Recently, my trusty old Acura has started to give me some problems. It’s twelve years old, has about 120,000 miles on it, and has gotten to the point where it’s costing me more money than my ex-wife. The car has been great, but, like all good things, it might be reaching its end.
Though I’m retired and on a fixed income, I needed to decide whether the automotive bandages being paid for are a waste of money or are worth it to keep myself in wheels. And, just like a long-term marriage, a car, treated the right way, can last for the long haul.
The recent expenditures of hundreds of dollars for new tires, brakes, and other repairs begin to address the rest of the problems needing fixing. So, here’s the choice – spend another couple grand to get another 20,000 or 30,000 miles or subject myself to the black hole of a car dealership.
So, against my better judgement, I visited a local dealer. Most people believe that predetermination is not real. When was the last time they visited a car dealer? I knew going in that it was a good idea to wear high boots. And I wasn’t mistaken.
The initial conversation went well enough. He introduced himself, asked me to sit and make myself comfortable, and handed me a bottle of water. We determined pretty quickly that I wasn’t sure even sure what type of vehicle I might be interested in. I told him immediately that I was not looking to buy that day and I had just started looking. We kind of went in the direction of an SUV. I’ve never owned an SUV in my life and never envisioned myself ever owning one. Arizona, however, can precipitate fundamental changes in life style that you could never predict.
Salesman’s Mistake #1 – “So, how much are you looking to spend?” Wrong. Let’s decide what kind of car I want and then see if we can figure out if it’s in the budget.
Salesman’s Mistake #2 – Basic Retail Sales 101 states that it is easy to up sell a product, but incredibly hard to down sell. What that means is if you show the customers the most expensive product and get them all fired up only for them to find the price is too high, you can never comfortably convince them to take a lower cost product. Of course, the salesman immediately took me to the most expensive SUV on the lot. “This car has it all – two tone seats, fabulous moon roof, 18” wheels. Our competition can’t touch it. People are coming in all day long to buy this car. We normally never have inventory because they turnover so quickly. (I look around and see about 20 on the lot.) And we’re serious about Sirius! Three months of satellite radio and a tank of gas for free. Come on. Let’s go for a ride.”
So, my friendly sales guy gets the key, jumps behind the wheel, and says, “Get in.” Kind of reminds me of Dante’s infamous quote “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.” He drives it off the lot. As we’re heading to a nearby parking lot to switch drivers, the small talk is percolating. We talk about family, Prescott, the weather – all the normal boring small talk things that fill in for real conversation. Somehow the topic moves to our respective military experiences.
Salesman’s Mistake #3 (as it turns out) – “I was in for eighteen years and then the Army got weird,” was how he started. “I was stationed in Japan, but I can’t tell you about that. I did some time in Germany, but again I have to be somewhat low key. I did actually end up trying to do jump school and Special Forces at Ft. Bragg, but a bad wind came along and I ended up with a broken back. In two places! Then I was at Ft. Huachuca (Arizona) and that’s when it got weird. How about you?”
“Well”, I said, “I was with an obscure outfit called the Army Security Agency (ASA). It was a small organization that was actually run by the National Security Agency (NSA) instead of just being a regular Army unit. I did electronics work for them.” While relating the somewhat subdued diatribe I usually go through when talking about my military career, I notice him digging into his left pocket. Needless to say, I was completely blown away when he pulled out a coin, about the size of a silver dollar, with the ASA emblem on one side and their “Vigilant Always” slogan on the reverse.
“Now you know why I was in Germany and Japan and can’t say too much about it,” he claimed.
I proceeded to tell him that, with the large veterans’ population in Prescott, I had seen only one other person with an ASA identification since I’d been there. That person was actually a kilt-wearing member of the local Aryan nation anti-government group who wore the ASA patch, along with several other emblems, on his leather vest. The irony totally went over his head.
By this time, we had switched seats and he had me mimicking the Phoenix Grand Prix through the hills of outer Prescott in an SUV that handled nothing like a Formula One race car. He asked me if I’d like to hear the stero. I said sure, instantly regretting it when I heard Andy Williams instead of Led Zeppelin. Testing a stereo system with “Moon River” just doesn’t cut it compared to “Kashmir.”
Now, we’re back to the dealership and it is time for the hard sell. “This is Mr. Car Salesman Number 2. He’s my partner, my mentor, and really good guy to work with.”
All of a sudden, I’m facing a car sales tag team.
“He was in the military, too. Went from the Armor to Special Forces. Now that takes balls!”
“Hey, you know what, Mr. Salesman #2?” he continued. “You know that ASA coin I carry around all the time? Well this gentleman was in that unit. Can you believe it?”
And with that, my new veteran buddy proceeded to totally step into the doo-doo.
Step #1: “You know how I got into it?” he continued. “I was flying to Germany and when I got there, these guys I didn’t know, grabbed me when I got off the plane. They took away all my identification and uniforms. They kept me in isolation at the airport for three days. I didn’t know what I had done wrong because they wouldn’t tell me anything. Finally, they came in, gave me some civilian clothes and a check for $800. The money was to buy a whole new civilian wardrobe. I was now in the ASA.”
ASA didn’t work that way. You volunteered or were approached in advance. You were vetted and needed to pass a rigorous background investigation. This was a long process and didn’t happen overnight.
Step #2: In conversation, I had mentioned that I started in the early days of the computer industry with Atari. He then claimed, while with ASA, he was involved with busting an American engineer who sold ten Atari computers to the Chinese who were using them to test their first generation ICBMs. Umm, okay. Except neither the NSA nor the ASA was involved in counter-intelligence activities. That’s why God created the CIA, the FBI, and the oxymoron Military Intelligence.
Step #3: “In fact, I was there when ASA was decommissioned in 1978 at Ft. Carson, CO.” That was kind of the final straw. ASA was decommissioned in 1976 and that took place Ft. Meade, MD.
Realizing that I really couldn’t afford a new car and an ex-wife anyway, I left shortly after that. And, like a good hustler, he called me several times over the next few days. I finally called him back to let him know there were several reasons I would not be buying a car from him. After discussing pocketbook issues, I also told him that he had shot his military history full of holes. Not going into detail, I essentially told him I couldn’t work with someone who was as bogus as he was about their time in the military.
He didn’t say a word.
I was glad I’d worn my boots.