Worn down to the nubs of its last legs, it looked like I would need a new car and pretty promptly. I am not, nor do I profess to be, a car person. I would describe my car by its colour first and if asked my engine size or the ‘year of my car’ I would say that I don’t have a ruler or the appropriate astrological calendar. Turns out it’s written on front and back, buried in the registration in some half-encrypted cipher. Funny cas I always liked Mensa code-breaking books when I was a kid, never cars.
Much like football I no longer feel obligated to know some inane trivia in order to save face if the opportunity arises. If someone asked me which team I support within the first minutes of meeting them, once upon a time I might have said that I don’t follow football anymore and watch them wince as they reconfigure how to talk to me, dealing with this sudden plummet in respect and relatability. Now I’m more comfortable expressing my disinterest, ready to jump on the offence and point to the strange mix of it’s brutish culture and theatrics; or how you could spend the length of a decent film watching a match resulting in 0 – 0. Generally I duck the question with a straight but not sheepish “I’m not into football” shortly followed by “a number two and a little off the fringe”.
I don’t hear the question all that often anymore. The situation is avoidable, whereas, thanks to this last vehicle’o’mine, I have had to make a number of visits to different garages with different specialisations (they tell me) but the same manner of speaking and the same way of making me feel like a defenceless alien child.
I had avoided the face-to-face purchase of my two previous cars, so today was a milestone as I sucked up my pride and walked into a car dealership asking to buy a car. Instantly I began recognising little word games and tests, ones that Mensa hadn’t quite prepared me for. Asked about my preferences of mileage and shown an array of very similar looking cars on his monitor, I note only the difference in price and colour.
I point to the black one that has the lowest cost and then am taken out to view it on the lot. Not sure what to look for, I check that is has tyres and a steering wheel, enough room in the back to strap a child and a radio to keep me occupied. Good. Now the simple matter of payment and documentation. I’m shown a price that doesn’t match the one hanging from the rear-view, and told about payment methods, the dealer’s expressions and awkward jokes allow me to see his own desires but I can’t trust that he’s on my side. Then, from nowhere, another more geezerish dealer manifests to breakdown why I need GAP insurance. I don’t trust this man. I don’t trust anyone anymore. I realise now that of course they’re salesman performing a routine. Classic good cop – gooder cop. I spot another additional payment which I’m told is a protective coat for my interiors, something I’m assured I’ll need from my son. I’ve watched Fargo enough times to know that this is by-the-book and I that I do not want this, even after he squirts some water from an eye-dropper on a protected business card asking me to imagine that its chocolate. I don’t know what the fuck is going on anymore and so I tap out and phone-a-friend to come hold my hand before I sign anything.
10 minutes later, my car-savvy saviour arrives and is recognised by all of the dealers. He is one of them – he speaks their language and shares their hobbies. Immediately he flags up things I had accepted as given. He alerts me to hidden fees and interest rates that hadn’t been mentioned to me. Evidently, our man gets a commission on the extra interest I spend. In other words: he is working against me. When I hear this and tell him I don’t want to pay interest, that I can’t afford to, and that I want to pay for it here and now, he squirms and sulks. He offers a discount on the interest. He forgets to mention the deposit that I would save on until prompted by my newly recruited advisor, grumbling it under his breath and blocking the display of his calculator.
At this point he leans on me with some advice of his own – what with Christmas coming up I shouldn’t commit to the car, I should buy presents for the family and see what I think next year. What if the boiler explodes, or if our house gets broken into… “Is this a threat?” I ask, receiving a burst of laughter, but honestly this is emotional blackmail. He knows how little I earn, that I have a child and that I’m saving for my own place, he knows all of this and is still trying to trick me into giving him more money than I have.
I want to pay it all now. Fine. He retreats to an office and finishes off the paperwork when my saviour leaves me alone once more, a swift job well done. I am then called into the office where the pride of three dealers are gathered, perhaps sensing my vulnerability he asks me AGAIN how much I would like to pay, as though we hadn’t gone over this. All of it. He looks me in the eyes and in a move of desperate audacity insists: “Let’s call it half”.
I pay the full amount and avoid the TruCoat, but settle for the GAP insurance. I hand over the keys to my well loved but useless blue car when he spots the house key. “Guess you’ll be needing this” he says as he takes it off, “otherwise I’ll have to come around to see your son”. I have no idea what this man means to say. His tone is playful so I assume it’s a joke, but I cannot for the life of me work it out and perhaps my face shows this. “I’ll have to bring him some sweets”. What does this mean! Should I be worried? Is he going to burgle me or sabotage my boiler?
I spend the drive home thinking about this ordeal and the strange way that it ended, neither of us really happy, both convinced we had made a bad deal. The most I can hope for is that this car lasts long enough to prevent me having another of these interactions anytime soon.