Confessions of a Car Man


A Goat Tale

Ed Gonzales thought he was a funny guy and a major league prankster, but most everyone else thought he was a major pain in the ass. That was about to change. After a distinguished career of being an asshole, the second rule of the car business, “What Goes Around, Comes Around” finally kicked in for Ed.

Big time.

Ed worked at Hayward Ford with a fellow named Art Horsfall. Art liked to bring a bag lunch to work with him each day, a practice that was somewhat unusual for a Car Man. For some reason Ed thought it was amusing to sneak into Art’s office, take a bite out of his sandwich, and put it back in its wrapper. Funny, huh? Ed never tried to cover up his crime. As a matter of fact he was proud of it, acting gleeful when he was able to say, “Gotcha!” to a pissed off Art.

After experiencing Ed’s warped sense of humor a few times, Art decided to do something about it. He lived on a small ranch outside of town, and on that ranch he raised goats. Art got the idea to take a little goat shit and mix it into some tuna salad. He then made a sandwich out of the concoction and took it to work with him.
The stage was set. Art placed the lunch sack where he knew Ed would find it. Ed took the bait, sneaking a couple of bites out of the sandwich after which he carefully returned it to the bag.

Later, after Art was certain Ed had done his dirty deed, he proceeded with the second phase of his plan: public humiliation. There was an alcove on the side of the showroom where the salesmen gathered to drink coffee. Art spotted Ed out there bullshitting with a couple of the guys. Art went over, got a cup of coffee out of the machine, and went over to join them. He waited a couple of minutes then casually asked, “So, Ed. How’d you like the sandwich?

Ed grinned and said, “It was great! Thanks a lot!”

“Did you notice anything different?”

“Notice what?”

“I mixed goat shit in it.”

The result was instant. The salesmen went crazy with laughter. Ed paled and ran into the bathroom, suddenly feeling sick. Word spread throughout the dealership and eventually, up and down Auto Row. Ed Gonzalez was now a part of Car Man history.

Ed was highly upset about this, of course, but there was really nothing he could do about it. No one had forced him to take a bite out of a sandwich that was not his to begin with. Management attempted to quell the torrent of ridicule, but if you know Car Men, it would not, could not, end so easily.

Ed had one eye that wandered. When you spoke to him, you never quite knew which one to look at. “One eye on a helicopter, the other on a submarine”, as someone described it. Ed had a favorite place to watch for customers at the front of the showroom. For months when we would see him there, we would hide out of sight, and call out, “Baa! Baa!” Ed would spin around, his good eye desperately trying to find the culprit. Invariably, he could not and would turn and storm off in a huff.

The teasing eventually eased off, not because we did not still think it was funny, but because Ed seemed to be cured of his smart-ass ways. There were no more stolen bites from sandwiches, and he actually became somewhat human. A couple of years passed. Nothing had been said in a long time. And then…

We were working at a new dealership, Hayward Datsun where my brother, Danny, was the general manager. Some of us had followed him there including the infamous Ed Gonzalez. On the weekends we had a young lady answering the telephones. Her name was Barbara Horsfall, Art Horfall’s lovely teenage daughter. Danny had been talking to her about her father and life out on the ranch when he started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be funny…”

It was at a Saturday morning sales meeting. We had all gathered to listen to the bullshit that is the stuff of all sales meetings, but at the end of this particular meeting, Danny announced, “Ed, we have a special gift for you.” He pointed toward the doorway where we spotted Barbara leading a goat on a leash. She entered the office, and as if on cue, the goat crapped all over the floor!

Ed’s mouth dropped. He stammered something and ran out of the building like he was on fire! No one ever saw him again. Even when his final check was ready, he sent his wife in to get it.

Over the years I have often wondered what happened to Ed Gonzales. We had worked with him on and off for a few years, and it was as if he had fallen off the edge of the earth. I think most of us felt a little bad about the incident. Over time Ed had mellowed to a fairly decent guy, but as Car Men sometimes say, “I guess he just couldn’t take a joke”.

A lot of time has passed, and I have shouldered my fair share of guilt. But when I think back on the goat shit sandwich incident, I cannot help but say in my mind,

“Baa! Baa!”

Talk to you later,


Hollywood Man

Detroit and Tokyo have one thing in common: they don’t understand car salesmen, and they don’t have a clue as to how cars are really sold. You see, selling cars is a mystery to most people who have college degrees, and since the factories don’t hire car men as consultants, a mystery it will always remain. The factories maintain a state of plausible denial, forever pretending that the world of a car man—the real world of a car man—is something that doesn’t happen.

Over the years, I’ve had to sleep—sorry, I mean sit—through many factory sales training courses. These courses are usually in the form of videos since the factory has learned they are better off not confronting us directly. No, they don’t have the balls to do that!

These videos portray the Hollywood version of a car salesman. By this I don’t mean the “Used Cars” version, or the completely ridiculous “Cadillac Man” and other movies that malign our business. In this case I’m referring to the version that is what the factory thinks we all should be, a bright eyed thirty-year-old, dressed in a suit and tie, an eager beaver ready to give his all for the company.

This is not to say that car men are not eager. We are, for money. But an experienced salesman concentrates on the most efficient ways to obtain his goals. They do things these videos never show you. Like how to deal with a flake. How to deal with a vampire. How to switch the guy from that new SUV that will earn you a mini, to a used one that will help pay your Visa bill. And the one they will, never, never mention: how to sandbag the desk if need be.

No, the Hollywood salesman has a neat little appointment book. He makes ten cold calls a day and mails out twenty postcards. He goes 100% on every up he encounters, including guys riding bicycles. And at the end of his day, he goes over his prospects with a wise sales manager who looks upon him as a son.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a good follow-up ethic (something I seem to lack). But making ten cold calls a day? A complete waste of time. I once worked at a place where the sales manager used to tear out pages from the telephone book and hand them out for punishment. There was a near rebellion.

Today, the car salesman is trapped. Trapped by a thing called CSI, and I’m not talking about the TV shows. CSI, Customer Satisfaction Index, is the bane of all car men. You just can’t beat the crap out of the idiot you’re talking to even if he deserves it. Oh, how I miss the good ‘ol days!

