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Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006 04:05 am

For the sake of the mulch

When the truck bites the dust, there's only one thing to do

Monday: I have a red truck. I’m vehicle-ignorant: color is the limit of my vehicular knowledge. I had gearhead buddies when I was a teenager; they dreamed of the 1957 Chevy. I didn’t share their passion. I dreamed of the 1957 cheerleaders. I know a cylinder’s purpose; it’s just that I’ve never met one personally.

My truck is red. I have to put it down. It’s 15 years old in vehicle years — that’s 102 in human years. A major truck part needs replacement, and, as with a 102-year-old man needing a new hip, return on investment wins over compassion. There will be no new parts from here on out.

Tuesday: I reminisce. Red Truck and I always had an uneasy association. We should have ended the relationship years ago, but we stayed together for the sake of the mulch. Its small bed is a perfect mulch container; it holds exactly one tractor scoop of mulch, and one scoopful is exactly the amount I need each spring.

Although we never spoke of it, we weren’t long together when I “knew” — Red Truck was a beige French Renault coupe (not that there’s anything wrong with that) trapped inside a pickup’s body.

It wanted a fancy leather grill cover across its front — an ascot. I let my cigar smoke cake on its windows — by my reasoning, a fair compromise. It rebelled by refusing to open its passenger-side door. Troubled times, but we had the mulch.

As it is with the woman’s “extra 100 pairs of shoes that all look exactly alike” malady, it wanted extra tires: snow tires for winter. Unnecessary! The snow that falls here every other year melts by noon. Red Truck then refused to start on cold days unless I hooked it with jumper cables to my wife’s Buick — not that there’s anything wrong with that! I turned a blind eye for the sake of the mulch.

Wednesday: “Gotta put it down,” I tell my wife. “Time for a new truck.”

“Do we really need a pickup?” she asked, just as she had 15 years ago. “What about something more environmentally responsible, maybe one of those electric cars? Might be fun.”

“Mulch,” say I. She answers: “Do as you must.” An otherwise perfect partner, she seems not to understand the male’s pickup-truck need. For God’s sake, without a pickup I’d have to buy mulch in bags!

Thursday: As we did with the Buick, I could, if so inclined, use the Internet to learn everything from invoice price to available options and more — effective weapons in my upcoming truck negotiation. I am not so inclined. This deal will be made as it should be — raw buyer versus raw salesman. Man to man. It will be good!

I use the evening and the Buick to tour dealership lots and kick tires. I’m ready.

Friday: I search the showroom for a worthy opponent — no youngsters, no coiffed people. It must be pot belly versus pot belly, weathered mug versus weathered mug, cheap cigar versus cheap cigar, rumpled versus rumpled, a thousand sales versus a thousand buys — as it should be.

We spot each other across the crowded room. We trade half-smiles. Let it begin! We both know the rules. Before we’re done he’ll say three times that his hands are tied, he’ll consult twice with his boss to “see what he can do,” and finally he’ll huddle with the manager-in-the-backroom to see whether we can possible work out a deal at this “no-profit price.”

I open. I tell him exactly what I want, including options, and say, “I’m retired. My next social engagement is in two months — I have unlimited time.”
He counters, as he must, with an hour’s worth of this truck’s “best in class” performance, exaggerated gas mileage, and “best in industry” drive-train warranty. I stop him with “I don’t know what a drive train is.” Time for his opening price. He knows it; I know it!

“$17,000.”

I ask him whether I can use his phone. He asks whether it’s a local call.

“Very local,” I say, “to the local elder-abuse hotline! Seventeen thousand dollars! I’m not buying the dealership — I’m buying a &@*#%! pickup!”

He puffs his cigar; he smiles. We settle in. It will be a long day. It will be good!

Seven hours later: The deal is 99 percent done; it needs only the traditional closing statement. He hesitates but finally says it: “We’re losing money on this deal.”

I have purchased 82 “vehicles” in my lifetime; 82 times the dealer has “lost money on this deal.” How they stay in business is as mysterious to me as a woman’s shoe pile.

Saturday: I have a white truck. I believe it has cylinders. All is as it should be. Mulch time is six months away — plenty of time for practice runs.

Contact Doug Bybee Sr. at dougbybee@sbcglobal.net.

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