We Couch a Car

Diana and I both suffer from a strange combination of painful frugality and reckless impulsiveness. We tend to keep things for decades, then suddenly buy a new thing when we weren’t intending to. We call it “couching,” after an incident in England.

In East Anglia in the late 1990s, we were running errands on an air base just north of where we lived, when Diana decided she wanted to look around the furniture store located there “just to see what kind of couches they have.” Our then current couch was bought in 1983 after we first got married, and it didn’t have a decent spring left in it thanks to Diana’s habit of always climbing into it feet-first before setting her butt down. I think it’s some kind of nesting behavior like cats and dogs exhibit. But, as the old couch was still roughly couch-shaped, neither of us had any intention of getting a new one yet.

“We’ll just look.”
“Okay.”

Reassured in our determination to just look, we entered the store.  But after twenty minutes of laughing and jumping from couch to couch…

“Holy crap! This one has a fold-down center console with cup holders!”

… we found ourselves owners of a new, forest-green, velour monstrosity (with cup holders and a fold-out bed!). We were so excited we refused to even wait for them to deliver it the next day, but made two trips in the Aerostar to haul it ourselves. We have done the same thing with clothes, pets, tools, kitchen appliances, and there are probably some very interesting security videos out there of us shopping for mattresses. So, we are impulsive, but it’s a weird impulsiveness that can lie dormant for years at a time.

Last fall, one of the local car dealerships loaned Diana’s bank branch a new truck to drive in the Bellevue Parade. Diana came home impressed after looking it over.

“David, you need a new truck.”
“I don’t need a new truck. The Ranger runs fine and hauls what I need it to.”
“Honey, your Ranger is 14 years old.”
“So?”
“So, in our 32 years of marriage, you have never gotten a new vehicle just for you. It’s either been a family car that I got to drive while you rode your bicycle to work, or you took the old car and let me get the new one. It’s your turn.”
“I don’t need a turn. We’re not in kindergarten.”
“Well, it’s a nice day to drive around. We’ll just look at trucks and see what’s out there.It will be fun!”
“Okay, but we’re just looking, we’re not couching this.”
“No. No couching, I promise. We’ll just get an idea what’s out there, do our research, and then see what we can do at the end of the year when the new models are in.”
“Fine.”

It was Saturday evening, and all the dealerships were closed, but we walked around the lots and looked as Diana solicited my opinion, then proceeded to ignore completely.

“What do you think of the Chevys?”
“They’re expensive as hell, but I really like them.”
“Well, I don’t like these square wheel-wells. Let’s go look at Fords.”
“Ummm… okay.”

Diana liked the Fords better, but I couldn’t get over the prices. I’m finally getting to the age where I’m starting understand my grandparents a little better:

“Watcha got there, boy?”
“It’s a super ball I got out of the candy machines at the IGA. It bounces really high.”
“You spent a quarter on that?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Why, in my day you could get two mules for a quarter and still have enough change to buy controlling interest in Carnegie Steel.”
“Uhhhh… okay… I’m going to go play with it on the porch.”
“Don’t you bust my window, boy.”
“No, sir.”

So, yeah, sorry, Grandpa. I used to think your tales of surviving the Great Depression by wearing clothes made out of tree bark and eating any children born after 1929 were just hyperbole. I get it now. Anyway, eventually Diana and I returned to our house. I went to bed leaving Diana sitting at the kitchen table with her calculator – which is exactly where I found her the next morning when I got up. She had been up all night scheming. When she saw me, her eyes were alight with sleep deprivation and mild insanity.

“I have a plan.”
“You have a problem.”
“No, look: we’re not paying hardly anything for taxes or insurance on the Ranger. We’ll just keep it so you can haul plywood or whatever, and you can get a nice new car just for you. You can drive the old truck in to work once in awhile to keep it running. Thursdays would be a good day for that.”
“Thursdays?”
“It’s the least exciting day. You wouldn’t want to drive a new car to work on Thursday.”
“You’re delirious. Go to bed.”
“Okay, but wake me up in a couple of hours so we can go looking for cars.”
“Okay.”

Of course I had no intention of waking her up, but I think she instinctively knew this and managed to wake herself up after a couple of hours.

“Just let me get my bath, then we’ll go. This is so exciting!”
“Okay.”
“I don’t think you’re as excited about this as I am.”
“I’m not.”
“It will be fun!”