There’s nothing to be done about all this. New car salesman will always be required to watch the bullshit handed down by the factory. They will continue to be deluged by information that is marginal at best. They will always have to rely on instinct and trial and error to learn what really sells cars.

Of course, you could listen to me, the Cynical Bastard. Then you’ll really be in trouble!

Talk to you later,


In Memory Of Ron Showalter

I never got a chance to say goodbye to Ron Showalter. On the day of his funeral, I was attending another one. My mother. Being a natural born ham (I have the gift of gab, my mother used to tell me.), I would have loved to have spoken of my affection for a man who is still bright in my memory two years after his death.

Ron and I sold Chevrolets at the same dealership. When I went to work there, I was a wreck. I had recently undergone a complete economic meltdown, and I was literally hanging on to my sanity by the tips of my fingers. On that first day this is how Ron greeted me: He left a message on my desk. It was a telephone number and a name: Dr. Wang. Call him immediately. I dialed the number. It was a doctor all right, a doctor that specialized in penis enlargements.

Ron was in his late fifties at time. The same age I am now. Apparently he had spent a large portion of the first part of his life being a drunk. As he told me, he had pretty much made a mess of things. But when I met him, he’d been sober for many years, and he had totally redeemed himself. Everyone Ron met, from fellow salesman, to customers, to friends he had helped out countless times, loved him. And I grew to love the man too.

Ron was funny and compassionate. If you needed advice or someone just to listen, he was always there. He was a voice of reason in a profession filled with craziness. Many a time I called on him to hear my woes. Each time he stopped his busy day to lend me his ear.

Ron had many sayings. God, I wish I had written them all down! We worked near a college town, a hot bed of obnoxious liberals. Whenever he encountered one he would ask them, “Let me ask you something. Do your friends know you are on a domestic lot?”

There was a Toyota dealership down the street. Every once in a while, someone waiting for their car to be serviced would wander in. Many were real smart asses, so sure of the superiority of a Toyota over a Chevy--as if we gave a rat’s ass. When Ron would run into them, he would look at them with total sincerity and ask, “Why do they have service departments at Toyota dealerships? I understand they never breakdown.” He said this with such deadpan innocence; I don’t think they even realized they’d been insulted.

There was a manager that occasionally worked on the weekends. (This was before I worked there.) A very conservative man, I guess. When Ron would come to work and see him, he’d turn to the guys and say, “The bakery’s closed, boys. No rolls today!”

Ron would sing this little ditty to the tune of the Nat King Cole song, “Unforgettable”

“Unfinanceable, that’s what you are…”

Me being the smart ass I am made up the rest.

“Unfinanceable, no freaking car…
You may want a new Chevrolet,
But you won’t be taking one home today,
Unfinanceable you.”

Ron got a great kick out of that.

Another Ron Showalter saying was, “The guy must be drinking his own bath water!”

And my all-time favorite: “No dinero, no Camaro!”

Late in his life Ron met a wonderful woman named Linda. He’d been single for many years and was more than a little skittish about entering a relationship. But he fell in love and married her. They were together all the way to the end. They were wonderful together!

Ron died young—in his mid-60s. His death was a tragedy for anyone whose life he touched, a great loss to the car business, and those who toil in it every day to make a living.

So Ron, I never got to speak at your funeral. I never got a chance at a proper good-bye. But I want you to know that I will never forget your friendship. If there ever was a certified car man, an example to us all, it was you, the late, great, Ron Showalter.

Talk to you later,


The Third Greatest Mystery

There is an old Car Man axiom called, “The Three Greatest Mysteries.” The first mystery is how did they build the pyramids? The second, where do elephants go to die? The third and greatest mystery of all is where do the Chinese buy their cars? You see Chinese people everyday driving way too slow on the city streets and highways. They must buy those cars somewhere, but if you ask the average Car Man the last time he sold one, he would be hard pressed to answer.

I have nothing against the Chinese. I love Lucy Liu, beef chow mein and firecrackers, but during my forty years in this business I do not believe I have sold more than a dozen of them cars. I developed a bad attitude toward Chinese people early in my career. After suffering through the green pea ritual of having the older salesman trick me into taking them as ups, I soon realized that I was being put together.

Simply put, waiting on most Chinese people is usually a frustrating and puzzling experience. Frustrating because they make extremely stupid offers and then not budge a dime; puzzling because when it comes to purchasing a car their thought processes run counter to those of most other people.

The Chinese are a people of great knowledge and logic. They make great doctors, dentists, CPA’s. They are brilliant scientists, mathematicians, lawyers, and restaurateurs. Our culture is richer for their presence in both our history and our future, but you do not want to sell them a car!

Waiting on a Chinese customer is usually a nightmare. They are mystifying to most Car Men. Even Chinese Car Men do not like waiting on them. Why? Because when it comes down to buying a car the great logic which is a hallmark of their personalities goes completely out the window.

Example: Chinese people do not believe in factory invoices. Unlike most of the other customers you encounter who are trying to get a mooch deal, you cannot make things easy by offering to sell them a new car or truck for a figure over the factory invoice. They never go for it. You wonder to yourself, what the hell is wrong here? I am only asking for $500 over! Caucasians fall for it every time, assuming you can get them financed, but not the Chinese. If you show them a factory invoice they will look at you blankly then hit you with an offer that is not even remotely based in reality.

This puzzled me for years until one day a Chinese customer finally let me in on the secret. I was selling Hondas, a prime target for Chinese vampires. He had made me the traditional crazy offer on an Accord. I threw up my hands and asked, “Where the hell did you get that number?” Normally any questions about their car-thinking processes are met with deaf ears, but this time the man looked at me and said, “I dreamt it.”

“Dreamt it?” I asked, more than a little dumbfounded.

He proceeded to tell me that he had a dream that he was spending a certain amount of money for a car. So he came down the dealership and made an offer based on the dream.

“You made me an offer based on a freaking dream?” I asked with amazement.

Yes, he nodded.

“So what are you going to do now that you know you can’t buy a new Accord for that amount of money?”

