Chasing Cars

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All my life I have bought only 2 cars. The first was a 1975 Toyota Corolla that I paid $50 bucks for back in high school from a woman renting a room at my aunt’s house in Long Island. The car was literally sitting under a tree for months on end (to the point of being so covered in leaves and debris that it was practically camoflouged into the woodsy backdrop of the property). Having learned how to drive on my dad’s Honda Civic hatchback (stick-shift, I might add) I was so excited to have my own wheels that even the questionable Toyota born the same year as I was sounded like a fantastic option. And while it couldn’t go faster than 55 miles an hour without shaking, it did the trick and got me from point A (my house) to point B (school, a friend’s house… occasionally, a Manhattan night club – shh! don’t tell my parents). I loved that little Toyota because it was mine. It took me hours and many paper towels and cleaning agents to clean it up, but it was ultimately the best $50 dollars I’d ever spent.

My next car was another Toyota – I was brand loyal and didn’t even know it! – an MR2, this time. Definitely a step up from my first set of wheels, and a much cooler car for my college years. It was red and sporty and was the most fun way a person could drive the 7+ hours it would take to get from New York to Charlottesville, Virginia, where I went to school. (I, like Tina Fey, attended the University of Virgina – out of state, I might add.) Save for the one time I drove home through a blizzard, and the one time the car was broken into right outside my off-campus home, I have nothing but fond memories of that car. I’d bought it from a friend’s parents for $700.  Affectionately named “Mr. 2” by my friend’s brother, I never called it anything but. I moved to Manhattan shortly after graduation and left the car with my parents in Queens where it survived another few years as an extra beater for my family to use as needed. It was literally “beaten” to the ground when my parents’ neighbor borrowed it one day and claimed that is just “seized” on him for no reason. Upon investigating, we learned that he had driven it with no oil in the tank… and so we bid farewell to Mr. 2.

Fast forward to *gulp* 15 years later, and I am finally on the market again for a car. Living in NYC all these years, a car would simply have been superfluous, not to mention incredibly burdensome (do I pay hundreds a month for a parking spot, or do I challenge the parking gods and tackle alternate side of the street parking twice a week?) But here I am, with a need to get out of Manhattan multipe times a week for various reasons, in most cases with my three year old daughter in tow, and the subways and railroads, while a practical alternative, are simply not cutting it anymore. So I recently hit the dealerships and, man, was I unprepared for what ensued. I mean, was I to seriously expect that the smarmy car salespeople depicted in TV and film were in fact not at all an exaggeration of their real life counterparts? Were they really still using ridiculously outdated negotiation tactics to try to brainwash me into buying a car – not to mention, buying all their BS while I was at it? It was a rude awakening and it made me think about the fictitious car salespeople in pop culture that had helped shape the stereotype for me in the first place.

First, there’s my favorite – the anti-car salesman, if you will, Owen Thoreux, Jr., (Andre Braugher) owner of Thoreux Chevrolet on TNTs Men of a Certain Age. (Which is sadly, no longer on the air.) There is NOTHING car salesman-like about this guy – he cannot be more honest, likeable, sincere and considerate. So what’s the catch? Well, he essentially inherited the dealership from his (not so squeaky clean) father who had only recently retired and left it in his hands. Obviously a lucrative business, it made sense for him to take it on. And as far as the stereotypical salesmen, well, the dealership is chock full of them, and the shenanigans that ensue in every scene set on the showroom floor are likely indicative of exactly what happens in dealerships nationwide. I could not help but recall the many antics from the show as I sat in a real life dealership last weekend, waiting for the salesman to return from the “back room” where the very secret “negotiations” were being made with the “person in charge” – or, in other words, as I waited for him to come back from his coffee break to present me an offer I couldn’t refuse. One that, by the way, was no where near the parameters I’d given him in the first place. Classic.

Next there’s the famous Jon Voight episode (actually referred to as the ‘Mom and Pop Store’ episode) from my all time favorite sitcom, Seinfeld. This is the one where George is hoodwinked into buying a Chrysler convertible by a slippery NYC car salesman who tells him the previous owner was Jon Voight, the famous actor and father of Angelina Jolie. That was enough to convince him (and probably a lot of people) to take the plunge. Turns out the car was actually owned by John Voight, a local dentist, which is discovered when the tooth marks on a pencil from the glovebox are about to be compared to the tooth marks on Kramer’s arm which had been left by the actual Jon Voight who bit Kramer when he tried stopping his cab. (Gotta love that show). Anyway, George was planning to have a dentist-friend compare the toothmarks when he reveals that JOHN Voight is a periodontist he knows who was selling his Chysler convertible. George, defeated, snaps the pencil in two and gives up hope that the car ever had anything to do with the famous actor. While the car salesman’s role is small, it was certainly not insignificant, as it set the stage for one of the most memorable episodes of the hilarious series.

Lastly there’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Can you tell I’m a big Larry David fan?) There is an episode entitled “The Car Salesman” in which Larry decides to take a job as an actual car salesman. For anyone who knows his character, you already know where this is going. While he might be cut out for wheeling and dealing in Hollywood (although what he really does all day is still a mystery) he is certainly not made of whatever it takes to sell cars. He does put some real creative effort forth (“GTS” stands for guaranteed tremendous safety!) but in the end he is proven unable to get the job done. Surprise surprise.

Hopefully I’ll be greeted by more of an Owen Thoreux than a Larry David at the next dealership I walk into but, either way, I’ll try to see the humor in it all and hopefully laugh my way into my brand new car.

Voice your choice in today’s featured poll and tell us which of these popular car-themed songs is your favorite?

Baby You Can Drive My Car (The Beatles)
Chasing Cars (Snow Patrol)
Counting Blue Cars (Dishwalla)

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