Confessions of a Car Man


George Of The Rain Forest

Somewhere along the line the jungle was taken from me. The mysterious, dangerous territory of my youthful imagination, filled snakes, tigers and an infinite number of other dangerous creatures was high jacked, replaced by a tedious, castrated place called the rain forest.


In these boring, politically correct times it’s not polite to call a rain forest a jungle. No, no no. A jungle is a dark forbidding place. A rain forest, on the other hand, is a place of gentle greenery and cute, precocious endangered animals, a perfect for your next vegan picnic. When they talk about those bad people trying to carve out a little farmland in the Amazon, they are destroying the rain forest! It doesn’t sound right if they’re destroying the jungle because the term jungle sounds like it deserves to be cut down!

So Tarzan’s parents didn’t crash in a treacherous foreboding jungle filled with dangers at every turn. He was Tarzan King Of The Rain Forest. Don’t you like the way that rolls of the tongue? Either way he was raised by apes. And what about my good friend George? Can’t you hear the children singing, “George, George, George of the rain forest”? Speaking of songs, you all remember that classic Creedence Clearwater song. Sing it with me now, “Better run through the rain forest. . .”

I don’t care what anyone says, the crew of that PT boat in the movie “Apocalypse Now” wasn’t going up the Mekong River into the depths of the rain forest. That, my friends, was a jungle.

I wonder, do they still have the jungle cruise ride at Disneyland? If they’ve changed it to the rain forest cruise I might have to slit my wrists.

I find it interesting how our language is being subdued all for the sake of political correctness. Garbage men became sanitation engineers. Housewives are now homemakers. The next thing you know, car salesmen will be referred as transportation consultants! They’re making a pussy out of our beloved English language!

Never again can I sing a rousing chorus of the theme from “The Flintstones” at my local bar. The ending, “we’ll have a gay old time” might be misunderstood. Someone might beat the crap out of me and dump my body in a rain forest!

In the summer it’s not hot any more. No way. Its climate change. (Climate change has replaced the term global warming, because apparently the globe hasn’t gotten any hotter in the last ten years.) Instead of just getting some lemonade or a cold beer, and watching a ball game on the tube, we’ve got to feel guilty that it’s a hundred degrees outside. There are dead polar bears out there and it’s our fault. And moving them to the rain forest won’t help! (I fully realize that this paragraph doesn’t really fit the subject, but it’s my blog so get used to it.)

So I say we’ve got to take a stand on this stuff, and I’m here to put forth the proposition that we start with our beloved jungles. I don’t want to go on a Safari (oops, I’m sorry, a photo Safari) in a rain forest. I want a jungle. And throw in a little quicksand while you’re at it. After all I’m a big mean transportation consultant. I can handle it!

Talk to you later,


The Closing Booth

I was thinking about the old car salesman bar on Oakland’s auto row that was called “The Blue Book”. I had the sudden flash, a “great idea”, that I’m certain will make me (and my backers) very, very rich. It involves a chain of bars, each conveniently situated near car dealerships called “The Closing Booth”.

Just think of it. A watering whole dedicated to soothing the battered Car Man after work, aka the walking wounded of the retail world. The way I envision it is that each bar will have a car oriented theme. Kind of like the “Hard Rock Café” with old wheel covers instead of guitars.

Let’s face it. Car Men and drinking go together like mustard and hot dogs, and “The Closing Booth” will attract them like moths to a light bulb. If you build it, they will come. I guarantee it. Each night when the dealerships close, the salesmen will gather together for a relaxing couple of hours of drinks, bullshiting and be merriment.

The way see it, the bar itself could resemble one of those 80’s style “sales towers”. You know, the type of sales desk where you were forced to look up at the desk man like he’s God. In this case instead of a grumpy asshole with crumbs on his shirt it would be a bartender, preferably a young lady with a good set of high beams and the ability to make a decent dry martini. There you can sit with your peers, tell war stories, and bitch about incompetent sales managers.

The booths, of course, would all have a closing booth theme. Old write-ups complete with red pencils informing the customer that their offer is below cost could be put under glass on the table tops. Menus for things like Buffalo wings and chili cheese fries could resemble credit apps.