“I will go to another Honda dealership and offer it there.”

I thought, “Goddamn! Do they all think this way?”

As far as I can tell Chinese people do not get the concept of time versus money. They will spend every weekend for weeks trying to save $100 on a car. They will burn that much in gas, but it does not seem to make any difference to them.

“What will happen if you go to every Honda dealership in the Bay Area and no one will sell you a car for that figure?”

“I will then try for a Toyota Camry.”

“And after that?”

“I will look at Nissans.”

And then Mazda, Mitsubishi, and I guess eventually the bottom of the Japanese automotive barrel, the lowly Suzuki. Hell, a couple of model years might pass before he buys!

This situation has frustrated me so much I made a vow never to sell cars that Chinese people prefer to buy like Hondas or Toyotas. If you want to avoid dealing with the Chinese sell Chevrolets. Chinese people do not drive Chevrolets. If you see one that does I guarantee you it is either a rental car or he is running for public office in Detroit.

Many Chinese people are very superstitious. I have had them refuse to test drive a used car because the license plate was an unlucky number. I once worked at a place that had an unlucky dealer number. I could not use a dealer plate when taking them for a ride in a new car!

They do not like even numbers. A smart Car Man knows to never suggest a price like $12,000 for a car. It has to be and odd number, $12,107 or something like that.

With all this in mind, a Car Man on the lookout for a prospect on a Saturday morning will do what he can to avoid waiting on Chinese customers. They are pretty easy to spot. They often travel around in what we refer to as wagon trains, at least two cars filled to capacity for one buyer. A fellow Car Man once told me that they usually like to have a total of seven people because seven is a lucky number. Whenever I have counted six, I wondered if they had the ashes of an ancestor in their trunk.

The upside of selling cars to Chinese people is that almost all of them have good credit. Chinese flakes are few and far between. If you run into one it is usually because of a gambling problem. They love to gamble. If you doubt this just visit your local Indian casino.

I suspect that selling the Chinese cars will always be an enigma. Future generations of Car Men will continue to spend time trying to figure them out, only to come to the conclusion that the best course of action is to simply avoid them. But the mystery remains: where the hell do Chinese people buy their cars?

No one really knows.

Talk to you later,


I Hate Corvettes

Dear Reader: This blog entry gets more hits than anything else I have ever written. I am very curious as to why. Are there that many people out there that hate Corvettes? I would appreciate it if you would write something in the comment section below explaining your thoughts on this matter.

David Teves

I hate Chevy Corvettes. This is a pretty strong statement when you consider that the one of the biggest commission I have ever made was on a ’03 coupe. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the Corvette as a classic America sports car, though each year I find it harder and harder to get in and out of one. It is just that I hate the people who buy them.

For me, trying to sell a Corvette is pure agony. It is what I like to call a Haley’s Comet sale: it happens once every seventy-six years. Over the years I have spent an inordinate amount of time showing The Others Corvettes with not much to show for it. That is why I have grown to loathe the suckers.

Ask most Car Men and they will confirm that Corvettes are the biggest mooch magnets on the market. The reasons lie deep in the psyche of every red-blooded American male. The Toyota Camry may be the number one selling car in America, but no guy has ever dreamt about driving down the highway of life on a beautiful summer’s day with a blonde beside him in a Camry. The Corvette is an icon, the fiberglass version of “The Field of Dreams”: If you have one, she will come.

The problem with a ‘Vette is this: When you are young, more than likely you cannot afford the payment. Heck, you probably can't even afford the insurance on it. When you add those two payments together it is almost always a deal buster. And when you finely do find your blonde and marry her, a Corvette is out of the question. You can't put your honey along with a stack of groceries and a child car seat in a Corvette, but this still does not mean you would not give your left nut to have one. For some it becomes a life-long obsession. Unfortunately, the usual victim of this obsession is a Car Man.

There is an army of idiots out there that spend a good portion of their spare time lusting over a car they will never be able to pull the trigger and buy. They search the classified ads and car magazines. They do their unholy research on the Internet, and they pester Chevy dealers endlessly, trying desperately to find the Perfect One--the Corvette that has their name on it; the perfect seat for their obsessive ass. If by chance they happen to actually come across the perfect Corvette, that is when the trouble begins.

I am of the opinion that for a lot of people the act of looking for a Corvette is almost as satisfying as actually owning one. Just the mental pleasure of wanting one makes you a kind of surrogate Corvette owner without the burden of a high monthly payment. “I’m a Corvette guy!” you can say to yourself. You are looking for one, right? Looking is just one step away from buying, right? Therefore, you are a Corvette owner who just does not happen have a Corvette at the moment.

The Corvette mooch will never buy a car from you because the car he has captured in his twitchy imagination is a gleaming gem of automotive perfection, and no Corvette he will ever find can match up to this image. Even if he stumbles across one that is dangerously close to the Corvette of his dreams, he will have no choice but to make up imperfections. Because if he found that perfect, affordable ‘Vette it would mean he might actually have to buy it, and he certainly cannot have that!

This does not stop a mooch from coming onto your lot and wasting your time. He is as attracted to the siren call of the Corvette as a moth is to a flame. As he walks around the car, his heartbeat elevates, his palms become sweaty. He will try to bait you with hints about his high-paying union job. To further spice things up he might mention that he may even pay cash for the car. (Do not be fooled. He has $300 in his checking account.) This is all designed to achieve his ultimate goal: taking the plastic sled for a test drive. For if he takes the car for a drive and people see him driving it, he can pretend he owns it.

If he successfully lures you into his trap all is good until you get back to the dealership. That is when the excuses begin:

“Ah, gee, I wanted a 6-speed, and this one’s an automatic.”

Or, “I really wanted an automatic. Too bad this one’s a 6-speed.”

“This one is blue. I really wanted a red one with the optional wheels.”

“It has to have under 30,000 miles on it,” he insists. “This one has nearly 40,000. Just my luck!”

And if you could somehow magically produce one just the way he wants it, he would say without missing a beat, "Oh why couldn’t it be a convertible?"

