How To Buy A Car…And Retain Your Dignity

Years ago I had an office in the old library building in Wayne, PA. The guy in the next office, Ben, worked for the Ford Motor Company as coordinator between dealerships in the area. He had worked for Ford since getting out of the Navy after the Korean War. He had great stories about Ford, including Allentown’s Lee Iacocca and the origin of the Mustang (according to Ben, Iacocco needed a quick answer to Chevy’s Corvette, so he told his designers to put a sporty new body on the Ford Falcon and – Presto! – an American icon).

Ben also told me why people don’t trust car dealers. 

During WWII, American automobile plants became war machine plants – making tanks, Jeeps, airplanes, etc., instead of cars. After the war, there was pent up demand for new cars. According to Ben, until supply began to catch up to demand, a buyer might go into a dealership and make a deal for a car for delivery several weeks or months later. When it came time to pick up the new car, the dealer would have either sold the car to someone else for a higher price or simply demand more money. 

Haggling over the price of a car continues to this day, with a few exceptions. Saturn (before GM and unions throttled it) offered a fixed price for new cars, as did the original Prius and now Tesla. CarMax and others do the same with used cars. But haggling is still the rule.

If you like combat, buying a new car is nirvana. If you don’t, it’s like getting a tooth pulled in slow motion. Last week, it was my tooth… uh, turn.

Here’s what I learned:

Don’t read Consumer Reportsor Motor Trendor Car And Driveror any of the other magazines that review cars. They get very detailed about everything from mileage to interior space to engine details. Too much detail can kill the fun. I read one article on Honda CRV’s that compared something called a CVT to a normal transmission. 

CVT, CVS, CBS …who cares?  

If you want to actually drive several cars before deciding on which one to buy, don’t tell anyone. Especially the sales manager. 

I test-drove a Hyundai in Downingtown, PA. When I asked the salesman for a brochure, he said he’d ask his manager.  About ten minutes later a somewhat annoyed guy sat down in front of me, said he was the manager and, instead of giving me a brochure, said,  “What do I have to do to sell you a car today!?” 

I decided to be honest: “Actually, I’m not buying a car today. I just wanted to drive one.” 

That’s when one of us decided I should leave. Without a brochure.

Do join Costco or AAA. They have negotiated bottom line prices with a variety of dealerships, so you just have to tell the dealer you’re a member to skip several days of negotiations.

Do compare prices with nearby dealerships, but don’t confuse Wilmington DE with Wilmington, NC.  That would be very stupid. 

Don’t get upset when you agree on a price with the salesman and he takes you to the “Finance Manager”, who is really just another salesman, who says he’s videoing you and spends the next hour trying to sell you a whole bunch of extras, from warrantees to floor mats. Then, when you decline, he refuses to close on the car until you sign a legal document saying you don’t want any extras.  

Remember, he’s just trying to be helpful, kind of like high school, when your teacher described the benefits of memorizing the periodic table.

Don’t read the manual before you start driving your new car. Americans are known for not reading directions until all else fails, so you have a legacy to uphold. If the new car is more computer than car, just ask your kids how to turn on the engine, radio, navigation system, and parking break. Everything else can wait until you’ve mastered your smart TV.

And most important, don’t tell anyone how much you paid for your car. Ever. They’ll just laugh at you.

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What’s Wrong With Birthdays

I used to love birthdays.  Particularly my kids’ birthdays. They were so cute. And they were so happy with things like balloons and candy – easy stuff.

As kids grow into teenagers and adults, the special nature of birthdays evolves. My kids became more discriminating as they grew. Shrieks of glee and laughter now required more than balloons and candy. They required things like preparation and thought. 

That’s OK, because I was always up to the task. At least in my mind.

My kids developed adult judgment at a reasonably early age – kindergarten, I think.  That’s the first time I saw eye rolls from them or heard the term “Dad Jokes”. 

What most kids don’t know is that growing up or “maturing” is an ongoing process. Some people call it “gaining wisdom”, but, really, it’s just growing up. 

Breaking news, kids!  You’ll never completely mature. You’ll just get better at faking it.  

My biggest advance in that area came last week at the twins’ birthday party, when I realized most kids survive their parents’ immaturities very well. In fact, that’s what I told the twins – “You guys survived your upbringing really well!” 

