Selling Cars

     When I was in my twenties, broke and looking to make some money, I took a job selling cars. Back then, everything you heard about degenerate car salesmen was absolutely true. No internet, or survey’s from the corporate car suppliers existed. They did anything they could to move metal. The only goal was to get them, “over the curb.” That special place where the law said they owned the car.

The money was there. I was with a foreign manufacturer who would eventually grow to the top spot in the coming years as America was tired of buying American junk. A fifty percent commission on trucks, and an additional dealer mark-up sticker of twenty-five hundred dollars was crazy good.

My first day I sold this guy a new truck that had to be “prepped” for delivery. He was coming back at night to sign the papers and drive it “over the curb.” I noticed the driver’s side, outside mirror was first installed too far up the driver’s door and blocked the vent mirror from opening. The “prep” guy then properly reinstalled and left two drill holes on this guy’s truck. I went to my manager, a slickee-boy in a high dollar suit and a briefcase with his grams of coke stuffed inside, and told him what happened.

He told me to park the driver’s side close to the wall of the building and hand him the keys and he’ll climb over from the passenger side and take the truck “over the curb.”

I said; “This guy is a Federal Food Inspector, no way will this happen.”

It did. He took the keys and got in from the passenger side and drove off. Of course I heard from the guy the next day and the dealership fixed the holes, but I started learning about human nature from slickee-boys who would screw their mother on a car deal,  said so, and I watched them do it.

I watched as they would sell tag screws for a dollar each to people who had argued too much for a better deal. During negotiations, some salesmen would say, let me take this to my manager, go into the bathroom, snort a few lines of coke and come back and tell them they can’t do that price.

Everyone had demos back then and tore up many a front ends.  I saw people leave in those wobbly wheeled, Japanese, drunken salesman’s vomit stained cars for a deal and was reminded that; “There’s an ass for every seat.”

By the third day, I leaned you never wanted the person to leave to shop a price and that’s why it was so important to keep them there even to the point of locking the doors and keeping their belongings.

In order to negotiate with the manager, you had to have a “good faith” item or check. I would bring back watches, keys, cash, which I later learned I was to pocket for myself and write it into the deal as some illegal “extra income”.  I even brought back babies in strollers. These items would be held until the customer either bought or demanded them back, which sometimes, after being thrown on the roof of the building would insure that they would have to come back the next day. Of course, we never threw a baby on the roof, but a few strollers made it there, and yes they still bought a car after such abuse.

And finally if leaving without purchasing and a “TO” (Turn Over to the manager,) they got a “low-ball” number by the manager no other dealership could match, so that when they did come back to get that car and that price the manager would say he used the words “if” and didn’t mean to mislead. It was a skilled tact and when improperly used, as I was about to do without the “TO” almost cost me my life.

I had only sold that one truck to the Food Inspector, and now thinking back on it, made me think if the burger I was eating for lunch got a good enough inspection. I see a wild-eyed black guy in army fatigues walking around the lot. The more experienced salesmen stayed away, but I introduced myself with a firm handshake and a smile. He wanted to see a van that was advertised. I got the keys and started to ask some questions to see where he was at in the buying process. He is a Viet Nam Vet and no longer in the service. He said he doesn’t have good credit. He stuttered so much it took twenty minutes to get that information.

He wanted to test drive the Van, and I was already starting to feel queasy from that burger I had just eaten, and figured I could catch another customer while he took the test drive on his own. He wasn’t buying and I wanted to get away from this guy. My instincts were telling me he wasn’t right in the head. I didn’t even get his license but sped this process up, gave him the keys, and let him take van out by himself. I figured in ten minutes he would be back and I would be rid of him.

Five hours later he still hadn’t returned. I was pacing in the bathroom and informed a salesman who came in to snort his lines as to what was happening. He said to tell the manager if the guy doesn’t come back by closing time, then tomorrow, go to another dealership and get a job. No big deal.

Almost seven hours later, and fifteen minutes before closing, the Vet shows up. I was pissed and just wanted him to go away as I grabbed the keys from him out on the lot. He asked for a better price then what was advertised. He told me he couldn’t buy squat cause of his bad credit, so to blow him off and get out of there I “low-balled” him and said a thousand less. I was rid of him and never wanted to see him again.

The next day he shows up with a briefcase, sits at my desk and wants the van. I’m in deep doo-doo and I figure I can end this by running his credit. His credit was not hateful, and then he says he will take it at the price I gave him last night. Now, I was the one who began stuttering, so this was taking a long time. I finally told him I was angry and just gave him that price to get him out of here after taking the van for seven hours. He told me he wanted the manager.

He got out of his chair and was turning on the showroom floor like he was having a seizure, screaming; “Where, where, where, is your, your, man…ager?”

Didn’t take long, and everyone was watching the manager lead him, his briefcase, and me back to his office that adjoined the Finance office.

With both doors closed, and a glass window, I could see everyone was laughing, listening and watching this guy spin and use profanity like Linda Blair in The Exorcist on me and my manager while we sat there rolling our eyes at each other and smirking. Big deal, so what if I screwed up and was going to get fired, what else could happen?