“I’ll call the used car factory and have them make one up for you!” you want to scream.

Now I know there are guys who successfully sell Corvettes, just like I know there are guys who successfully sell Volvos. They must be steely-eyed Car Men, in my view. And I realize I have a bad attitude about this particular subject. God knows I have been accused of having a bad attitude about a lot of things on more than one occasion. But for the average Car Man, I speak the truth.

I hate Corvettes, and my advice to you is: stay away from them.

Talk to you later,


The Three Rules

Over the years I have pondered the rules that govern the automobile business. Of course, each dealership has its own set, but it seemed to me that there must be some universal truths that are common to Car Men everywhere; sort of like the Ten Commandments with white walls.

There are a myriad of conventions that control our activities, but I have managed to whittle them down to three basic rules. The Three Commandments, if you will. Understand the three rules, and you will better understand the business, and your life will be a hell of a lot easier. So here they are, the Big Three, in ascending order:


The third rule is a simple one: for every car on your lot there is an ass somewhere that will eventually fill its cracked leather seats. Some cars go away quickly, driven over the curb by a happy ass to live out a happy automotive life. Other cars are problem children. They can sit, sit, and sit, an ass seemingly nowhere in sight. But Car Men are harkened by the fact that an ass will always eventually appear. This means that the ’02 Ford Taurus gathering dust on your back line has some buns waiting for it somewhere. All you have to do is to be patient. The anointed ass will come.

Many dealerships will hang on to a car no matter how long it takes to find an ass for its seat. Others go into a panic about their aged inventory, especially the used cars. Thirty days after the sled hits the line they start to get concerned. At sixty days it has a nice spiff on it, and at ninety days the offending vehicle is going down the lane at the auto auction. However, this does not break the rule. The seat may not have found an ass on your lot, but it will on someone else’s.


The sucker skated you. It was your afternoon off and like a fool you took it. He got your customer, sold him a car, and your name is nowhere on the deal. “He didn’t ask for you,” the perpetrator claims with all the smart-ass sincerity he can muster.


What the hell do you do? After considering murder or planting dope in his desk you make the decision: “I won’t get mad. I’ll get even!”

Get even, that is what you will do! What goes around comes around. Better yet get him twice! That is what h e gets for for messing with you! And it will not be on some low-commission new car. No, sir. It will be on a used a car with a big fat gross!

What goes around comes around also applies to a Car Man’s relationship with customers. In our eyes The Others are the biggest liars going. As the saying goes, “How can you tell if a customer is lying to you? Watch his lips. If they’re moving, he’s lying!”

As a budding Car Man I was taken advantage of by a lot of customers who preyed on my youth and unguarded enthusiasm. Back in 1971 (and I swear this is true) I had a customer by the name of Barry Tideman. He worked for a company called Moore Business Forms. Mr. Tideman stroked me unmercifully about a new Ford Torino. He took full advantage of my green pea status; milking me for as much information he could only to buy the car someplace else without even giving me a chance. I have never forgotten this offence, and I pray that someday I will run into him or his progeny to extract my revenge.

Sometimes what goes around comes around can affect you monetarily. Many years ago I was involved in the sale of two cars to a man who turned out to be a pimp. (He purchased the cars for couple of his “ladies”.) Because there was fraud involved, the cars were repossessed, and his large down payment was not returned, yet they still charged back my $500 in commissions. Needless to say I was pissed! But keeping “what goes around comes around” in mind, I kept my cool and waited.

Two months later it happened. I got my month-end commission check and noticed it was too high--about $500 too high. They had made a mistake and paid me twice on a deal. Did I say anything? No freaking way! The Car God had spoken. The universe had righted itself.

So if something bad happens to you, if that pipe-smoker has wasted your time and made your life miserable, take heart. The Car God sees all, and he deals with it--eventually. As for my friend Barry Tideman, your time is coming, my friend, and you will be mine!

Oh, yes, you will me mine.


There is not too much I need to say about this rule. It speaks for itself. It is the Big Kahuna. Numero Uno. It is the one that controls our business as surely as the sun controls the solar system. The car business is not fair. It never was, and it never will be. If you want fairness go get a job at the post office.

Over the years I have learned that if you can accept the lack of fairness in our beloved industry you will be a happier Car Man, but many times that is not an easy thing to do. You are working with a bunch of snakes and quite a few of them are members of management. There are all kinds of ways they can mess with your head. The rule is toughest on the guys who come to the business later in life from jobs that had, let us say, more ethics. When you are selling iron for a living, there is no union to go to and file a grievance.

“Hey, I got screwed!” he says, looking at his lowered “adjusted” commission voucher. That is right buddy. You got screwed! Oh, well. The car business is not fair.

So if you are a Car Man keep this and the other rules in mind. There is an ass for every seat. The car business is not fair, but what goes around comes around. Remember this and you will be reasonably happy and stay somewhat sane.

Now that I think about it there is a forth rule. It is a minor one, but it is a rule just the same:


For some reason people from India do not like you knowing whom the car is for. They will, for reasons known only to them, try to hide it from you. I once sold a used truck to a group of Indian gentlemen. One guy did the talking, a second took the truck for a test drive, a third filled out the credit application, a fourth gave me the down payment, and a fifth guy drove the truck off the lot. I asked they guy doing the talking who the truck was for. He looked at me and said, “Guess.”

Talk to you later,


Hal Nelson and the Green Dodge Van

My first months at Hayward Ford were a trial for me. I was scared to death most of the time. That is probably the reason why my memories of those days are so vivid. My introduction into the world of Car Men was burned into my brain as surely as an image on a photographic negative. The salesmen were not exactly mean to me though Bill Keith referred to me as “summer help”. For the most part they ignored me. Hoping, I suppose, I would just go away. Looking back on those days I have come to realize that I was a harbinger of the next generation, and I do not think they particularly liked that fact.

My first used car manager was Hal Nelson. Hal was a man of average height with thinning salt and pepper hair and a dark complexion. He was a sharp dresser and always had a cigarette in his mouth. Hal had been around the business a long time. You had to be sharp to be a used car manager in those days, and Hal knew his job well. He was definitely a Car Man of the first order and not the sort of guy who would take any guff from the new car manager’s little brother.

