No Cash for My Clunker

They wouldn’t take ‘ole blue!

Just when I thought I have seen everything, along comes something that just really blows me away.  Life for me is one great surprise after the other.  Today, I got the shock of my life and was reminded once again… don’t count your chickens before they hatch!

Today started like most of my days.  I got up as late as I could and, after my morning pot of coffee, I trekked outside to see what I could accomplish around the house.  A few days ago, I took on the mammoth task of building my very own privacy fence.  Not that I have anything to hide… I just don’t like people watching me laying around my house.  I thought the fence was coming along pretty good for a guy who is better at demolition as opposed to construction.  I just needed some more lumber to finish the job and that was a good excuse to go to my most favorite place in the world… Lowes!

In my driveway sat my three vehicles…my 2000 Lincoln with busted air bags, my lawnmower that starts fine but the blades won’t turn, and then, Ole’ Blue, the most dependable vehicle I have ever owned.  A 1992 GMC pickup truck that just sits there rairin’ to go anywhere and at any time.

Not much to look at though…the tailgate won’t stay up, plenty of dents, a front bumper that curls down like it’s frowning, and faded- blue paint that has succumbed to 17 years of blistering Louisiana sunshine. It has the latest Cajun-’ engineered air-conditioning system with rear-air blowers, (when I have my back window slid open).   Oh yeah, I forgot that the exhaust pipe is gone, but it has the muscle car sound that some people pay big bucks for.  (My teenage son did it for me for free… what a guy!).

Off to Lowes I went… me and Ole’ Blue out on another mission.  After loading a ton of lumber in the bed of the truck (Ole’ Blue didn’t even squat), I got to thinking about the “Cash for Clunkers” deal going on.  I could hardly bear the painful thought of trading in Ole’ Blue, but he did have 246,000 miles under his belt.  I knew Blue’s days were numbered and I had to make proper plans for his departure.  We all have to face this reality at some point, don’t we?

As I drove up to the dealership, I just knew those guys standing out in the front with their white shirts and neck ties were saying amongst themselves, “O boy, another ole clunker.”  I knew Ole’ Blue wasn’t really a “clunker,” he was just like me… dependable, faithful, not that old… just a lot of mileage.  Those guys reminded me of a flock of buzzards nesting in a tree salivating over the fresh meat below.  I got out and said, “Boy, you guys look hungry.”  (You see, you have to set-up your delivery style right up front.)

They tripped over each other scurrying my way, but one guy got to me first, so I guess he was the one who claimed the prize.  He said to me, “Yeah, we’re pretty hungry.  You here for “Cash for Clunkers?”  I thought to myself, “My… what an assumption.  What in the world made him think that?”  I was offended, but I tried not to show it.  (Can’t take things personal when you’re doing business.)

“I want to see the cheapest, no frills, roll-down-the-windows pick-up you’ve got.” (Once again,  I let him know who was in charge of this deal right from the start.)  “Sure, right over here,” he said with confidence.  He pointed to a real nice, brand new, white pick-up truck that would have made me the envy of all my neighbors!  I got in it and began to dream of driving down the road in this little baby.

My salesman guy was sitting in the passenger side, showing me all the latest technological devices that were installed but not activated… because it was the “low grade model.” (Who needs satellite radio anyway when all I listen to anyway is KELB 100.5 FM, the greatest little southern gospel station in the state.) And that little OnStar gadget that tells you where you are…. who cares about where you are?  I am more interested in where I am going!

“How much?  I mean… what is the bottom dollar for this truck?” I asked with firmness.  He shot back just as quickly, “About $21,000,”  If I was chewing gum, I know I would have swallowed it.  “$21,000… dollars!” I moaned.  “You have got to be kidding me!  This is the cheapest truck you have on the lot?”  The white-shirted buzzard affirmed and then asked, “How much did you have in mind?” (A little snippy I thought.)  I replied with all honesty, “Well, Lord God!  I figured I’d find one for 12 or 13 thousand and by the time I get the clunker money and rebate applied, I would drive outta’ here in an 8 or 9 thousand dollars brand new truck!”

By this time, I figured this guy thought I was an old country bumpkin who came crawling out of the woods for his annual trip to the big town of Lake Charles.  Little did he know… I was a high IQ’d college graduate who has forgotten more than this guy knows.  I was, however, pleased to maintain my disguise as a dumb country hick as I continued my hagglin’.

“Well…” then came the hook.  “By the time you subtract $4500 clunker money and then another $3000 on our rebate… that’ll lower the price down to 13 to 14 thousand!  Why don’t we go inside and sit down and figure out how much your payments will be.”  “O yeah”… I mused, “I’m sure you would love that you little salesman dude.”

You see, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew the two things a car salesman needs to do to get a sale:  1. Get the customer to sit in the vehicle,  AND  2. Get him to sit down at the table with a free coke or cup of coffee.  Well, I was willing to give him one out of two, just to make him think he might have a chance for a sale.  I told him to go inside and see if I would get $3500 or $4500 on the “clunker deal.”  I already knew by now I wasn’t leaving Ole Blue in Lake Charles today.

