By David Feela
Once upon a time, I bought a used vehicle with only 30,000 miles on the odometer at one of the many car lots in the Four Corners, and a majority of those miles (according to the elf that sold it to me) were accumulated while the vehicle was being towed behind an RV. More than likely, I thought, a variation on the old-lady-whoonly- drove-to-church-on-Sundays story I’d heard since I first started driving.
Naturally, my suspicions were aroused, but the miles proved to be original, so I bought it and drove it with nothing more than basic maintenance for 11 years. A charming little chariot.
But as any driver knows, “...and it ran happily ever after” is also a fairy tale, because eventually every vehicle – no matter how reliable – just gets old. At 200,000+ miles I decided it was time to shop for a new used ride, which is when I met the three little pigs, though not at the same time.
The first little pig (an 18-year-old porker) intercepted me while I eyed a shiny green truck. He said, “Could you see yourself in this vehicle?” I asked, “How many miles?” He said, “Just over a hundred thousand.” I said, “Don’t you have something younger?” He showed me a small pickup with only 60,000. It was 4WD, which I liked, and it even had manual roll-down windows like my old 2WD truck. I asked, “What year is this?” He told me. I said, “That’s three years older than the truck I’m trying to replace.” He said, “Why don’t you take it for a drive?”
I drove it, still liked it, and returned to the car lot. The first pig vanished and the second little pig appeared. More dapper with perfectly trimmed hair, a wisp of a mustache, he looked older, perhaps a little wiser. I asked, “How much?” He told me and I exclaimed, “That much?” He said, “You won’t find low mileage on a classic truck like this.” He was probably right, so I went inside for a more serious talk, just to see where this would lead.
A third pig met me at the door and led me to “the table” where deals are made. He was taller and wore a stocking cap pulled down to his eyebrows. I thought when he reached to shake my hand he’d take the hat off, but I suspect his hair had grown into the knit’s weave and the hat could only have been sheared from his head.
He’d looked at my old truck for trade-in value and slipped a piece of paper across the table, on which were written the numbers for our potential sale. I hate the whole “haggle and stall” negotiation tactics for buying a vehicle. It feels artificial, like fiction, and the persons transacting business are only acting a role that should never be taken seriously.
I had no idea what he’d written on the paper, but we both knew it was an inflated figure and I wasn’t going to accept it, because from the third little piggy’s point of view, it was only a starting place. I should have just pushed the paper back across the table without looking at it and said, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your hat off,” but that would violate the unwritten rules for negotiating a car deal, so I glanced at it and raised my eyebrows. He said, “Write down what you would pay.” I wrote my figure and pushed the paper back across. He glanced at it and raised his eyebrows. So far two hours of my Saturday had been wasted.
He said he’d take the offer to a back office where his manager, presumably a kind of big bad wolf, would examine it. In all fairness, the manager could have been a mole or a gopher, but I never saw him. Like a perfect prince, I waited.
When a new figure returned, I smiled, not because it was a fair price, but because it required 10 minutes to deliver it. I asked, “I don’t suppose you’d take a check for this amount?” He looked startled, asked me to wait, and ran back in the direction of the secret office. When he returned he looked apologetic; no, they couldn’t possible accept a check, but if I would just go down the street to the bank and return with cash, all the little piggies would be happy.
I told him I would do just that, run down and ask a bank in a town where I didn’t live or have an account to cash a personal check for over 10,000 dollars. He licked his lips and said, “That would be great!”
As I headed out the door, I paused to ask if they’d mind rotating the one worn back tire to the front of the vehicle before I returned. By now all three were gathered beside the table, and maybe a pair of beady eyes peered through plate glass from a dark place behind the counter.
Believe it or not, I whistled all the way home.
David Feela is a poet, an author, and a retired teacher in Montezuma County, Colo.