I would not say that Hal disliked me. He was too busy a man to give a green pea like me much notice, but when I had a trade-in that needed to be appraised I would head toward the used car office with trepidation. Hal Nelson was a man of many moods, and it appeared to me that I did not make that mood any better. I was usually greeted with a growl.

When Hal appraised a car it was not enough for him to look the sled over and give you a number. At least with me he itemized all the things that were wrong with the car in agonizing detail. Sometimes the total estimate of reconditioning was more than the Blue Book value of the car! I once got an appraisal for minus $150.00! I was too intimidated to say anything. I would just take the appraisal to my brother who would sigh and call Hal up on the dealership’s intercom system. “Why are you screwing with my little brother?” Danny he would ask with humor in his voice.

Over time I figured out how to work Hal Nelson. It seemed to me that if he were in a bad mood, you would surely receive a bad appraisal. If he was in a good mood you still might get a bad appraisal, but at least he would not make you feel guilty for making him look at the trade. What I started to do was to tell him a joke every time I visited his office. This was not always easy because I have never been one to remember jokes, but getting Hal to laugh was the key to leaving his office unscathed and with a halfway decent number on your car.

Hal always wore expensive suits. The worst thing you could do was to bring him a really dirty car. If the dirt level passed a certain threshold Hal would not get in it. He would write a figure in large numbers on the appraisal sheet and underline it three or four times.

“This doesn’t say fifty bucks, David,” he would say, stabbing his pen at the appraisal pad. “It says fifty cents!”

A few minutes later Danny would have to call him to get the real number.

One day an event occurred that changed my relationship with Hal Nelson forever. It all started when I waited on a guy driving a mid-60’s Dodge van. He was probably in his late twenties with long, unkempt brown hair. The thing I remember most was that he was a bundle of nerves. Throughout the course of working the deal I had the feeling he might bolt at any second.

He sat in my office twitching nervously in his seat, stammering as I asked him questions for the credit application. I do not remember what he was trying to buy, but he did want to use his van as a trade-in. Things went reasonably well--until I asked him for his keys to the Dodge. He did not like the idea that I was going to have his vehicle appraised, but after some coaxing he finally agreed on the condition that he could first remove something from the van.

We went out to where the Dodge was parked on the street. It was an ugly military green. He opened the side doors revealing a wood-paneled interior with green shag carpeting. 70’s chic. The only seats were the two up front. Mounted on the paneled walls were framed black and white photographs of major figures of the day. There was a photo of Robert F. Kennedy, a second of Martin Luther King, a third was the poet Allan Ginsberg. The van was empty except for a thick brown photo album on the carpeted floor. He scooped the album up and hugged it to his chest as if someone might grab it away from him. I was too dumb to be curious. I was just relieved that it was now okay for me to take the van to Hal.

Even after my clever warm-up joke Hal Nelson did not react well to this particular Dodge van. Perhaps he sensed something was up. He walked slowly around it shaking his head. The interior made him groan. We got in and went for the appraisal drive. Part way down Mission Boulevard Hal asked me to open the glove box and find the registration. I did so—and came up with a handful of color Polaroid photographs of my customer having sex with men.

Oh. My. God.

Hal took a glance at the photos and handed them back to me. I threw them back into the glove box as if they were on fire. This was 1971. I was twenty-one years old. I knew what a homosexual was, but I had never had contact with a gay man in my entire life. My face paled. Hal did not react well either, though I think he found my reaction amusing.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “We’ll handle this when we get back.”

When we returned to the used car office, Hal got Danny on the intercom. They talked for a couple of minutes. Hal had this amazing ability to look serious as hell while chuckling through the events of our drive.

“I think we’re going to have to turn this deal to another salesman,” he advised.

“Hell yeah!” I thought.
From that day forward my relationship with Hal Nelson changed. Our experience in the green Dodge van had somehow bonded us. Gone was the gruffness, although I still got a lousy appraisal if he was in a bad mood. This relationship continued for many years afterward until his passing. He became an auto wholesaler, and I was now all grown up and a sales manager at a Nissan dealership. Occasionally we would cross paths. We would always greet each other warmly, exchange a joke or two--but we never spoke of the Dodge van again.

What happened with the deal? Well, my brother turned the to our best salesman, Tony Batarse. Tony B., as he was called, was from El Salvador, a very intelligent man who spoke with a soft Spanish accent that belied his remarkable sales abilities. I nervously took him to my office and introduced him to the customer who was sitting in his chair still clinging to the binder.

I left the office quickly hoping Tony could do his magic. A half a deal was better than none! As I walked away I heard Tony say this, “Sir, I will give you an extra $100 off this deal if I can look in that binder!”

The Others

My friend, Pablo, first turned me on to the term “The Others” to refer to non-car people. I was immediately taken with it for it perfectly describes the disconnect many car men feel when dealing with those who are not in the business. And to make things worse, the longer you sell cars the gulf between you and them grows wider and wider.

For me the gulf began shortly after I started selling cars nearly forty years ago. A friend of mine asked me, “But what do you really want to do with your life?” Now in retrospect the decision to get into the automobile business might have been a crazy one, but I was making more money than any of my friends and was driving a brand new car for free, insurance included. (Alas, the demo days are gone!) Life was good!

But that was the beginning of the rift between me and The Others that continues to this day. You go to a party, maybe one with your wife’s business associates, and you don’t want to tell them what you do for a living. How could they possibly understand? Anyway, the fact that you sell cars for a living is usually met with a combination of disdain or horror. Even those who are not turned off by your profession like to revel you with stories about how they screwed a car guy.

Years ago I worked with a guy named Eddie Alexander. Eddie told me he wanted nothing to do with non-car people. Couldn’t stand to be in the same room with them. I didn’t totally understand this at the time, but boy, I do now! They don’t understand us, and we understand them all too much. We deal with these idiots every day, and we certainly don’t want to go out and have a drink with them!