We spent Sunday going to different dealerships. Diana had clearly lost her mind, because she was looking at Lincolns and Cadillacs. Again, the sticker shock was killing me, and I didn’t understand half of the features on them.

“Well?”
“I don’t know. I want something four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive for the snow.”
“Okay, let’s go look at Jeeps. You’d look good in a Jeep”
“Well, yeah, that’s certainly my primary concern in a vehicle – how I look driving it.”

We went to the Chrysler place in Bellevue. I looked at Jeeps, but quickly decided I liked the look of the Chrysler 300. It was kind of poor-man’s, entry-level luxury, with a nod to 70s muscle cars in the body style. And it had AWD. We decided to come in the following Monday and talk to a salesperson.

On Monday, we met at the dealership after work. We test-drove several 300s, and I liked them, but the salesman kept pushing us to a John Varvatos edition. I liked the exterior. It was all murdered out like a Grand National, but I really didn’t care about the hand-stitched dashboard, panoramic sunroof, pink gauge lights, or heated/cooled cup holders. However, Diana thought with the 2016s coming out, they’d be willing to deal on the ridiculous designer price tag (50K MSRP but listed at 41K). Besides, she really liked the heated/cooled leather seats. Then she said:

“I want to do the negotiating.”
“Okay. But if you want your lady bits heated and cooled, it’s going to cost you.”
“I know that.”

Since Diana is super cheap, err… frugal, I was happy to let her do her thing. We sat down with the salesman, who, to give him credit, was really a nice guy, ready to write a check for the whole amount of the car right then and there as long as Diana was happy with the price. The salesman began his spiel.

“Well, what’s it going to take to get you folks into that car?”
“Thirty two – five.”

I don’t know what he was expecting, but he was not expecting that.

“Really?”
“Really.”

My initial thought was, “holy shit, way to low-ball him, Dear,” but I was curious to see how it would play out. I assumed the guy would start explaining all the features again, make a counter offer, or have the sales manager come over and we’d work our way to an agreement. The guy’s eyes widened.

“Well, let me go talk to the sales manager.”

He came back after several minutes:

“Wow, I can’t believe it, but he told me to write it up.”

Well, crap, I knew they wouldn’t take that offer. This was pure car-salesman theater. But instead of just sitting down and talking to us, they went through this ridiculous process they learned in Dealership College; the goal being to keep us in the dealership as long as possible so we feel like we’ve wasted time if we leave without getting a car.

The salesmen typed away on his keyboard, got up, and returned 5 minutes later with a piece of paper.

“Okay, this is your offer to us, and I just need you to initial here saying that if we can come to an agreement on price, you’re willing to close on this vehicle today.”

I finally jumped in.

“No.”
“No?”
“Look, We’re telling you we are willing to buy this vehicle today. You don’t need my initials because it isn’t legally binding in any way. I can initial that paper then walk right out the door without buying anything.”
“Well, yes, but…”
“I know you’re doing what the company has trained you to do, but my wife has given you an offer. Accept it or give us a counter offer.”
“Just a moment.”

With a creased brow, the salesman got up and disappeared. We waited… and waited… and waited. Finally, he returned with the sales manager: a  glad-hander with all the greasy, reptilian charm of washed-up Vegas lounge singer. I didn’t expect them to take the offer, but I figured he’d at least sit down and work with Diana, politely. He didn’t. He stood by the desk, and in a dismissive manner said:

“We can’t accept this. I’m not going to pay you to take this car.”

Then he coolly glanced at me as if I were the boss of my wife instead of the other way around. At this point Diana’s hands started squeezing the arms of her chair and I could hear the creak of chromed steel as it started to bend. If it had been just me, I would have given him a hearty “f*ck you” and left. But since Diana was there I had to intervene in order to save this moron’s life. He will never know how close he came to death that day.

“Well, thank you for your time. We’re going to go outside and discuss it.”

The thing about Diana is that once you piss her off, she is done with you – forever. You can can yell at her, call her names, insult her ancestry, and she will still smile and calmly work through the situation. But if you patronize her, God help you. She will kill you and everything you love. She is a champion grudge-holder from a long line of champion grudge-holders. Once back in our car, I tried to ease her out of her homicidal rage.

“You okay?”
“That guy was a dickhole!”
“Yes, Darling, he was a dickhole. I’ll be honest, you hit him with a pretty low offer, but he didn’t handle it well at all.”
“I’m not buying anything from them.”
“I know.”