Well, no. To be honest, I said that to my grandchildren. 

When my kids complain about their upbringing, I bring up baseball or tell Dad Jokes. If that fails, I bring up politics. Works every time. (And you thought only politicians knew that trick.)  

Aging is different than maturing. Aging is when you can’t hit the golf ball as far, when you stop recognizing the movie stars on the late night shows, when the answer to a trivia game was an everyday staple of your youth. 

Aging is when the “old days” were your heydays.

I’m not there yet. That is, I am not aging, despite what my doctor, my neighbors, or my kids say. And there’s a good reason for that: I don’t want to. 

Why age, when you don’t have to? It’s a choice, not a requirement.

Now, I’m not suggesting people past their prime try out for the NFL or join the Navy Seals. But I am suggesting you can walk around the block a few times instead of around the living room. 

And you can change some of the basics of life. For example, a few years ago, I stopped celebrating my birthday the old fashioned way. 

Instead of adding a year at each birthday, I subtract a year. Last year I was a year older than I am this year. And the year before I was two years older. 

I can hardly wait until next year.

And with each year, I get two benefits: I feel more energetic and I have an excuse for doing stupid things: I’m younger and we all know how stupid younger people are.

Now, I do occasionally meet resistance. The receptionist at my doctor’s office is getting suspicious, so this year she asked me, not how old I am, but what year I was born. Fortunately I quickly did the math, and she dutifully changed her records.

I do not want to lose Medicare, though, so next year I’m going to tell her I have a special dispensation from the government. On account of my unique medical condition of I’m part of a hush-hush government research project, code name: Button Benjamin. 

I’m not worried about my social security payments – I’m just a nine-digit number to them and they to me.

My high school classmates are so decrepit, they haven’t noticed that I’m attending reunions for the younger classes; I tell the younger ones I transferred into their class my senior year, but it’s OK if they don’t remember me right away.

My college classmates are not as easily fooled. But they’re very nice. They just put an arm around my shoulder and tell me I’m doing fine.

The dog doesn’t care how old I am as long as he gets his walks and his treats and can sit at my feet while I watch old reruns on TV. That’s what I like about my dog. He never judges.

As you can see, getting a year younger every birthday works quite well.

What’s wrong with birthdays? Nothing. 

Next week: the difference between senility and dementia… if I can remember.

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The Happiness Insurance Company

I just paid another insurance bill, this one for flood insurance. My house isn’t in a flood plain, but you can never be too careful, what with Global Warming  – oops! Climate Change – and all. I paid the Al Gore Climate Change Insurance Company.

OK. No, I didn’t. 

But Al should have opened the Al Gore Climate Change Insurance Company instead of spending all that money on his 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. It got a lot of press, but didn’t change minds in Washington. Big oil saw to that. 

But he sure was right. As I write this, the entire middle of the country is gasping from tornadoes and floods.  And more to come.

Insurance is a great way of taking care of a disasters like tornadoes. Or fire. That’s why Benjamin Franklin invented it, because of house fires. His credo was “one for all and all for one”, where risk was spread throughout a big group. 

Today’s insurance companies have a different credo: “we take as much of your money as we can and then do everything legally possible not to give it back to you”.

It’s a different country from Ben’s time. We make money, not friends, regardless of what it does to the planet or ourselves. 

But wouldn’t it be nice if we had a different kind of insurance? I’m not thinking of insurance for normal things, like car accidents or healthcare or hurricanes and tornadoes. 

That’s useful, but well, not fun. 

Imagine insurance for something much better. Imagine insurance for happiness. For example: 

Happy Marriage Insurance: If your marriage hits the rocks, you could get paid weekends with discrete dalliance partners, or, for salvageable relationships, six packs of Yuengling and decks of risque playing cards. 

Happy Childhood Insurance: If your child doesn’t have a happy childhood, we’d either replace you as parents or pay your kids thousands of dollars, which they could use for therapy, divorce settlements, or criminal defense attorneys. 

Happy Pet Insurance: This includes help finding the perfect horse, dog, cat, or bird. If they don’t turn out to be cuddly and affectionate, if they ignore house training or eat the couch pillows, we will repair all damaged goods and find a graveyard for the pet. 