The down side of all this is that many car guys become isolated from the outside world. We spend all day talking to people, why would we want to spend our off-time talking—especially to people who do not understand us? Give us solitude, a beer, and a baseball game on TV!

Many auto rows have a bar that caters to the salesmen. (There was a place in Oakland that was called The Bluebook. I don’t know if it’s still there.) These bars are places where a car man can go and relax and exchange war stories with people who accept and understand them. It’s kind of like a group therapy session with martinis! Unfortunately, some of these guys develop an aversion to going home.

Selling cars, especially if you do it for a lot of years, can be damaging to a your psyche, and might negatively effect your family life too. The Others beat you up everyday, and you are the one who is considered the bad guy!

For a car man life is tough—and then you die.

Talk to you later,


A Suck Is A Suck

His name was Bill Blount. He was a big guy, about 6’ 1”, well over two hundred pounds. He claimed to be a WWII veteran. And he was an ugly, obnoxious son-of-a bitch. In other words, Bill was a Car Man.

I used to call him the “Hunchback of Hayward Nissan” given the prominent rise on the top of his back. He had no ass, buck teeth, and couldn’t sing. He would use his flat, baritone voice as a weapon, standing in the middle of the showroom, arms extended like a big band crooner singing,

“You picked the wrong time to leave me, Lucille,
Four hungry children and crops in the field…”

He would sing this ditty over and over with unmitigated abandon until you wanted to grab a sharp object and stab him in the neck.

I worked with Bill Blount on and off for about ten years. When I was a green pea he got great pleasure out of terrorizing me. He would stand outside my office window when I was with a customer and mouth my words as I spoke, attempting (successfully) to throw me off stride. He was one of those guys that reveled in conflict. Pardon my French, but he just enjoyed fucking with people.

Bill was a single man with a murky past. He had no apparent family of his own, but there were rumors of a son somewhere. His main preoccupation was cruising the bars with his wingman Roger Marvel. He reveled in grossing me out, telling me stories about picking up older women, who he referred to as “old stoves”.

“I took her back to my house”, he would explain, his face alight with the memory of his most recent conquest. “We had a couple of Manhattans. Then I took her into the living room, put her down in front of the fireplace and grabbed her …

“Stop it!” I would plead. I couldn’t bear the mental image of Bill Blount screwing.

Bill had a soft side. He had four of five little dogs that would get on their hind legs and dance around as he crooned to them in a voice that could peel paint. Every Christmas he dressed up as Santa Claus and visited the house of the salesmen with little children. He seemed to get more of a kick out of this then the kids.

His favorite expression was “a suck is a suck”. There was something curiously disgusting about the way he would say it. For years I ignored the expression, until one day I asked him about it. He told me a story I would never forget.

“During the war I was a bomber pilot,” he said casually.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Bill, a bomber pilot? That crazy bastard? I called him on it. He looked at me and smiled.

“They looked for guys like me,” he explained. “You had to be a little nuts to fly one of those flying coffins into combat. The guys that were straight would never do it.”

I had to admit, it made a crazy sort of sense. If anyone had the ability to throw caution to the wind, it was a young Bill Blount. He told me about getting shot down over the Pacific. Fortunately, he was near an island. He had his crew bail out, and he ditched the plane. He then proceeded to have a mini nervous breakdown. He was taken to a hospital that specialized with guys like him, soldiers that had seen a little too much of the horrors of war.

One day Bill was in the swimming pool. He was sunning himself near the shallow end, arms spread out along the edge, head back, his eyes closed. All of a sudden he felt something. He opened his eyes and looked down. A guy was giving him oral pleasure. Bill’s first reaction was to hit the guy. He raised his hand to strike, then stopped. He thought to himself—

“What the hell. A suck is a suck.”

This revelation shocked me. Was Bill a sick puppy, or a guy so comfortable with himself and his environment that making a fool out of himself was no big deal? I never figured it out.

Bill Blount eventually drifted away. He had quit or had been fired many times over the years. I can’t remember what preceded his last exit from the dealership and therefore my life. He’s passed on now. He’s only a memory. I’ve often wondered to whom. He was a man full of life, but strangely empty too.

So long, Bill. I miss you. I guess.

Oh, well. A suck is a suck.

Talk to you later,


The Two Natural Enemies

Car Men have two natural enemies: firemen and real estate agents. Of all the people who might come onto your lot to waste your time these two groups have the highest jack-off potential.

Why, you ask? Let us start with our friends in the real estate business. In a normal economy, real estate brokers and agents think they are the top dogs of all the sales professions. When things are going right for them they have a sense of entitlement that makes you want to put a fist in their collective faces. From the moment a broker gets out of her (or his) car you know you are in trouble. She walks like a queen venturing out to review her subjects. Her whole demeanor screams, “You will kiss my ass!” A Car Man’s heart sinks because you suspect you are not going to be making any money on this prospect.

Real estate people only want the top of the line. Only the best for me! All the whistles and bells. Nothing left out. Like a classic vampire she wants all the information you can give her and more, the tone of her voice commanding you to do so. Every attempt at a trial close is met with a raised eyebrow and a sneer of contempt. “Don’t try and close me!” the sneer says. “Show me how those seats work! Demonstrate the navigation system (she just has to have navigation!).” Then, the very long test-drive, the conversation sprinkled with hints about how well she is doing. “You should be very jealous of me,” her voice suggests.

This is all well and good. I mean it is your job as a Car Man to give a proper presentation of the product. The aggravating part is what happens when you get back to the dealership. Invariably she will not want to come into your office. She wants to make an offer right there and now, and usually it is the offer from Hell.

Each Car Man handles these situations in their own way. A green pea will run to get his closer. Some will try and reason with the idiot standing before them. “Please come to my office. I’m sure we can work something out,” he pleads in vain. It is a battle over control; she knows it, you know it, and she is not going to budge.

Over the years I have developed my own unique way of handling these situations. It was born out of trial and error. If I had any brains I would patent it. You might want to underline this part because it is so good. If she demands a price without making a commitment to buy, look at her coolly and say with as much sincerity you can muster, “No.”

