen are mad at us.
My husband pauses longer than I’d like. “Probably”.
At this point, I am visibly uncomfortable. I smile apologetically at Bill, who has now gone back and forth from his desk to the corner office in the back a handful of times. As he retreats, yet again, back to the mysterious Office of The Sales Manager, Jon turns to me, virtually talking to a wall–his comment simply bouncing back at him as my mind daydreams.
“There is no way I’m agreeing to this at that percentage rate”. (I would look so sharp in Metallic Silver.)
“And when he comes back, I’m going to ask him for get it even further down to this price.” (I can just hear my music blaring out of the sun roof now).
Finally, I ask a question, more out of confusion than anything. “But, I thought we brought some money to put down?”
“Yeah, but I don’t need him to know that just yet. I want to know what he’ll do for us with no money down first”. He punches away at his calculator while I field more questions like “when are we gonna be done?” and “I’m starving”.
Bill emerges from the office yet again, with yet another figure on his pad of paper. “This is our bottom line. We just can’t get any lower than this” he says, waving his hands horizontally across the desk. Jon looks at the piece of paper with his skeptical eyes while I nervously look at Bill and tell Silas to stop kicking his brother.
Jon puts the piece of paper back on the desk. “How about this price?” he counters.
Bill smiles a tense, tired smile. “If we can, do we have a deal?”. We’re the only people in the place. It’s dark outside.
This time, Jon answers in the affirmative. “Yes, we’ll have a deal”.
Bill starts again on the worn path from his desk to the Office of the Sales Manager. I follow him with my eyes and find three men hovering over a computer and papers, punching at a keyboard, looking at the computer screen, crossing off things on their pads of paper and, every now and then, looking over at us. Are they glaring? I look away, trying to shrug off the feeling that we are somehow being selfish or mean to them in some way.
My husband sits in his chair looking straight ahead, rubbing his bum knee. He’s no longer 23, but 43, and he most likely hurt his knee playing street hockey with our son. I’m not 19 anymore, but at 39, have made no progress in my ability to wheel and deal anyone about a car. We’re no longer in college, but have a mortgage and two boys and two full-time jobs and stress and resentment about things like the dishes. He liked the Toyota better, but he knows that I really like the Jeep.
Bill comes striding out of the mysterious office once again, puts the piece of paper down on the desk and holds out his hand. “You’ve got yourself a deal”. The other two men begin to put on their winter coats as my husband slowly stands up, favoring his knee, and holds out his hand. Bill holds his hand out to me and smiles, “Congratulations on your new Jeep!”. I’m smiling back, excited, but also keenly aware of the fact that it was my husband who did all the work, trying to give me something I wanted, while also making sure it was a financially sound decision.
As I drove off the lot in my new Metallic-Silver Jeep with matching rims and bluetooth, I thought about what a lucky girl I am.
But, not because of the Jeep.