I couldn’t tell you what on earth compelled me to pull into the used car lot that day. I certainly wasn’t in the market for a newer vehicle. Sure, my faithful red Corolla was getting along in years, but she still had a few more left in her. Call me sentimental, but she was my first car, and I wasn’t ready to part with her just yet. I definitely wasn’t drawn in by the bundles of helium balloons floating from every other car antenna, or the brightly-colored banners hanging from lamppost to lamppost, or even the obnoxiously cheerful music blaring from the speakers. No, it was none of that. I think I just took a wrong turn and was trying to double back. As soon as I pulled into the driveway, however, a middle-aged salesman flagged me down. I swear, he was a walking stereotype: balding head, what was left of his long black oily hair slunk towards the back, checker print jacket, sleazy smile, and a pencil-line mustache. He looked like the living embodiment of the used car salesman cliché.
I’d been told I was a bit too amiable for my own good, something my wife pointed out frequently, so when the salesman tapped on my window, I found myself rolling it down and putting the car in park.
“Greetings greetings!” said the salesman cheerfully, “You look like a man who needs to spice up his life, am I right?”
“Uh, actually I-” I began to reply, but was cut off.
“EXCELLENT! Well, what are you waiting for? Let me show you the latest arrivals! Oh boy, do I have the RIGHT car for you, yes I do! I’ll make you a deal you can’t refuse!” he said.
The man was positively brimming with energy. So much so that I felt compelled to exit my car and follow him towards the back. Before I could even try to explain I’d made a mistake, he started blurting out car facts and features while gesturing to every vehicle we passed. Finally, we stopped in front of a beautiful 90s black Camaro with two white racing stripes along the hood.
“Don’t just stand there, get in. Try her out,” he told me.
I slipped into the driver’s seat, awkwardly trying to think of a way to leave without losing face. It shouldn’t be so hard to tell someone “no,” should it? Even as people-pleasing as I was, it was never this hard to refuse. I was afraid of what he’d think of me if I told him I’d just driven into his lot by mistake. Would he get mad that I’d wasted his time? The longer I’d wait to fess up, the worse it’d be. Maybe I needed to come up with a lie. Fake an emergency phone call? Pretend I was scoping out the cars for a friend? As I thought about these things, the salesman took a seat next to me and put the key in the ignition.
“C’mon, take her for a spin!” he told me.
All right, I thought, this’ll give me enough time to think of an excuse. I forced a smile and turned on the motor. She purred like a kitten. As I was about to adjust the seat, I realized everything was already set up perfectly for someone of my height and stature. Heck, the entire car felt perfectly comfortable. No sooner did I start backing up, that the salesman began yapping away again, making it hard to focus on the road, let alone on the task of finding a socially-acceptable and polite way to end the impromptu sales appointment.
The ride was smooth. Old as she was, the Camaro handled turns with impressive sharpness and flew over potholes as though they weren’t even there. I found myself reliving the thrill of the first time I’d driven. My dad had set up a little obstacle course in an abandoned parking lot outside of town, sat me in the driver’s seat of his truck, and told me to go. I was 8 back then and could barely reach the pedals, but I had the time of my life.
“So, what did you think?” asked the salesman as we pulled back into the used car lot.
I couldn’t even remember driving back. Everything was a blur. I must have gotten lost in thought.
“Not bad, but-” I answered.
“WONDERFUL! Let’s go inside and see what we can do for you, okay?” he interrupted yet again, “I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.”
I felt bad for wasting his time. Not only had he given me a guided tour, but he’d also let me take the Camaro on a test drive, so I agreed. It was the least I could do, right?
He led me to a small windowless room with nothing but a desk, two chairs, and flyers tacked on to all four walls. The man reached into his briefcase and pulled out a blank piece of paper. On it, he drew a cross, scribbled numbers in each of the four squares it’d formed, and then started explaining his little graph. The cost of the car, the rates, the resell value of my vehicle, you know, standard stuff. The more time we spent together, the guiltier I felt about wasting his time. The thought of actually buying the car just to make it stop crossed my mind. To make matters worse, every time I tried to say “no,” I found the word stuck in my throat. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get it out. The best I could manage was the occasional I’ll think about it, I’ll take that under advisement, or other non-committal phrases. The only word that I found easy to say was “Yes.”
Then, he wrote down what he claimed to be his final deal, and looked me straight in the eyes.
“So what do you think?” he asked.
I shrugged. I couldn’t let this go on a second longer. Even if he got mad, I had to tell him I wasn’t interested.
“Well, I’m not really looki-”
He cut me off, “You know, red cars are really dangerous. They get the highest accident rates.”
I’d driven the Corolla for over 10 years, and I’d never gotten so much as a scratch on her. The man peered at me, as though he was trying to read my mind.
“You wouldn’t want something to happen to your beautiful wife or daughter, now would you? You look like someone who cares about the safety of their family, am I right? You really shouldn’t drive that death trap,” he told me.
My stomach dropped. How did he know about my wife and kid? Had I told him about them? No, he’d never given me enough time to speak, let alone to tell him about my family. Maybe he’d seen the baby car seat in the back, and my wedding band. Yeah, that had to be it.
“Tell you what my friend,” he said, as he slipped his business card in my pocket with one hand, and gave me a condescending pat on the back with the other, “I’ll give you one week to think about it. By then, I guarantee you’ll be back here, ready to make the right choice.”
That was my “out.” I forced a smile and nodded to him. Now, all I had to do was leave. Leave, and never come back. If I ever saw him in town, I could feign ignorance.
“All right,” I replied.
He rubbed his meaty hands together and escorted me out the door. With that, I drove home three hours late. The wife wasn’t impressed.