America’s new fear: Haggling

By John Kass

Americans today don’t like haggling for anything, especially for cars. Young Americans hate haggling for cars, and old Americans agree.

Because who wants to deal with the hassle? Haggling is too taxing. Isn’t it easier to buy a car online and just give them your money, so you won’t feel any anxiety?

That’s how we roll now, with many seeing the car buying confrontation as a nightmare, the car salesmen as intimidators, with the sales manager as a kind of mob boss. You can see this modern beta phobia of direct confrontation expressed in many of the no-haggling ads on TV and online.

Soft-handed American moderns are given a choice. Go to a car dealership and risk psychic pain, or go online, click the price, pay what they tell you to pay, never break a sweat and enjoy your latte with the extra foam.

I don’t watch ads to buy things. I hate buying things. Oh, OK, maybe Calhoun County peaches, or a crusty loaf of bakery sourdough, perhaps a roll of tomato tape, but that’s about it. Small stuff. Have you seen ads for the killer peaches of Calhoun County, Illinois? I thought not.

But I just love the no haggle adds. They’re everywhere. They tell us where American culture is going, as we prepare to re-enter our isolation bubbles as the “Delta Variant” approaches. Quick! Mask the toddlers, as government and their corporate allies milk us like the aphids we’ve become.

The ads from Vroom are typical of the genre. Some of them evoke Fellini nightmares where the protagonist is trapped in a terrifying game show. Others seem to sprout from the bizarre and twisted forehead of David Lynch. In all of them, nightmares are triggered by the prospect of fighting for your money at a car dealership.

My favorite, in the link above, presents a car buyer, a young man, a gentle, civilized beta, disoriented and frightened as he’s dumped, blindfolded out of a van.

He’s left on some dusty street that could be at the outskirts of Albuquerque, as if he’s some loser minor character in “Breaking Bad” meaning he’s probably about to die. Why didn’t Walter White, a.k.a. Heisenberg, a.k.a. “I AM THE DANGER!” show up with a sawed-off?

The blindfold is removed, and our guy is confronted by three car salespeople with southern twangs, one a woman, one in a black cowboy hat, the other chewing a piece of straw, just so you get the idea that these are unmistakably white South-westerners. All that’s missing are the MAGA hats.

“A dealership?” says the hero, confused and. “I thought this was an online thing.”

The other three laugh at his stupidity.

“We’ve got your car sweetie,” says the woman, telling him it’s time to sign a contract.

“Looks like you done picked the wrong website, chief,” says the twangy straw chewing man.

But just when he’s plunged into car buying hell, he appears, safe outside his home. It’s a nice quiet leafy suburb, the kind of place where most folks make their livings on their laptops. And the announcer tells us we’ll never have to go to a dealer again.

“We’ll deliver it contact free,” the announcer says.

Get it, Covidians?

Contact free?

Where’s your mask?

Now, my Uncle Chris was a great haggler. He hated spending money. And he didn’t much care about confrontations one way or another. His secret? He really didn’t care for cars.

He was a hard-handed man and he worked hard all his life. The Germans put him in a labor camp during the war. And later, in Chicago, he rode his bike to work for years, from his bungalow in Marquette Park all the way to Argo Corn in Summit, even in winter, to save on bus fare.

He didn’t ride the bike as a lifestyle statement. He wore work boots with his factory pants, not bike cleats. Even when he opened his restaurant, he rode his bike. But he finally broke down and got a family car for Sundays.

And he brought three weapons to the dealership. His first was his disinterest in cars. His second weapon was that he wouldn’t be intimidated by fast talking salesmen. One look at his scowl and those two pineapples at the end of his wrists had a quieting effect on talkers. And the third weapon?

“Cash,” he said, once, laughing.

He rode his bike to the bank, pulled out only what he was willing to spend on the car he wanted and put it on the talker’s desk. He’d count it out loud so all could hear.

“You want it, or not?” he’d say.

And if they didn’t say yes fast enough, he’d scoop up his cash and ride off. They’d always stop him at the door.

Cash was freedom. Cash was power. Even the little guy could wield some. But these days, you can’t pay cash for a car. The drug dealers ruined it. Now it’s all buttoned down.

And we’re so afraid of direct contact, of confrontation, of haggling for our goods to protect our money, or keep as much of it as we can.

I could be wrong. I usually am on economics.  But car dealers are just like the rest of us. They sell something and want to make a profit. And we buy something and want to keep our money. The tradition of people dickering over price is as old as the world, as old as the oldest of the covered bazaars.

Now, though, we don’t like the hassle, and perhaps its best to avoid confrontation, and sit in the new car they just delivered to you, which is like a bubble, and drive it to your home, which is a bubble, and put on pajamas and watch Netflix.

Such is the life of the soft-handed where everything is online, everything is virtual, from adventure to love, and the only callouses they get come on the fingertips from striking the keyboard.

But now there are hard-handed men and women, coming up across that open Southern border, opened wide by politicians who never worked a day in their lives, politicians who pride themselves on their manicures.  The new, rawboned arrivals don’t have callouses on their fingertips. They have them everywhere.

The new hard-handed don’t mind confrontation. And they don’t have nightmares involving car dealers or if someone was rude on social media. They have nightmares about who and what they’re running away from.

They’re hungry, many are desperate, they’re driven, America needs people like this, and like other immigrants, like my hard-handed Uncle Chris, and others from Europe, and later they came from Southeast Asia and other rough places.

They’ve seen some things on the way from there to here. Not virtually. But with their eyes.

And so, two cultures form, two societies, one of soft hands, one of the hard hands joining the other hard-handed men and women who’ve lived here in America for generations, back to the pioneers.

One society that lives in a bubble and rules from laptops and is afraid of direct confrontation and loves the lattes with the extra foam.

And another society that never has had a virtual bubble or safe space to protect them. Their lives are about hard work, and they’ve faced one confrontation after another.

Wonder how that one turns out?

(Copyright 2021 John Kass)


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