Stephen Crane, Car Salesman

We bought a car last week, a casual affair for well adjusted folk but an epochal event for the wife and I, embodying the first car we've ever owned that wasn't inherited, subsidized or otherwise scrounged.

I have a long, fraught history with motorcars. As a poor kid who grew up when buying a car meant needing enough money to buy a car we had a long succession of junkers that were gimping along well before we took ownership.  The Ford Falcon where roughly closing the doors made the windows rattle down, and who's heater was not only nonfunctioning, but nonexistant: an empty metal box under the dash, conduit to the great outdoors.  The blue car we had to push and pop the clutch to start.  The rusty 50's Chevy with the gigantic trunk young me loved to hide in.  The one where you could lift up the mat and see the road going by underneath.

Diverse as they were in appearance and infirmity, all shared a death foretold which attended them like Pigpen's dirt cloud.  It is impossible to overstate how much I hated 'trips' as a child.  The car was guaranteed to break down somewhere godawful.  There were no cell phones, we were penniless, and mom's awful judgement meant landing in a sketchy situation with a random weirdo or weirdos was a predictable outcome.

This manifested in my adult life in a refusal to get a driver's license until my late 20's.  I didn't have a car to drive until my mid 30's.  And on the road, any anomaly in performance however minor was enough to trigger a sweating panic attack.  My therapist actually sort of hopped for joy in her chair when I told her we'd signed up for AAA.

So buying a car, even an old-ish, cheap-ish one, is personally notable.

I had an interesting reaction to the salesman, who I expected to loathe as I do most other manifestations of high pressure capitalism.  But I took a liking to him because he was clearly infatuated with the car we bought, a *freakishly immaculate* circa 2000 Honda CRV.

Yes, it is a salesman's duty to make you think you're buying their favorite car ever, but as a fellow scrounger/secondary market guy his enthusiasm and amazement rang true.  His emotion was kindred to my own disbelieving excitement when I snatch a beautiful, spotless older book out of a bin full of rubbish at some thrift store or garage sale.

How?  Why?

He couldn't resist explaining to me just how weirdly well preserved the car was, though he obviously didn't expect me to understand.  He opened the back doors, displaying a small, yellowing disc of plastic affixed to the frame, a tiny pad seemingly intended to prevent the door rubbing against it- "that's from the factory," he nearly hissed, voice vibrating with the need to to make me understand how phenomenally improbable it was.  He pointed out to me the pristine condition of the wheel rims, the owner's manual in the glove compartment still in its original manila envelope, the fluffy, untouched pile of the flooring in the back seat & storage area, the clarity of the head and taillight covers, and other wonders and astonishments.  

A regular, normal car that someone inexplicably treated as a museum piece.

Now it's gone from a peaceful garage and a presumably elderly owner who drove into town once a week to our driveway, exposed to the elements, flawless interior doomed to serial ravaging by Fuss and our own laissez-faire approach to maintenance.

But opening those rear doors will remind me of that salesman long after the plastic pads have vanished, and in turn of my favorite Stephen Crane poem-

I stood upon a high place, 
And saw, below, many devils 
Running, leaping, 
and carousing in sin. 
One looked up, grinning, 
And said, "Comrade! Brother!" 

1 comment:

Lindsey Burrell said...

It is always spectacularly refreshing when another's level of attention to a product or collectible matches your own. Whether it be something similar, or completely unrelated. I experience this often when discussing wine. If I can discover where on the map of geek the other's interests lie, a bridge of trust and understanding suddenly appears between us and the interaction is no longer between human and salesperson but two mutually attentive and interested minds.