Like a hungry wolf sliding up to a helpless lamb, the guy returned with a mixed face of serious concern and fainting hope.  “I’m sorry sir, but your truck doesn’t qualify for the clunker program.  It’s based on mileage and your truck gets too good gas mileage compared to the new truck.”  I had to grin a little bit!  Off I went with my little speech.  “You mean to tell me that my 17 year old truck doesn’t qualify as a clunker?  It that doesn’t qualify, nothing will!”  (I have to confess, I really was happy to learn that Ole’ Blue wasn’t a clunker after all.  I knew it all the time… but this guy just made it official.)

I thanked the guy for his time and left the lot.  I was now on a roll and I just had to find out what the other dealer down the road could do for me.  I forgot all about my fence and was now on a new mission.  Maybe this dealer had something he could put me in without pulling my eye balls out.  “Let’s go Ole’ Blue!”

I pulled into the dealership on Prien Lake Road.  Surprising to me, I only saw one salesman up front.  He was a young black guy who looked to be about 21 years old and I immediately felt sorry for him. It was really hot and he was sweating like a politician at a town hall meeting.  I guessed he was doing his best to make a few bucks to take care of his wife and kids.  I really was hoping we would be able to help one another.  Really!

I gave him the same speil… I wanted the lowest-priced, simple, no frills truck on the lot.  I walked with him down the lot as he was leading me to my prize.  “Got a problem with color?” he asked.  Without a second of hesitation, I quipped back, “No… I’m not prejudiced.”  He laughed and laughed and said, “Now that’s what I like… a man with humor.  Now we’ve broken the ice.  Not prejudiced!  Now that’s funny!”  “Yeah, just a plain white truck,” I added.  I figured we were off to a real good start until we stopped at my qualified “pick of the litter.”

I looked down at what seemed to be a little sardine can with an engine.  Since I was speechless, I sat in the midget truck after he kindly opened the door for me.  The cheap cloth seats and cheap plastic interior reminded me of the old El Camino I used to drive as a kid.  It was a Pinto version of a truck.  It had the curb appeal of a Waste Management garbage can.  It was a “truck wantabe.”

“How much?” seemed like the next best thing to say.  “Twenty thousand dollars” he sheepishly replied.  “Twenty thousand dollars!” I exclaimed.  “You have got to be kidding me.  Twenty thousand American dollars?” I continued. “I could have bought a big truck… a real truck, down the road a while ago for that much.”

He had to explain to me in my confusion.  “This is a 4-cylinder engine.  It gets better gas mileage than an 8-cylinder.  Plus, you can’t qualify for anything else.”  He explained to me that, once again, my truck gets too good of a gas mileage.  I had to say it.  “I thought the whole idea of the Clunker program was to get the old gas hogs off the road and get us into more fuel-efficient vehicles.  Do you mean to tell me that 17 years of research and technology couldn’t produce a vehicle that gets the gas mileage I’m already getting in my old truck!”  I wasn’t really upset… I was proud!

“So what you are saying is this:  For $17,000 and throwing in my old truck, I can drive outta’ here in a brand new matchbox with a motor in it. Right?” I summed it up for him.  He hung his head as he seemed to struggle for something  smart to say.
I have to give it to the guy.  He didn’t give up on the sale.  “Sir, you have to understand that inflation increases the price 4% every year” he explained.  I shot back, “You’ve got to realize my salary doesn’t go up 4% every year!”.  (Boy, now that was a good one.)  When I asked if he had a real truck with 8 cylinders that I could get into, he said “Yes we do… but it’s about $30,000.”  Well… it was all over at that point, as I heard the fat lady sing!  I shook the nice fellow’s hand and said, “Well… me and Ole’ Blue are goin’ to the house.”

Off we went… me and Ole’ Blue heading back to the house, feelin’ real good.  I was glad I didn’t have to give Ole’ Blue “the boot.”  He’s been too good to me for so long.  It would have be so very wrong for me to just “kick him to the curb” in search of something better.  My little flirtation with something new showed me “I already have the best one and I should be thankful!”  Please forgive me Ole’ Blue for even entertaining the idea.  You have been so faithful to me for too many years.  I’m sorry! We pulled in the driveway and he proudly took his special space next to the lawnmower.  Ole’ Blue was home!

Later that evening, as I was fixing the battery cable on Ole’ Blue, I began to think of how God tells us to be contented and satisfied with what we have AND to not covet what your neighbor has.  Well, I have decided to stay Biblical with the whole idea of “Cash for Clunkers.”  I will remain contented with my faithful and true-blue Ole’ Blue.  AND I will not covet my neighbor’s new pick-up truck.  I will let them continue to pay those high notes every month on something they really can’t afford.  It’s just Biblical!

Yes… today, I was reminded of a very valuable lesson.  Many times, the grass does look greener on the other side and that’s when temptation sneaks in.  Be satisfied with what you already have at home and don’t go looking for something better, or prettier, or just different.  Remember the many years of faithful and dedicated devotion that money simply can’t buy.  Even if years of wear and tear might be showing a bit… it got there taking care of you.

I love you Ole’ Blue!
Rick Batchelor

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