Another Portly True Story -- But First, A Movie!

That video put me in the mind of this story:

Portly and the Car Salesman -- Circa 1988, Portland, Oregon

So, on April Fool's Day, 1988, I managed to get in the way of someone who was making an illegal turn across traffic. I walked away from the head-on collision unscathed, but the family's beloved Datsun B-210 station wagon did not fare so well.

So, my then-partner and I began the arduous process of buying a replacement vehicle. We had a limited income, and knew exactly how much money we could spend and what kind of car we wanted (Toyota Tercel wagon -- you know, the one that looked like it had an ATM on the back?).

It was the late 80s. The auto-sales industry had gotten wise to the fact that more and more women were buying cars -- and doing so without the "aid" of a man. I had just read two or three articles in major newsmags about how the industry was re-gearing its sale-pitches and changing its showrooms to re-niche-ify toward the car-buying women's market.

I hate haggling. I've bought only three of the many cars I've owned at car dealerships -- my 1978 Datsun pickup, the Tercel, and my current van (all used). I take some hippy pride in the fact that I have never in my life purchased a new car.

My partner and I went out car-shopping the first time with the kids. (Note to parents: This is a very bad idea. If you want to gain the dealership's sympathy vote because you're raising a family -- ha! -- stuff your wallet with pictures instead -- put a "My kid was an honor student at blah-blah-blah" sticker on your car -- anything. Just do not take them along.)

The dude at the first dealership showed us the Tercel (awful color, nasty-ass plaid upholstery -- glad it didn't work out, really). We told him how much money we had to spend (which was, of course, far below the sticker price), and he herded us into his office, assuring us that he thought he could work something out.

Which began the two-hour agony that followed, where he exercised all the old ploys -- took our car-keys so we couldn't leave, went back and forth and forth and back to the manager's office, etc., etc., etc. -- if you don't know the drill, that's a good thing -- my advice to you is that you keep it that way.

When he got it through his thick skull that when we said "this is how much money we have to spend" what we really meant was,"this is how much money we have to spend" -- that we weren't driving a hard bargain, that we weren't being cagey and conniving -- as this simple message finally penetrated his consciousness, he looked at us, absolutely dumbfounded (two HOURS later), and said: "Well, I can't sell this car to you for that!"

To which I said something like: "Yeah, dipshit -- I thought that was probably the case, and every time I tried to tell you that, you told me you could work something out, and then left us sitting here for another 15 to 20 minutes!"

We regained possession of our hostaged car-keys, and the children never forgave us for the two hours of lost Saturday which they endured. (It did have the fortunate upside of them never wanting to go car shopping with us again.)

The next weekend, just the two of us ventured out once more, this time to a different dealership.

We guarded our car-keys carefully, and, exhausted from the craptasticness of the previous foray, we came up with a signal -- if either of us made the sign-language gesture for "Fuck" (my partner was an ASL interpreter), we agreed that we would both get up, without discussion, and leave. No explanation needed, and either of us could make the call at any time -- we had concluded that life was too fucking short (hence the choice of sign).

The Tercel that we looked at was closer to our price range (on the sticker), so we allowed ourselves to be seated with coffee and really bad pastry in the salesman's office.

At first, it went fairly well. We politely explained that we only had ____ amount of money to spend, and that no, we weren't kidding, and no, this wasn't a counter-offer thing -- it really was the entire amount we could spend (which really confused the salesman, I could tell), and then it began -- the smarminess, the cajoling, the manipulation. It was mostly vocal tones and lack of meetings of gazes, but it wasn't long before I saw my partner give me the sign.

I said: "Thanks very much for your time, we're not interested", and we stood up and headed for the door.

What happened next, I never, ever imagined might occur.

The guy followed us. I mean, really close behind us, and shouted at us that we had to come back. Literally -- those word -- we had to.

When that didn't work (now keep in mind -- we are walking through a very large showroom, and then through a very large parking lot, with this guy right behind us, yelling at us the entire time), he tried things like: "Get back here! You can't walk out of here! You women have no idea what you're doing! I demand that you come back here right now!"

We were kind of glancing at each other now and again, but we basically just kept walking resolutely toward our car, when we heard him scream, at the top of his lungs:

"You're nothing if you don't buy a car from me!!!!!!"


We were still just marching stalwartly to our car, when a manager came sprinting out from the showroom, got between the salesman and us, and started rapid-fire spewing things like: "Please. Don't go. I'm sorry. I know we can work something out." We kept walking. "PLEASE -- Ladies! . . . . "

That stopped us.

It was not planned -- it was not calculated -- but my partner and I wheeled around as one and said, in perfect unison (both in terms of words and level of dripping venom):

"We're not Ladies!!!!!"

The manager then said: "Girls! . . . . . . ."

When he caught the look on our faces, he went silent, his jaw going up and down for a few seconds, and then finally spluttered out -- pathetically -- desperately -- as if he'd only just remembered that the word existed:

". . . . Women!"

But it was too late. We were already gone.

When we got home, I called the owner of the dealership at the corporate office (he was the mega-owner of Blankety-Blank Ford, Blankety-Blank Toyota, Blankety-Blank Honda, etc., etc., etc., now known as the Blankety-Blank AutoGroup).

I was passed from one secretary and middle manager to another secretary and middle manager, and kept insisting on speaking to the owner. I believe that it is possible that I may have uttered words like discrimination, harassment, and lawsuit.

I was finally passed up the foodchain and spoke to the owner directly.

I told him about the articles I had just been reading about the "New Consumer -- Woman!" (yeah, right, we've been here all along), and I inquired of him just how he thought he was going to cash in on that market when he employed these kind of salespeople.

To his credit, he listened (and in the following weeks, he had his dealers calling us every single time a Tercel station wagon that was within our price range rolled onto one of his many lots).

We ended up buying from an private owner after all, and we drove, drove, drove that blue Tercel over the next years. My ex- got it in the "divorce".

I just had to tell that story, after I saw that 60's reel up top.

Although that salesman was an unmitigated ass, I really must thank him for all the laughs he's given me over the years -- whenever I replay his outraged shriek in my mind:

"You're nothing if you don't buy a car from me!!!!"

Posted byPortlyDyke at 9:39 PM  


Nia said... January 8, 2009 at 7:47 AM  

Wow, that's just unbelievable. But, could you please answer me a question? If someone wanted to talk to you respectfully, what is the equivalent of "sirs" or "gentlemen" that you'd find acceptable?

PortlyDyke said... January 8, 2009 at 10:33 AM  

Nia -- My Beloved asks me that question exactly. In this case, since the manager in question almost certainly had our names (the salesman gives the manager the info, usually at the beginning of the negotiation process, so that he can come in and "help" if needed), I really would have preferred "Ms. Portly" or even, I think, "Ma'am" (I was young enough not to be complimented rather than offended by this from a youngish guy).

It was more the context, though, I think -- I'm not sure it would have bothered me normally.

I sure wasn't feeling ladylike in that moment. Grrrrrrr.

Nia said... January 9, 2009 at 8:14 AM  

Oh, I don't mean in that context, I meant in general, as a language question, because I'm not a native speaker and I wouldn't know how to talk to a stranger :) I thought that Ma'am was even more old-fashioned or classist that "Lady"

Anonymous said... January 19, 2009 at 9:03 PM  

"You're nothing if you don't buy a car from me!!!!!!"

I read this over at Shakes, and had no words for a comment. Incredible. Goddamn.

Thanks for this story. And have I told you Happy New Year yet?

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