I thought that was the end of it and that I could relax for another year or two with my truck, but later that same night Diana was on the laptop pricing Chrysler 300s.

“Oooh, here’s a new 2014 300 S in silver like you like. It’s over at the dealership in La Vista.”
“Honey, do still want to do this? Let’s just use the e-price thing in their website and see what they want for it.”
“They don’t close until 9:00 and it’s only 8:30. Let’s go look at it!”
“It will take us 20 minutes to get there.”
“We’re just going to look.”
“Okay. No couching.”
“No couching.”

So, we show up 10 minutes before closing. I walked in with my hands up and a sorry-my-wife-is-making-me-do-this look of helplessness on my face.

“Hey, I know y’all are about to close, but we’re just going to be outside looking at a car we saw online. You don’t have to worry with us.”

I was immediately pounced upon by an eager salesman.

“Oh, that’s no problem, I usually stay late. Which car were you wanting to see?”
“The silver 300 S, but, really, you don’t have to put yourself out.”
“Oh, hey I wasn’t going to do anything anyway but go home alone to my apartment and play video games.”
“Uhh… okay, then.”

The salesman’s name was Jorge, and he was a nice young man, originally from the Dominican Republic. Diana liked him right away and proceeded to call him “George” over the course of two days. He showed us the car and all its features, and let us test drive it on an empty straightaway where he told me to “punch it, dude!” I did punch it. I liked it. A lot. We came back to his desk. Jorge was ready:

“So, what’s it going to take to….”
“Okay, wait. Who is your sales manager?”
“That’s Kevin, he’s right over there.”
“I don’t want you to print anything up. We fully resolve to buy this car tonight if we can come to an agreement. We are the only customers here, so go get Kevin and let’s talk.”

Jorge was a bit discomfited being taken out of his routine like that, but left and returned with Kevin – another nice guy, but without the smarm of previous sales manager.

“Kevin, we want to buy this car. You would not believe the day we have had at your other dealership in Bellevue,” (I than summarized my afternoon). “It’s 30 minutes past my bedtime. For the love of God, please just give my wife something so she can walk out of here feeling like she got a deal.”

Diana was just sort of staring at me. I had forgotten myself and begun negotiations without her. Still, that was the price she paid for making me leave the house at night. Kevin started typing in the computer.

“Okay, let’s see… are you military? Because Chrysler offers a….”
“Twenty years in the Air Force. Here’s my I.D.”

He typed some more.

“How about $2000 under the sale price out there?”

I looked at Diana. Kevin looked at Diana. Jorge looked at Diana. She grinned her Diana-grin and nodded.

“Kevin, that sounds great.”
“Well, can we do anything else for you?”
“Yes. I want a full tank of gas, I want the car detailed, and I want the windows down and the Beats Audio system blasting ‘Ridin’ Dirty’ when you bring it out to me.”

Kevin burst out laughing. “I think we can handle that… at least the first two. We’ll see about the third.”
“Fair enough.”

We picked the car up the next day. It took us four hours to hand them a check, no doubt because they wanted us to look around for another car for Diana and to sell us some after-market crap. We just wanted the car. During that time Jorge told us all about the Dominican Republic, and Diana finally figured out she had been calling him by the wrong name for two days. On the way back, Diana came to a sudden realization.

“Oh my God, we “couched” a car.”
“Yes, we did.”
“We’ve never done that before.”
“I’m happy with my car.”
“Well, you look good driving it.”
“You know, I really do. When I was young, I used to think nice cars were wasted on old people. Now I have to take that back. Young people need to just be satisfied with their lack of any responsibility, maintaining firm bodies while living off a steady diet of Taco Bell and Mountain Dew, and the ability to get an erection lasting over four hours without having to go to the ER about it.”
“Yes. Yes they do.”

The next day, Diana sent nicely-worded thank-you cards to both Kevin and Jorge. It was a completely Kentucky thing to do. Some time later, I was in having software in the car updated, and both Kevin and Jorge told me that it was the first time anyone had ever sent them a thank-you card for purchasing a vehicle.

“Well, that’s Diana. She’s the smartest, sweetest person I know. And If you treat her with respect, she’ll write you a nice note, bake you cookies, and do business with you again. If you don’t, she’ll burn your village to the ground and kill everyone as they come running out of the flames.”

Their smiles faltered just a bit.

“I’m serious.”

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