My vision includes a “The Others” detector at the entrance. Non car people will be forced to negotiate for their beer and have to talk to at least one liner during their visit. If nothing else it’ll be fun to watch.

I n order to make the place interesting I propose reduced prices on drinks for the ladies during between 9 and 11 PM, the prime Car Man drinking hours. In keeping with the overall theme, if a Car Man fails to close a deal with one of these ladies, the deal must be turned or face expulsion to an Applebees for the next thirty days.

Membership to the exclusive “Bee Back Club” will be offered to all those who can prove an average of fifteen cars per month or can certify they have a drinking problem. Members will have their own area “The Bone Yard” a posh “VIP only” back room that feature imaginative booths that pay homage to the classic American luxury cars. The ideas that are flowing from my over productive mind is boggling!

Franchise opportunities soon will be offered. So don’t miss out on your chance to retire from the line and doing a much more rewarding work: keeping your fellow Car Men in a state of intoxication. I tell you it’s the wave of the future!

Talk to you later,


Creative Ideas For Fun And Profit

When I was a kid back in the 60’s, I used to do dealer trades for Hayward Ford. I remember going to a Ford dealership in the Napa valley and discovering that along with selling cars and trucks they were also selling Philco televisions! (Ford Motor Company owned Philco.)

Over the years this memory has stuck with me and during times of hubris, I’ve speculated that every car dealership should do something other than sell cars. Let’s face it, us car men spend an awful lot of time doing nothing. I realize that this is part of our legacy, but when times are tuff—as they are now—it can get damn boring. So here are my ideas on what we can do with those big lots and long showrooms that are our home away from home.

A bowling alley. A lot of dealerships have long showrooms that virtually do nothing but house a couple of new cars with dead batteries. How about a little three-laner? It can bring in a little money and provide some activities other than listening to XM radio over the dealership’s shitty loudspeakers. The concessions alone could help make the guy’s rent each month.

Tax service. Now this idea has a flaw in that it would probably only be useful a few months out of the year, but think of it. You take that idle computer sitting in the back office, load it with a Turbo Tax program, do returns for a cheap price, and presto! Instant down payments! You know, the more I think about this the better I like it.

An in-house microbrewery. Why is this a good idea? Because I like micro brewed beer and grape vines might scratch up the sides of the cars.

Sell other things with motors. Lawn tractors and rototillers in the spring, jet skis in the summer, and for those of you in snow country, snowmobiles in the winter.

Home electronics. Showrooms are perfect for some big screen TV’s and surround sound systems. Even if you didn’t sell one, it will be great if you’re stuck working on Super bowl Sunday. Throw in microwave ovens and blenders and you have what you need for a party when the dealer goes home for the night.

These are just a few of the creative ways car men can expand their horizons and their pocket books. I’m sure you can think of a few yourselves, but remember the tax idea is mine.

Talk to you later,


Consumer Reports

I was listening to the radio the other day. A guy from Consumer Reports magazine was on praising the latest, greatest Honda. It got me thinking about my dislike for that rag and the grief it’s caused me over the years. In the days before the Internet, Consumer Reports was the magic talisman of choice customers would throw up to you like a priest holding off a vampire with a cross.

American made cars can’t get a break in Consumer Reports. Now I realize that much of this bad press justified, but I believe the magazine is still trying to punish Detroit for the quality sins of the 60ʼs and 70ʼs. Like the reverberating echoes of the Big Bang, they can’t let go of the memories of Ford Pintos and Chevy Vegas.

If you’re a past reader of this blog, you know how much I dislike propeller heads, who just happen to be the prime readers of Consumer Reports. The magazine is an integral part of their smoke free, global warming, Democrat voting, Birkenstock wearing life style. Reading negative articles about domestic cars plays right into their self-loathing opinion of America in general, and their distaste for American industry as a whole.

What’s this got to do with cars? Everything. It’s a fact that Japanese cars are generally better than American cars, but to continually try to compare the two is fruitless. By constantly touting Japanese cars, Consumer Reports is doing nothing but catering to their target audience. These people wouldn’t buy an American car anyway, so it’s no use trying to find the best America has to offer.

It’s like a guy with one beautiful daughter and four ugly ones. The ugly ones might never be judged on their own merits because the beautiful one gets the constant attention.