You see it comes down to time management. Do you want to spend the next two hours of your life negotiating with this asshole just to end up with nothing or the cruelest cut of all, a mini-commission on a $50,000 car? I mean, hell, what is in it for you?

Sometimes the greatest satisfaction you can have as salesmen is brooming an idiot off the lot. They rarely see it coming. Her attitude is, “I’m a real estate broker for God’s sake. I’m better than you! Can’t you see that?”

Sometimes saying no is better than sex.

These days are a little different, I suppose. The real estate business is a bust. The broker that bought the Cadillac Escalade is now driving a used Mercury Grand Marquis. Their business has become the equivalent of a junk bond—at least for now. It is sad, but as the saying goes, payback is a bitch.

Will lightening strike me if I dare criticize firefighters? Just as a precaution, I am writing this in a lead-walled underground bunker. I am wearing special insulated wingtips left over from my days as a new car sales manager. One thing I have learned about the car business, you cannot be too cautious.

He arrives on the lot usually driving a truck or SUV. You know it is a firefighter because they always have one of those little fire helmet decals on the back window. I have often pondered the meaning of those decals. Maybe it is so that when they pull up at a stoplight they are hoping someone will stop beside them, jester them to roll down their window, and thank them for their unwavering service to the community. As for a Car Man the sight of that sticker is a hint you should probably run the other way.

He parks and gets out. He is in his thirties. He is wearing his sacred NYFD tee shirt--his secret pass to picking up girls and getting a good deal on cars and big screen televisions. Or sometimes he has a wife with him, a large-breasted woman with big hair who, even though she has three kids, would never own anything as practical as a mini-van. He opens the door to the showroom and loudly calls out the magic words: “Anyone here want to sell a car?”

The salesmen step back looking like deer caught in the headlights for they know that in the entire history of the automobile business no one who has ever uttered that particular incantation has ever bought a car. And if spoken by a firefighter it is a double whammy. Silence fills the showroom. All competition to get the next customer is gone.

“I believe you’re up next, Jim,” Bill says to his fellow salesman.

“No, no, I just had one, my friend,” Jim replies graciously “This one is all yours.”

“Go find the green pea--quick!“ Bill says.

Green peas really do serve a purpose other than going on coffee runs to Starbucks. Waiting on a firefighter is part of their on-the-job training. Sort of like when a rookie fireman enters his first burning building. But it will not take long for the green pea to discover that this wonderful “up” the older guys have magnanimously given him is the proverbial “UP FROM HELL”!

Why are firefighters such a waste of time? Over the years I have developed several theories. Part of it is the hero complexes they all appear to have. I am convinced that when a firefighter looks in a mirror he sees himself wearing a blue cape, red boots and the letter “S“ on his chest. And he assumes you see it too—or at least you should. Also, with a work schedule that is usually twenty-four hours on, twenty-four hours off, he has plenty of time to look at car magazines and visit his local auto mall.

Either way these gallant public servants have a sense of entitlement that can drive a Car Man mad. To add insult to injury they all seem to know of a retired firefighter that is now giving away cars (oops! I meant to say selling cars) at some dealership three hundred miles away. They are going to go down there tomorrow to take delivery unless, of course, you will match the deal.

Another mini-commission. Lucky me.

Talk to you later,


The Car Man Cometh

No one ever graduated from high school or college and announced to family and friends, “I’m going to sell cars for a living!” So who exactly are Car Men, and where do we come from? And more importantly, why are we all so crazy? Car Men are crazy? Hell yeah! At least the good ones are. We have to be. What sane person would choose a profession as volatile as this, a profession that does not guarantee a steady monthly income, where you face a hostile world each day armed with only a pen, wits and a strong sense of survival?

A Car Man is a guy who did not want to do manual labor for a living. If he was in one of the trades, maybe he got injured or was just too damned tired to do it anymore. Maybe he lost a business or drove trucks and burned out on life on the road. Maybe life just threw him a curve ball, and he ended up working on a used car lot, a temporary situation that lasted twenty years.

Many Car Men are people who would not have made it in the corporate world. They do not have the personality, the temperament, or maybe they have too many bad habits. We are the dreamers, the failed musicians, the failed writers; too smart to work at McDonald’s but not smart enough to make much out of a college degree.

We are the people your parents warned you about: big talkers, opinionated assholes, egotistical bastards. We are the class clowns, the nonconformists, the ex-hippies, the ones you did not want dating you sister. We are by any standard a motley crew, a collection of offbeat personalities that collectively make the wheels of the automobile business spin.

My life as a Car Man officially began on October 20, 1970 at Hayward Ford in Hayward, California, a city across the bay from San Francisco. I was two months shy of my twenty-first birthday. Actually, my automotive career started a couple of years before. I paid my dues by doing odd jobs around the dealership, going on dealer trades, washing cars. Unbeknownst to me my older brother Danny, the dealership’s young sales manager, had gotten it into his head that he could teach me how to sell cars. I quickly fell into his trap. I was an insecure young man with few marketable skills, uncertain what I should do with my life. The only thing I had going for me was what my mother called “the gift of gab”. Translated that means “natural born bullshitter”. So when Danny offered me the opportunity I took it, though the thought of selling cars for a living scared the crap out of me.

Up to this point in my life my only contacts with adults were my parents, the parents of my friends and teachers. Nothing in my life experiences prepared me for the particular breed of adult known as a Car Man. When I joined the sales force at Hayward Ford I was the youngest salesman on the crew and would remain so for a pretty long time. The majority of the salesmen were old enough to be my fathers. When I began my Car Man journey I expected them to be like all the other adults in my life: respectable, fatherly, grown up. Nothing could have been further from the truth!

On my first day a salesman by the name of Jack Dunne, aka The Silver Fox due to his full head of striking white hair, took me aside and told me this: “David, there is no lie you can tell a customer that is better than the truth.” I never forgot those words because they turned out to be very true. Call it karma if you like, but if you lie to a customer it always seems to come back on you one way or another.

The second thing he said was this: “I want you to get off to a good start so here is a list of contacts you can call.” He handed me a sheet of names and numbers.

