Call me Ishmael.
A Big Ugly Man needs a Big Ugly car, and every once in a while it’s nice to drive something that will go vroomvroom all low and growly-like, if only to impress SOBUMD, who likes that sort of thing almost as much as some of my readers. When you combine these items with the fact that the Toyota Pequod I’ve been driving for the past many years is about to roll 200,000 miles, is coming apart at the seams (literally, in the case of the front seat), and isn’t likely to pass mandatory inspection at the end of this month, and you have a recipe for a quest. When you factor in our budget, you have a challenge suitable for an epic tale.
This is that tale.
I used to drive a Subaru Outback. It was a great car, and I loved it, but things being how they are, we wound up selling it and I inherited the Toyota Pequod I’m driving from the Very Clever and also Very Generous Grandparents. That was almost 100,000 miles ago. The only thing the Subaru Outback I drove didn’t really have was pick-up; it was a 4-cylander getup that got the job done, but you sometimes had to ask nicely. So in considering a replacement car, the primary considerations were as follows:
- Ability to back up the Van when needed; i.e., getting all three lunatic children across the back seat safely
- Ability to get out of its own way
- Reasonably low miles
- Being a Subaru Outback
I considered listing cost three times in that list, but you get the point. Note that getting the lunatic children in the back safely is required, but comfortably isn’t. The comfort of the kids in the back was considered only to the extent that I have a hard time driving while beating people who keep yelling “will you stop touching me” at one another – so really, extreme discomfort becomes a safety issue, since I’d be leaning back for beatings instead of driving.
Since those bullets are pretty much in rank order, it became quickly apparent that “Cost” and “Subaru Outback” were not overly combatable requirements in a new car, and adding “6 cylinders” to those was out of the question. Looking then at new cars turned into looking at used cars, which continued to be problematic. In the interests of Cost, SOBUMD spent a good amount of time looking at cars listed by our bank, which has a select cadre of dealers with whom they work.
And then she saw it, just a glimpse, but there! There, did you see it! It just breached! Look – the White Whale!
It was a white 2006 Chrysler 300C, with an 8-cylander Hemi engine, 36,000 miles, and room to play full court basketball in the back. Here was 2 tons of big car, and it was almost within our budget.
And so it was that I drove the Toyota Pequod an hour to Baltimore to meet with Erwin at Thompson Automotive, who was going to show me everything about the car, on a Saturday at 10am. He asked me to be sure to let him know if I wasn’t going to make it, since he was blocking out that time for me.
He wasn’t in, of course, when I got there, and wasn’t expected to be in, and no one knew who I was or why I was there, but Derek jumped in and helped. He pulled the car up for me, and we took it for a test drive, and it was just as low and growly as could be hoped for, but the driver’s side mirror was permanently fogged and rattled like a maraca in a mariachi band as soon as you went over 10 mph. Other than that, it met nearly all our considerations, except for the bit about being a Subaru Outback.
So we went back to the dealership and discussed the mirror, and the Pequod, and the price, and the weather, and the White Whale, and the General Manager of Thompson Automotive. And they really thought the trade on my Toyota Pequod was worth about $500 bucks, but they’d waive the $1150 in “internet” fees if I was interested, and they hemmed and hawed and “let me talk to my manager”ed about the mirror. And they thought that maybe the Pequod might be worth $1000 if I was interested RIGHT NOW.
And I thanked them, and I drove home in the Pequod, and over the next few days we drove several more cars. I drove a Subaru Outback, 4-cylanders with a stick shift, and it was OK but over the budget. And I drove a Ford Focus, which may be the most comfortable car I’ve ever sat in. It giggled politely when I hit the gas, and began moving forward only after due consideration and thought, but it was at least a comfortable thing. I drove a Hyundai Sonata, which was very much like the Pequod, except more boring. The Hyundai Snorata would actually fail on the safety requirement, since we were pretty sure I would fall asleep while driving it, just from sheer boredom.
And I emailed my good friend Derek at Thompson Automotive, and told him that if they were still interested in giving me $1000 for the Pequod, and fixing the mirror, and waiving the $1150 in “internet” fees, I’d come back up and buy the White Whale.
My family was up in arms. I mean, I’d caught some flack for marrying SOBUMD because she was a Mets fan, but at least she was National League. This was a CHRYSLER. I would be the first of my name, to the knowledge of everyone I spoke with, to buy a Chrysler. We were GM people, before imports became common, and I learned to drive with an Oldsmobile so big it made the White Whale seem a minnow. (That Oldsmobile had the distinction of being the first car to leverage Service Oriented Architecture in its design – the steering wheel and the tires were bound with what is called “loose coupling.” You could turn that wheel a full 180 degrees without impacting the direction of the vehicle.)
My grandfather, FOBUMD’s dad, was an Oldsmobile guy. He was of the opinion that you should replace a car after 2 years, since after that they started to need work and maintenance, and he didn’t really have time for that kind of thing, so he just got a new one every 2 years. My father tells a story of watching his dad buy a car. They never left the kitchen, and he only heard Grandpa’s side of the conversation:
[Dials Ray Olds Dealership in Chicago.]