Happy Love Life Insurance: If your love dumps you, you get a replacement of approximately the same sex, age, attractiveness level, and IQ – at absolutely no cost; however, your premium increases each time the replacement clause is exercised. We make money by replacing your love with a reject from another insured couple, kind of like when insurance companies repair your car with used parts. Win-Win, right?

Happy Job Insurance: Unlike Worker’s Comp or similar programs, this guarantees you a fulfilling job with a fair and reasonable boss, no backstabbing co-workers, and a really nice desk. It’s expensive, but what in life isn’t? And we are wildly successful. No pressure here, but Jeff Bezos was our first client; the head of Sears turned down this policy.

Happy Old Age Insurance:  This is not just another Social Security program. Or Medicare. Or any of those old-fashioned policies. Nope. This is about making sure your old age is your best age!  It guarantees lots of laughter, love, friends, trips (if you like them), visits from the kids (if you like them) and constant good health. 

Happy Car Insurance: Unlike most car insurance, this makes sure you’re happy with your car. If you get tired of, say, the way it smells after a long ride with the almost-potty-trained kids, we’ll provide cleaning services. If the thrill of peeling out from a stoplight fades for you, we’ll get you a Porsche. If that back seat no longer entices the two of you to the drive-in, we’ll replace the car with a small condo in Hawaii. We want you happy!

Happy Insurance Insurance: This is the guarantee that you’ll love our insurance. For a small percentage of each of your policies, we’ll provide a monthly review by one of our highly trained agents who will analyze you and your “happiness quotient” with our policies. If the analysis shows problems with you or your attitude, all happiness policies will be cancelled immediately. Not to brag, but we have no existing records of a “happiness quotient” below “deliriously gleeful”.

The Happiness Insurance Company, a revolutionary, winning idea.

And you thought you couldn’t buy happiness.

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A funny and not so funny week

Tim Conway was one of the funniest guys ever – right up there with Ronald Reagan. OK, not really, but there is a connection.

When Conway died last week, various TV channels showed clips from his career. He specialized in confident ineptitude. One of his most famous was when he played a dentist who kept shooting Novacain into himself instead of his patient. As he numbed his hand, arms, and legs, he became capable only of hanging onto to the dental chair.

According to KYW-TV old-timers, Tim Conway started there in 1961, when the station was still in Cleveland. He got fired because he had told someone high up in management he was a TV director. He was, instead, a technical director in Master Control, where they switch in and out of commercials and network shows. Not much creativity there. But that didn’t stop him. When I worked at KYW in Philly 10 years later, the crew would still talk about the pranks he pulled. 

The day after Tim Conway’s passing, I was flipping channels when I stumbled on to a clip of his appearance on a 1980’s Johnny Carson show. He did a sketch as a PA announcer in a stadium with a strong echo. He ignores the echo until it starts correcting him.

At another point in the show Carson joked about Joe Biden’s thin hair and the Republican President wanting a crown. Not as funny as Conway’s announcer, but funny.

You know what is funnier? The Biden joke and the Republican President joke would get the same laughs today… well, the laughs about Reagan would be less bitter.

The point is: history does repeat itself. Nearly 40 years later, for example, some of the same issues are still being debated.

Take women’s rights…Please! (Sorry. Henny Youngman, another humor icon from the 80’s. Couldn’t resist).

Roe v Wade supposedly settled the abortion issue in 1973. Yet, last week it was brought back again by Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi state legislators. They are convinced that the Supreme Court, now comfortably packed with conservatives, will overturn Roe v Wade.  

There are three good reasons abortion continues to roil the nation; two are debatable, one isn’t.  

First is when life begins.

Is it when the sperm and egg join and a new zygote (unique cell) is formed? Or is it when the now fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube and attaches to the uterus? But that attachment can fail 50% to 80% of the time. And the embryo can still split into, say, twins. So an embryologist might say life begins when the embryo can no longer split. A neuroscientist might say life begins when brain waves can be measured.

If scientists don’t know when life begins, what are the odds of the Supreme Court knowing? 

Second, is religion.  Genesis 9:1 from the Old Testament: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’” 

But the Old Testament was passed down verbally long before it was written down, so it’s not exactly verifiable. 

More important, there weren’t many humans in those days, so procreation was needed for survival from attack by disease, natural predators, and other humans.

But humans did more than survive. By the 800’s the world population was estimated at 1/2 billion. In 1803 it was 1 billion. Today, it’s approaching 8 billion. 