“Gee, Mr. Dunne. Thank you!” I said gratefully. It was not until later that I realized he had just laid off his dreaded “cold call” sheet on me!

This was my introduction into the life of a Car Man. Of course I would not be a real Car Man for many years. A Car Man is a guy who has been around for a while, the veteran of many battles, wizened to the ways of the world and the schemes of The Others. That was not me by a long shot!

But I did sell a car on my first day.

Shortly after I started, I attended my first “steak and bean” feed. Steak and bean feeds were a common event in the life of Car Men. Typically, they were the culmination of a month long contest. The crew was divided into two teams, each headed by a captain. The teams competed with each other for the most sales, the prize being a dinner where the winners ate steak and the losers ate beans--and all the cocktails you could drink. They could be wild affairs. I once attended a feed where the winning captain was awarded a hooker!

My first steak and bean feed was a surreal experience. I was a true child of
the 60’s, yet here I was in a fancy restaurant rubbing elbows with a bunch of guys in expensive suits most of whom were old enough to be my fathers. I was not yet twenty-one, but they insisted that I drink with them. I had no idea what to order. A scary, one-armed salesman by the name of Tony Isom appointed himself to help me choose. He suggested a salty dog, a mix of vodka and grapefruit juice with a salted rim.

“Always order it in a bucket,” he commanded in his booming voice. Who was I to argue? One did not mess with Tony. His one-handed grip could easily break your hand or disable a shoulder! I drank salty dogs that night and for many years after.

That night I ate beans much to the enjoyment of the winning team. After dinner we drifted back to the bar for a few more rounds. Later I was ushered into a back room where a group of drunken Car Men was sitting around a movie projector watching porno movies on a wobbly screen. These were my father figures?

When it was over the salesmen, most of who were quite drunk, loaded themselves into their Ford LTD Brougham demonstrators and drove home. It was not unusual for at least one demo bite the dust on one of these nights.

I will never forget that night for it seemed to be my formal introduction to adulthood. Never more would I just be the kid who did the dealer trades and washed cars after class. I was now one of them (or at least an apprentice one of them).

I had entered the world of Car Men.

Talk to you later,


The Black Hole

We called him “The Black Hole”. This was because if a customer got anywhere near him, they were owners. No one talked to Bill Jenkins without driving away in a new car; buried in a five-year lease they would never completely understand.

Bill was the only salesman I ever met who had a stage name. His name was Bill, but his last name was not Jenkins. He was by any measure a true superstar. The Babe Ruth of closers. He even looked like the Babe a little. Big guy, full head of curly brown hair. When he would look at you with his intense green eyes, winked as if you were a co-conspirator, you were trapped. You would do what he told you to do, and you would do so gladly. Because if he made money, you made money.

Bill was a high roller. He always carried a few grand in his pocket. He played the horses. He played the lotto, and damn he won it twice! Once for about $300,000, the second for $150,000. Everything he touched turned to gold. But Bill had one big problem: he was a drunk.

What do you do with a drunken Babe Ruth? You can’t fire him. Twenty years ago he was making about thirty grand a month, and if he was making that much money, how much was the dealer making? No, you couldn’t fire Bill Jenkins. He had you by the balls.

Bill had an office across the street from the dealership on an old pot-lot where we sold over-priced van conversions. He would usually arrive at work sober, but by early afternoon, he was pretty well toasted. Bear in mind that a toasted Bill Jenkins could still out close anyone. And he hardly ever made a fool out of himself. He was a drunk, but boy, he had style. Well, there was the time he slapped the sales manager, but that’s a story for another time…

We searched his office continually, trying to find his stash of pre-mixed cans of vodka and orange juice and other intoxicating delights. We suspected he was buying it in bulk from the liquor store down the street, but once the loot was secreted in his office, it vanished. What the hell could you do?

One day the mystery was solved.

Plans had been made to demolish the old building. A new showroom would be built for our ever- expanding automobile empire. Van conversions would give way for new Nissans. One morning the bulldozer came to lay waste the now empty sales office. We all stood soberly across the street watching like gawking little boys. What could be cooler than for a bunch of guys who did nothing but bullshit for a living than watching a demolition?

The bulldozer had just started in on the roof when there was an enormous crash from inside the building. The ‘dozer’s operator turned and looked at us, started. We rushed over wondering what the hell was going on. We peaked into the cracked front window. The false ceiling had collapsed, and with it it’s hidden treasure: three years of booze bottle and cans! Hundreds of them!

We turned away, and there was Bill Jenkins. Drunk, of course. But he had a smile on his face. “I fooled you,” it said.

Eventually Bill’s magical ability to maximize the profit on every deal caught up with us. Business dropped off, and off went Bill to greener pastures. Years later, he got in trouble with the DMV. His sales license was suspended. The Babe could no longer play ball.

Bill Jenkins left the state for a while. God only knows what he was doing! When he returned he settled in a large retirement community. The last I heard he was selling Reverse Mortgages to his white-haired neighbors. I feel sorry for them. They won’t see it coming.

I wonder. Do they have a false ceiling in the recreation room?

Talk to you soon,


The Test Drive Begins

My name is David Teves. I sell cars for a living. I'm not here to give you, The Others, any insights on how to get a deal. Frankly, I don't think you should get a deal. In this area I'm totally on the side of the car salesman. We have the right to make a decent living.

What I want to do is tell you some stories. Good ones, I think. Some are funny, some are sad. In my 35+ years in the business, I've run into a vast assortment of characters. I want to tell you about some of them. I will also sprinkle these electronic pages with the things that buy me. For example, why I hate Corvettes and the people who buy them. Why car salesman have only two natural enemies: firemen and real estate agents. Why we refer to those of you who are not in the business as "The Others". And, as they say, much, much more!

I hope to entertain and inform. I might even piss you off a little if I'm lucky. So will you take the chance and take a test drive with me? I'll try to make it worthwhile. We'll take the scenic route. Maybe I'll throw in a free set of floor mats when we close the sale.

But be forewarned: I'm a natural born smart ass. I'm not politically correct, and I don't give a rat's ass what you think of me or by brethren. But you will, I believe, have a good time.

Talk to you soon.