“Hi, Ray, it’s George. Yeah, it’s that time again.”
“Yeah? What do you have on the lot?”
“Really? What color is it?”
“How much do you want for it?”
“Sounds good. Why don’t you have one of your boys bring it around, and they can pick up the old one.”
“Great, talk to you later!”
This was the late 1970s or early ‘80s. You try buying a car like that today, see how far you get.
Anyway, Erwin called to say that yes, he’d seen my email to Derek and they agreed, and when was a good time to come back up? And we decided that he would email us with the final price and we would work with the bank, and we’d get the check and come up on Saturday.
The next day was Wednesday, and having received no email, I called him back and left voicemail, then called Derek, who said that no, in fact they couldn’t quite make that same deal, since $1000 for the Toyota Pequod and fixing the mirror was going to eat into their profit, and the General Manager of Thompson Automotive wasn’t willing to make the same offer on a Wednesday that he was on a Saturday. And Erwin called back to explain that he was sorry about that.
And we discussed the idea that we could just sell the Pequod on our own, and that seemed to be a pretty good idea to SOBUMD as well, and so they fixed the mirror, and sent us a final price, and mentioned that he couldn’t hold the car without a deposit. In the meantime, we got a check from the bank for the final price, made out to Thompson Automotive. Erwin was very happy that we had the check, and we sent him a picture of it, which he shared with the General Manager of Thompson Automotive, and we all agreed that we would drive the hour back up to Baltimore on Saturday at 1000am, and trade them the check for the White Whale, with its newly fixed mirror.
And Saturday dawned bright and early, and we woke the girls, Number One Son being awake all the time anyway, and Erwin sent us an email at 0815 that morning stating that we should call before we leave, since the General Manager of Thompson Automotive had sold the White Whale to some guy named Queequeg on Friday night.
Had we put a cash deposit down on it? We had not. What is a deposit? It is a promise to pay in full. Is an excited customer who sends a picture of a check made out to a dealership a promise to pay in full? Well, I think so. Erwin and Derek both tell me that they thought so, too, and both of them used the words “I apologize” on the phone with me. But they’re not in charge.
What price is honor? For the General Manager of Thompson Automotive, the price of honor is the amount more that Queequeg was willing to pay, over the “guaranteed” internet price that our bank’s website says the dealer will honor. The General Manager of Thompson Automotive is the kind of used car dealer who most maddens and torments, the kind of used car dealer who uses truth with malice in it, the kind of used car dealer who makes all the used car dealer jokes funny.
And so passed the White Whale.
So finding ourselves suddenly free on a Saturday, we explained to the kids that we were not going to pick up a car, took the check back to the bank to be shredded, and called Fitzgerald Subaru, which is where we bought our first Subaru back in the day. Our man Peter Z had one just checked in, and we agreed to meet at 1400 hours to drive it.
We pulled up right at 1400, to see another couple getting into a 2006 Subaru Outback that looked exactly as this one had been described. They were with a salesman, going out for a test drive. When we found Peter, he was very glad to see us, and then quite suddenly speechless when he realized that the car he’d just had pulled up for us was, “um, out for a moment, they’ll be right back.” SOBUMD lost no time in explaining her opinion of this turn of events, harpooning the unsuspecting Peter with most of the above tale. Her pauses in the narrative were like the sound of a hammer being lifted back for another swing. Her intakes of breath were chambered shells in a 12-guage. I was just glad it was him and not me.
When the car and its potential buyers returned with Peter’s cube-mate, we asked the other sales guy if there was any real point in our driving it. “Oh yes, they’re not that interested.”
O-kaaaaay. So we put all three lunatic children in the backseat, cheek to cheek, and they were all able to buckle in without too much touching, and SOBUMD and I sat in front, leaving Peter there nursing his ego and bruises and probably giving his cube-mate a solid keel-hauling – at least I didn’t see the cube-mate or the other couple again. The 6-cylander Subaru Boxter engine did everything one could ask, albeit quietly and with a minimum of growling, and the seats heated and cooled and the radio got nice and loud.
And Fitzgerald Subaru was happy to fix the windshield wipers that didn’t squirt washer fluid, and happy to give us $1500 for the Toyota Pequod, and happy to have us go to the bank and get a check and bring it back Tuesday, and happy to hold the car until Tuesday. And Peter was happy to give us the 4-CD set of Book One of the Lord of the Rings Audio Book, as a gift for having frightened us with the car not being there when we arrived, which may be the oddest inducement to buy a car I’ve ever run across.
Oh, yes, and of course I gave them a deposit to hold the car between then and Tuesday. I gave them my word. Ray Olds isn’t there in Chicago anymore, but Fitzgerald Auto is still in Maryland and online.
And so this morning we picked up the shiny black Outback, and handed over the Toyota Pequod only after going around the block to roll it past 200,000 miles with honor. We wound up with the car we wanted in the first place, pretty much on the day we were going to buy a car, and for about the same price. In the end, the White Whale got away, and I drive the Blackfish now.
So if you’re going hunting for your own Moby Dick, hark to my words and stick to these waters: Fitzgerald Subaru, yes. Thompson Automotive, no.