In an instant, this stuttering Vet opened his briefcase and pulled a gun and pointed it to my manager’s face. I saw everyone scatter from the window. My manager slowly picked up the keys and held them out to the Vet, and said; “Here, you can have the Van for nothing….he’s just an idiot salesman who low-balled you. Take the van.”

Neither of us seemed afraid. It all seemed normal in that place.

Then slickee-boy manager turned to me and angrily said; “Low-ball….What the hell do you know about low-balling someone?”

“Well, I did get him to come back, and now you are giving the van away.” I replied.

The Vet seemed baffled by our arguing as for what to do next.

I turned back to the manager and said; “I still get paid my twenty-five dollar minimum deal for the van if he takes it.”

I think the Vet saw two men who were more insane then him, and fled out the showroom quickly as he could, leaving the keys behind, and beating the arriving cop cars by a few minutes.

I was greeted with cheers and yells of “Low-ball” as we exited the office.

I didn’t get fired, and that’s when I knew this was a stinky-ass job. They hadn’t caught the Vet and two hours after he left he was on the phone making threats he was coming with his Vet friends and shoot up the showroom with automatic weapons. I actually spent the next week with a police officer sitting in the desk behind me till they caught the guy, who turned out to be mentally deranged from the war. I didn’t sell another car while I had that uniformed cop bodyguard as my shadow.  Customers would walk by with their salesman asking about me and my buddy with a gun,  being told the story, and then introducing me as “Low-ball.”

I wanted a normal job but the money started to get better. I hated the long hours and the holidays.

Thanksgiving eve, the owner would get on his Louie Depalma microphone like the one used in the TV show Taxi, and say; “Let us pray…” No one could help but laugh. This idiot made you work over fifty hours a week, every holiday, all on commission and now he expects us to pray with him?

Some guy would always show up on Christmas Eve with his girlfriend he was trying to impress, make me spend my time showing them a gold colored car and when I ran his credit, the guy had several past repo’s and couldn’t buy squat.

I discovered a car no one was allowed to show, or demo, and only a salesman and the manager had the keys. It was an ugly, beige colored low-end import that shouldn’t have much attraction but did. Every day and night, customers would show up and ask for the salesman Mel, to show him this car. No test drive, and they never came back to his desk to deal on that car or any other. No “TO” either.

Some nights were cold, and hanging outside like a street whore waiting for a client does not do your sense of self-worth much good. Hanging inside at your desk near the large glass panes of the showroom couldn’t get you a customer and pneumonia became a work hazard. There were always bottles of Jim Beam or Jack Daniels in certain trunks we would nip from during the slow times. But Mel’s trunk was special. Mel and the manager had an Asian supplier bringing coke into the country and they were distributing it out of the trunk of the beige, import.

I went about my own business. One time I met a nice, black elderly couple whose Chevy Chevette engine blew up after a year, as most of those models did. They were paying twenty-five percent interest on a car they had four more years to pay off and it was worth nothing. It was financed by a mafia group who went by the name of “Benjamin Investments.” Of course that was not their real name because the company is around today and is well respected and I’m not stupid enough to mention them.  They took advantage of a lot of people.

So I explained to the nice couple that the car is in the husband’s name, and he has bad credit anyway….that I wanted them to tow the car and drop it off at “Benjamin Investments” leave the keys and be done with it. Then I would sell them a new, reliable car under her name at a low payment and great interest. I made that elderly couple happy and more secure. “Mr. Paul” as they called me, was a hero to them.

Two nights later, two burly Guido looking guys came looking for me for “schooling” they called it. “Schooling” that nice elderly black couple and costing “Benjamin Investments” thousands. They broke my thumbs, just like in a gangster movie. I sat for another week at my desk not being able to write a contract on a car because of the splints on my thumbs.  My nickname went from “low-ball” to “nubby.”

I wanted out of that business with my remaining limbs intact, and in a couple more days it happened. Not so for most of the employees at the dealership. It was tough watching them take their “perp walk” on a beautiful spring day. Even the owner was in on one of the biggest coke distribution rings on the East Coast. Me, and one of the other salesman stood there watching them all go in handcuffs, and were left with showing Federal Agents how to lock up the place.

Before we left, I picked up that Louie Depalma microphone with my broken thumbs and said; “Let us pray;” And heard the laughter from the other salesman walking out the door.

Categories: Life

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4 replies

  1. Good story. I’ve always been and still am so naive. If I need to go buy a new car anytime in the near future, will you go with me?? : ) Peggy


    • OH El Please write a book buying a car for Dummy’s It would be a best seller! now the Fear & loathing of car salesmen & Dealerships is justified, your life stories are as interesting and entertaining & as your writing, I ish I could hang out with you, you attract some crazy unusual happenings the most ordinary unexpected places, adventure waits behind every door you enter… thanks for sharing what was inside


  2. Really funny—what he said-Aticus Finch – ditto



  1. Selling Cars « elbrookman

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