Confessions of a Car Man


The Saga of Jesse James

Please note: This blog entry is not about the outlaw Jessie James, nor is it about the Jessie James who was married to Sandra Bullock. But you might find it amusing!

In early 1973 my brother, Danny Teves, was given the opportunity to buy a Ford dealership in Oakland, California. Believe it or not at the time there were five Ford franchises in that town alone! So after getting fired from my hi-fi job, I joined him at Elmhurst Ford. The dealership was located on the corner of 96th Avenue and East 14th Street (Now International Boulevard). It was a memorable place for me, for it was the first time I had the opportunity to work with a crew of black salesman. They were a wonderful bunch of guys; full of the usual Car Man quirks but with the element of cool thrown in. I have fond memories of them all. Well, mostly fond memories, for there was the case of a salesman named Jesse James…

Yes, Jesse James was his real name, and this Jesse was not inappropriately named for he was the biggest kink I have ever met in this business. That’s saying a lot! I’ve been around nearly forty years so as you might imagine I’ve met a number of kinks in my time. None of them had the deceitful talent and all out balls of Jesse James.

Jesse was about 30, I suppose. His most distinguishing characteristic was that he spoke with a stutter. Jesse was--and I’ll try to be as kind as I can here--a first-class liar. He would say anything, promise anything, do ANYTHING to sell a car. It was because of guys like him that CSI was invented. Jesse James was truly out of control!

For example, Jesse had a customer that wanted a new Ford LTD with a 429 engine in it. The problem was we didn’t have one in inventory. Jesse actually talked the guy into buying the one we had in stock with a smaller V8 with the promise that he could come back the next week and we’d change the engine! (These were simpler time, I guess.)

When confronted with this and other outrageous lies he regularly told he would raise his hands in horror. “The ma-ma-man’s cra-cra-crazy!” he’d protest. “I’d-I’d-I’d never pro-pro-promise something like that!”

For a while he got away with it. I mean, who would honestly believe that a salesman would have the balls to promise a guy an engine? This was in the days before Due Bills, so there was no paper trail, no one to believe but the salesman or the customer. So for a while Jesse got away with his disgraceful behavior.

Here’s a story that will top that one. Jesse’s father (his father!) came in one Saturday looking for a used LTD. To be exact he told his son wanted a blue LTD. Jesse took him over to the used car lot. We didn’t have a blue one, but we did have a white one, a 90-day unit that just happened to have a weekend spiff on it. And boy, did Jesse want that cash spiff!

In those days used car managers usually desked used car deals, but our used car manager, Al Gracier, was off that weekend so there was no one there to supervise Jesse. The new car manager had no idea that Jesse was promising what he promised. That’s right! He told his father to bring the car in on Monday and they’d paint the LTD blue!

Monday came and Jesse was very conveniently off. His father went to Al Gracier to see about the promised paint job. Al went postal! Jesse’s father kept insisting that he would only accept a blue car, so they ended up having to unwind the deal. So Jesse James didn’t get his commission--but he still had his cash spiff! Al swore that he would fire him the next day. Unfortunately, he never got the chance.

Apparently Jessie had a little side business going—curbing cars*. The problem was he didn’t feel the need to go about the job properly. The normal procedure is to sell the car, hand the title over to the customer, and have him to go down to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the sled registered. I’m not saying the cars Jesse curbed were stolen, but by his actions it was apparent Jessie James didn’t have titles to the cars he sold several young men on the mean streets of Oakland, California.

When a dealer sells a car in California, a paper ROS (Report of Sale) is placed in the lower passenger’s side front window. So instead of handing over a title that he didn’t have, Jesse took his customer’s money and sealed the deal by placing a blank, folded up piece of paper where the ROS belonged. The unsuspecting buyer was then sent on his way.

About the same time Jessie was telling his father he’d paint his white car blue, a car load of young men were pulled over by the Oakland police in one of Jesse’s cars. The young men explained to the police officer that they had just bought the car from Mr. James who worked at Elmhurst Ford. The shit, as they say, hit the fan!

That Tuesday wasn’t a good day for Jessie. Al Gracier was out for blood, but before he could get to him, a paddy wagon pulled up in front of the dealership, and the police officers that got out it asked if a salesman by the name of Jesse James was in.

He was.

They took him away, and the weird thing was that no one ever saw or heard from Jesse James again. We did discover that he spent some time in jail, but he never tried to contact anyone at Elmhurst Ford ever again. It was like he had fallen off the face of the earth. Several years later a guy told me that Jesse had lost his sales license and was painting houses for a living.

Boy, do I feel sorry for those people!

Talk to you later,


*Curbing a car means selling cars, usually older ones, on the side. These cars were sometimes parked at a curb near the dealership with a “for sale” sign on them, hence the name “curbing”. The dealers have always frowned upon the practice. It’s considered stealing from the House. At Hayward Ford curbing a car could get you fired!


Cathy said...
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Anonymous said...

I wouldn't capitalize "blacks." Newspapers seem to use "blacks" and "whites." These are just color words, not like "Asian" or "American" or even "English," which all come from place names and are capitalized the same. I mean, unless you think black people don't care about capitalization ;-)

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across your blog and enjoyed your posts. I'm seriously considering becoming a salesman at a Ford dealership here in town. I've never done sales of any kind; but I'm a bit desperate at this point and the job sounds like fun. Thanks for posting your insights. :-)

David Teves said...

I probably won't be able to sleep tonight worrying if the word black as it applies to an African-American should be capitalized. Please keep in mind that in the final analysis I'm just a dumb car salesman so give me a break! David

David Teves said...

Dear anonymous, the one who's thinking of becoming a car salesman (and someday, maybe a Car Man). I suggest you read this blog from the very beginning. You probably should drink heavily the entire time. If you get to the end and still want to join our little fraternity of misfits, I welcome you with open arms. Write me any time for advice, though I can't guarantee it will be correct. David.