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Chasing The American Dream

December 28, 2006


I wouldn’t say I’m good at many things in this life. But one thing’s for sure; I can negotiate a car deal. These sales guys try to make things complicated but it’s a simple numbers game. These days, luckily for all of us, the internet reveals secrets once sacred to the car dealership. We can scope out dealer invoices, rebates, dealer/manufacturer incentives, interest rates, residual values, all kinds of stuff that puts the power back in the hands of us buyers. So salesmen can’t mess with me with all their tricks and stupid questions. I come armed with calculators, my laptop, and a folder of internet secrets which disrupt their playing hand. It’s not fun but it’s necessary.

On this particular night, I was ready to deal. I was fed up with my old car and there were some great dealer incentives going on for a car I liked. I may be vain but I didn’t want a family-type car. Although nice and economical and all that, that meant no Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda 6, and stuff like that. I just wanted something a little sportier looking. I looked at the Mazda 3, the Acura TSX, and the Volvo S40. The Mazda looked like a great value but by the time you added in all the options to make it equal with the other two, it was no longer a great value. That left me with the Acura and the Volvo. Acura wasn’t offering any incentives/rebates so negotiating would be difficult. That pretty much left me with the Volvo. I liked its looks and there were plenty of dealer incentives for me to bargain with. I did my homework and knew what price I wanted.

When I arrived, I didn’t get hounded by a million sales guys which was nice. My guy asked me what I was looking for and took me immediately to the lot to look for the car. I told him I wanted a base model and he did his best to upgrade me, but I told him I was set on a base model. When we got back from the lot, he tried to ask me the usual BS questions like the dreaded, ‘how much money was I willing to spend.’ I told him I’d priced the car already and simply wanted to plug in the numbers. I laid out all my regalia and the game was on. Much to his credit, he let me run the show. I guess he figured I knew what I was doing. My only hurdle was my old car. I knew I was in trouble with the trade-in value and I was right. After they test drove it, they wanted to give me $1,500 less than what I would call an average trade-in value. This was expected though. I didn’t let it phase me. So I started playing my cards.

I showed him copies of the rebates the dealership would be getting from Volvo if they sold the car. $3,000 plus. So I asked him to work with me on the trade. Again, much to his credit, he was honest and we worked out the payment online. He met me half-way on my old car and gave me the rebate off the sticker price. I also negotiated another $1,500 off the invoice price and got my target price. It was a record for me. Done deal in only two hours. I give the dealership a lot of credit for being virtually haggle-free. Buying a car is such a hassle, but I’m free and clear for another 6 or 7 years or until I give the car to Andy. By the way, I’ve developed a leasing spreadsheet that I’m willing to share. Let me know if you’d like it.

December 27, 2006


I have my step-father to thank for getting me into sports. My childhood wasn’t the rosiest, but somehow sports made it all bearable. Most of my fondest and most vivid memories were of attending sporting events and especially football games. I went to my first game when I was nine and have been hooked since. I don’t know what Andy will eventually retain from his childhood. Right now, he remembers practically everything. But I wanted to give him some of the same cherished memory opportunities I had as a kid. We’d been to one football game three years ago and he remembers it still. The Phoenix Cardinals used to be an easy ticket. They’d get maybe 25,000 people at a game in a stadium capacity of 70-plus thousand. But now they’ve got a new stadium and games are sold out. I really wanted to take Andy to a game but sheesh. A $45 end zone seat was selling on the internet for $200. When I told Andy that $400 was simply too much for a football game and that we could go to a basketball AND hockey game instead, he seemed OK with it. But later his mom told me he was bummed out about it. So of course you know what dear old dad did.

I’d already bought the basketball tickets, but I knew I needed to buy the football tickets. I don’t think you can really put a price tag on a lifetime memory. So I bought and we went. We took pictures, we ate kettle corn, hot dogs, and ice cream, talked football strategy, and cheered on the hapless Cardinals. It’s a shame they didn’t even come close to beating the Cowboys. Even worse may be Andy’s lasting memory of the rude Cowboy fans at the game. Maybe he’ll have better memories of the Suns basketball game we went to because they won easily. But hopefully years from now, he’ll vividly remember the great time he had with his dad attending these cool pro sports games. Something tells me, somewhere down the road, it will be a story we will both share and remember with great fondness.

December 26, 2006


She came to her front door expecting to see the UPS man delivering her birthday package. I hatched the sneaky plan and it had worked flawlessly to that point. It had been the roughest of times for my mom. It had been almost two years to the day since her beloved Basset Hound died. Losing a pet that you’ve had 10-plus years isn’t easy. I knew what it felt like. Luckily, mom got a puppy and formed a close relationship with her. Life’s cruel. She had the puppy for about a year. A few weeks ago, the doggie got sick and died suddenly. Mom was devastated. Inconsolable. To top it off, she had to move out of her place under more difficult circumstances and had two weeks to do so. I knew what I had to do but didn’t tell her.