Overpopulation is the worry today, not under-population. 

Third, is authority. Who wrote the Bible? Men. Who ran the world for the first 2000 years? Men. Who controls the Supreme Court and most governments – not to mention any other organization? Men.

But who has the babies? Women. Who carries them for 9 months? Women. Who, in most cases, raises the babies? Women. And who’s been left outside holding placards while men decide what women can do with their bodies? Women.

Yes, this is a complicated issue. Yes, it’s based on religious beliefs as much as science. Yes, there are two sides. Yes, it isn’t easy. 

But leaving women out of the decision about their own bodies is not debatable.  It’s stupid, mean, arrogant, and ludicrous.

And there is nothing even remotely funny about that.

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The Democrats’ Circular Firing Squad

There are now 23 – What? Oh, New York’s de Blasio? OK, make that 24 – Democratic candidates for President.

That’s either very stupid or very smart. I’ll go with stupid, because politics is stupid, at least for the most part.

Years ago, I was a Republican Committee man for Malvern Borough. My job was to find candidates for public office, go door-to-door with them, hand out literature, put out yard signs, and stand around the polls on election day, appearing to be nice to Democrats, but really trying to backstab them to any voter who would listen. 

OK. I didn’t backstab. But I could have.

There were area “dog and pony shows”, at which candidates for local offices would make pitches. Some were good, but many were out-of-work dog catchers. Their qualifications were, generally, very similar: good attendance at church, high school graduates, no domestic violence, earnest expressions, short hair (men and women), fewer than three divorces, kids with straight teeth and straight A’s, and genetic loyalty to the Republican Party. 

Committee people would listen intently and vote our favorites. Usually that would be neighbors, or friends. Once in awhile, it would be for someone who might make a good politician. 

Again – not that bad, but close.

After the “dog and pony shows” was the county Republican convention. All the committee men and women would gather to vote on candidates who had made it through the dog and pony shows. By that time, the powers within the County would have quietly informed everyone who to vote for. There would be perfunctory (and very boring) speeches, and then votes, which generally went according to plan. In Chester County, PA, which at that time was, I don’t know, 105% Republican, the fix was in.

I tried a few times to buck the system. Once, at my urging, Betty Burke (the Republican Committee woman and for decades a real power in the County) and I backed a Democrat for our town Council.  

When the big shots threatened to throw us out of the party, we told them we had been unable to recruit a qualified Republican. That was sort of true. The Republican possibilities were bozos and the Democrat was smart, understood city planning, and seemed to love the little town.

Because Betty had more clout than the top County Republicans, they backed off.

It turned out to be my biggest and longest lasting mistake. My choice, Woody Van Sciver, a general contractor type, backed a nearly quarter of a mile long, five story high, poorly constructed city-like apartment complex that towers over the main entrance to what had been a charming little village, the tallest house up being a three story Victorian.

Fortunately Betty didn’t live to shed tears for the little town she loved. Or call me to task. 

The Democrats had a process similar to Republicans for choosing people, although at that time, they were hard-pressed to find any candidates (remember, this was WBT, Way Before Trump). They loved intelligent conversation and genteel debates, but hated being told what to do. 

I was sneaked into one of their County Conventions once. It consisted of talking, and talking,… and  talking… 

“Let’s hear from everybody who wants to be heard before we vote.” 

After an hour and a half, I left. I imagine, at some point, they drew straws for the winners. That way, no-one’s ego would have been shrunk.

Republicans are team players – to a fault. Democrats are talkers – to a fault. 

Is it just earnestness and ego that makes 23 people, most unknown nationally, think they should be President? Or do they know something? A prize, perhaps? For the most miles traveled? Most appearances on Morning Joe? 

Hey! Next to live sports, we know politics gets the most eyeballs and clicks. Maybe the media is behind it. Maybe this whole thing is a scam by the media! 

Nah… Now I’m buying into Trump-anoia. 

But it is an enigma. Every one of these candidates has a good resume. Most have real government experience of one kind or another. They are all smart, successful, capable. If enough of them ran for the Senate, where they have a good chance of winning, the Democratic Party would control both Houses. 

Instead of that, the Democrats have fielded a 23 person circular attack squad, almost assuring Trump will be back for four more. 

See what I mean about stupid?

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