In my opinion Consumer Reports should review American cars exclusively. Give the Japanese favorites a Mulligan and try to do something productive for the shrinking American piece of the automotive pie. Heck, given the wide range of performance and quality of Detroit’s finest makes them hell of a lot more interesting to write about than what’s better an Accord or a Camry.

Now the paranoid part of me wants to think that all of this dumping on Detroit has something to do with the “one world, no borders” insanity being thrown around by the Liberals. Shitty quality or not, there might come a time when we will have to protect ourselves from an outside world that has little or no environmental protection in their countries and workers that paid only slightly above slave wages.

America first, I say. And if you have to replace the transmission in that Dodge at 60,000 so be it!

Talk to you later,


The Early Bird Gets The Worm

In 1973 my brother, Danny, purchased a Ford dealership. Elmhurst Ford was a small affair. Next to Hayward Ford it was barely a blip on the radar screen. It was located on the corner of 96th Avenue and East 14th Street (Now International Boulevard) in Oakland, California. Danny hired Al Gracier to be one of his managers. Al worked with us on the used car lot at Hayward Ford. He was a very talented Car Man with a lot of energy. He has since passed on, but I think of him often, especially about that time when I really--I mean really--pissed him off.

We had a sales meeting every morning before work. It was held in a meeting room located at the top of a sturdy staircase in a corner of the shop. The wood-paneled room consisted of a long conference table, a dozen or so chairs, and a large blackboard at the front. Every morning I would grab a cup of coffee from the machine downstairs and tread my way upstairs. I have always disliked sales meetings. Many times they are little more than depression sessions where the managers vent their frustrations. I especially hated the meetings that were about the same things over and over again. Unfortunately, most of the meetings held at Elmhurst Ford fell into this latter category.

I would guess that Al was about fifty at the time. He was a barrel-chested man, medium height with a crop of thinning brown hair that was rapidly giving way to gray. Al wore thick glasses that made his eyes look very large. He had a commanding presence, booming voice, and was a natural born leader. Al Gracier was a Car Man personified.

Promptly at 9:00 he would enter the meeting room, say a hasty good morning, and go over the necessary business for the day. When he was finished, he would launch into his favorite subject: the write-up. It was the same routine every morning. He would draw the outline of a write-up sheet on the blackboard and begin.

“Gentlemen, this is a write up,” he would announce. Then picking a salesman at random he would ask, “Joe, what goes in the top left corner.” And so on until he had covered all aspects of writing a deal up properly. In those days the write-up was king. It was the road map to a successful deal, and woe to those who did not do it properly.

The meetings usually lasted anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes, long enough for me to get bored to death, but every once in a while Al would add a special twist. He would begin by intoning a sermon that potential deals could be found just about everywhere, and to always remember that the early bird gets the worm. You should incorporate prospecting into your life, he would say. You should never let an opportunity to look for a deal no matter where you were or what you were doing.

“Hell,” he would add, his voice rising. “Money can be found everywhere! It might even be right underneath you!”

With this clue, the salesmen would realize something was up—spiff money! Everyone would get up from their seats and look under them. There, taped under some but not others, was money. Pandemonium would begin.

It was never a lot of money, fifty bucks tops. (Keep in mind that in 1973 a McDonald’s burger was only about a quarter!) The amount did not matter anyway. It was the pure joy of finding a little beer money and getting yourself pumped up for the day ahead. The guys loved those meetings.

Until I screwed it up.

One morning I arrived at work early, a good twenty minutes before the meeting. I put my dime in the coffee machine, realizing I was actually starting to enjoy the instant crap that poured into the paper cup. I then proceeded up to the sales meeting room and picked a chair at the very back.

I was alone. I drank my coffee, imagining the outline of the write-up that would soon appear before me. Suddenly, a thought came to my mind. “The early bird gets the worm.” I was inspired to reached under my seat. There, taped to the bottom, was a $5 bill. I did not hesitate. I proceeded to upend all the chairs in the room, grabbing all the bills I could find. When I had them all, I sat down and waited for my moment in the sun.

The salesmen wandered in one or two at a time, eventually followed by Al. The meeting began. “Gentleman, this is a write up”, he said for what seemed like the millionth time. I was giddy. In my mind I embodied all the attributes Al had been preaching about for all these months. I had thought outside the box, seized the opportunity to find money where it was not expected. To my twenty-three-year-old mind, I was SUPER SALESMAN!”