Our relationship was never the closest. But after 42 years, the divorced changed all that. She came through and supported me like never before, and I was forever grateful. Things have been great since then. I’ve really not had much chance to ‘repay’ her. I surprised the hell out of her on her 70th birthday showing up unannounced on her Vermont doorstep. After hearing about the dog, I knew it was time for a reprise especially since it was her birthday in two days. My sister picked me up from the airport. I called mom from the car acting like it was a typical Saturday morning in Miami. I told mom that I’d been tracking her birthday present via UPS and told her that I knew her present was going to arrive and for her to look out for it. I told her it was something a little different and that I thought she’d really like it. My sister could hardly keep from laughing.

I rang the doorbell which prompted my sister to yell at mom telling her the package must be here. She opened the door and I shouted, “Surprise!” She stood there motionless, a stunned look on her face like she’d just seen something that just couldn’t be real. A good minute went by before reality finally set in. I was her birthday present. She cried and hugged me. Moments like that make life worthwhile. And for the next three days, I did my best to get her out of her funk. We packed boxes, moved stuff to her storage place, visited her new house, went out to eat for her birthday, and shared a walk downtown together even stopping by my old restaurant. And then we topped it all off with a great homemade birthday dinner and cake for her and my niece. It was great to see her smiling again and moving on though difficult as it was. If she didn’t know before, I think she now knows she can count on me for anything. Nothing could make me happier.

December 19, 2006


Shame on me for neglecting this blog. Busy is a lousy excuse. But between last update and now, I've been in Arizona, Vermont, and have bought a new car. Stories to come, y'all.

December 03, 2006


I think one of the best people to know in this life is a good car mechanic. I’m pretty useless when it comes to cars. I have no clue and unfortunately, I don’t know a good mechanic. That’s not a good combination when you own an eight-year-old car with 111,000 miles on it. I love my car, but I’m being forced into a decision.

I took it into the Mercedes dealer because of a loud rattle. I’m really not sure how long the rattle had been rattling because it was one of those things that was drowned out when you had the radio playing and the air on. I only heard it when it got cool here and I had the window open. What I DID know about the car is that the noise only occurred when I had the air condition on and it seemed to only rattle when I put the brakes on. I was guessing it was a fan belt or something. Optimistically, I was hoping I could get out of it for under $100. Yeah, I can hear you all laughing at me. So I relayed the rattle story to my ‘service professional.’ She told me they would diagnose the car for a minimum cost of $180. If I refused their repair recommendation, I’d owe the $180. She also said they could do an entire car evaluation for free. Oh sure, I knew what was coming but since it was a free service, I told gave her the OK.

That was Wednesday. I didn’t hear back from her until the following Tuesday. Like in a Seinfeld episode, they were very good at taking the reservation, but they weren’t really good at holding the reservation since it took so long to get back to me. Well, she might as well have been speaking Chinese because I didn’t understand a word she said about what was wrong with the car. It was belt-related but because of some tension thing, they couldn’t just replace the belt; they had to take the whole apparatus apart blah blah blah. A mere $450 to fix it. Yeah I knew this was crap, but who was I to argue? I had no basis to know whether this was BS or not. She then rattled off the free estimate results to the tune of another $2,500. And everything that needed to be fixed was seemingly life threatening. The wheels were gonna fall off, the brakes were gonna fail, I was gonna lose my steering, yada yada yada. I told her to fix the rattle and pass on everything else. She seemed somewhat surprised at my decision. I guess she was used to rich Mercedes owners just saying ‘OK fix everything.’ Well, I wasn’t nearly rich and could hardly afford the $450 let alone the $2,500.

And that got me to thinking. I’m sure some of what she said was true, but did I really want to invest all that money into an old car with tons of miles on it. I was thinking I’d rather spend that money on a new car. I was undecided. I picked up the car and shelled out the $450. I really hated that dealership and I hated that so-called service professional. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I got in the car and noticed it was below empty yet I had a 55 mile trip home to make. I should have looked for a gas station but I decided to just chance it. I got on the highway, fought traffic, but got myself home and to a gas station. And that’s when I got my surprise. I didn’t hear it at first because I was on the highway with the radio and the air on. Yup, the rattle was still rattling. They didn’t fix crap and I was out $450. I was so friggin’ mad.

I immediately called the dealer. She didn’t answer. I could have easily yelled, but I simply left a disappointing message. I told her I was disappointed that 1) the so-called Mercedes service professionals mis-diagnosed the problem and 2) and even worse, they didn’t drive the car to make sure they fixed the problem. I mean, how do you NOT do that??? She never called me back. Not even the next morning. So I decided to call the head Service Director. I told him the story and told him that I wanted my money back because they didn’t fix the problem. Naturally, he first wanted me to take the car back in. I told him I had no confidence in their ability to fix the car. A year ago, I had to bring the car in four times before they finally fixed the air. Ooh, was I mad. I really didn’t have any desire to go back there. I just wanted my money back. If they say no, I’m going to dispute the charge and let American Express fight it. This whole nightmare of an experience convinced me. I didn’t want to throw any more money into this car. It’s time to find a new one.