I waited. We went through the write-up start to finish. Then Al launched into his speech that would lead to the salesmen looking under their seats. When he reached that moment, a smile spread on my face. The salesmen were searching under their chairs looking bewildered when they found nothing. My moment had arrived. I jumped up, held the fistful of bills up in the air and shouted, “The early bird gets the worm!”

There was stunned silence. I looked to Al for the praise I was sure I would get for being so clever, but something had gone terribly wrong. Al turned beet red. Large, angry, magnified eyes glared at me from behind his glasses. For a moment he grasped for words, looking as if he might have a stroke. I became horribly aware that things were not going as I had imagined. Then he bellowed, “David! Get your ass out of here now and wait for me in my office!”

Oh, oh.

What happened next is a blur. I was dead. I knew it. I went downstairs, head down, suddenly feeling the need to piss. I went to Al’s office and waited. As the say in these situations, minutes felt like hours. An eternity--at least the amount of time that dinosaurs walked the earth--seemed to pass before the salesmen began to filter into the showroom, laughing at me through the open doorway as they passed.

Finally, Al came into the office, demanded the money back, and proceeded to chew the crap out of me. I was well aware that if my brother had not been the dealer, my career at Elmhurst Ford would have come to an abrupt end. When it was over I was sent, tail between my legs, out to the sales floor to face the ridicule of my fellow salesmen.

Al Gracier never held that meeting again. I had ended it forever. I felt bad about that, but I could not shake the feeling that Al did not understand the meaning of his own words. I supposed that he did the meeting because when he was a young salesman his manager did it for him, all the while not truly grasping the significance.

Damn it. I was right! I assured myself.

Or was I?

Talk to you later,


What's A Good Price?

The brother of the mechanic that works at my dealership came in the other day driving a Ford F-350 Super Cab 4x4 diesel with 141,000 miles on it. He crowed that he’d stolen it, only $14995 from a little dealer up in Lincoln. Just out of curiosity, I booked the thing out and determined that the dealer had made about a four-pounder. Good for him.

It got me thinking that the best customer you can have is the guy whose head you tore off who thinks he screwed you. It doesn’t get any better than that! This got me thinking about prices in general. I’ve always contended that price is a state of mind, a perception of value that is not necessary true.

Philosophers ask the question of a tree falling in the forest. If no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? The same may be true about the grosses on cars (and other things people buy) if you can dig the analogy. It’s all an interpretation of value.

Now propeller heads have their own definitions of price vs. value. In their world no business has the right to a profit—especially if it’s from them. Normal people think of value in terms not only of price, but of the experience they had purchasing their beloved hunk of iron. I have told particularly obnoxious customers who fire the salvo of “I want the best possible price” that I wasn’t interested in giving the best price. I was interested in giving them a fair deal; fair for me, fair for them. Unfortunately that’s usually a conversation ender.

That brings back the question of what is fair? My old beloved GM, Freddie Martin Jr., used to say that as long as they bought the car for what it was listed for or less, it was a fair deal. The trick is convincing a customer what’s fair, and that’s the most important skill a car man develops over the course of his career.

I was thinking also about how many ups I’ve taken in my thirty-eight years in the business. I suspect I could fill a ballpark with a pretty respectable crowd. How many test drives? Enough to empty an oil tanker, I suppose. How many “fair” deals? Enough for me to raise a family and put a roof over my head.

So whenever I run into a guy like my mechanic’s brother who thinks he pulled one over on a Car Man, I think to myself, “This is what makes America great.” He’s happy, the salesman’s happy, a few thousand dollars gets thrown back into the economy helping to oil the gears of our society. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

I did say one thing to the guy. “Don’t go by the dealership for a few days, because I suspect that the guy might be out on a three day drunk!”

In retrospect maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

Talk to you later,


P.S. Been busy lately, being Flake Season and all. I haven’t had a lot of time to think or write. But I hope you will continue to check in on me from time to time to see what’s rattling around in my sometimes-vacant head. Now that I’ve said the main things about the business I’ve been thinking about for years, it might be time to expand a little. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but we’ll see.