Monday, November 21, 2011

Wanted: $20,000 USB Port

I’ve spent the past few weeks looking for a new car, a project that should be easy and fun, but for me is playing out like some kind of existential reckoning.

I don’t think I’ve ever “shopped” for a car in my life. I was either handed down cars, or stumbled upon something in a used car lot. The few new cars I’ve bought had been decided upon long before I ended up at a showroom. I didn’t test drive a series of mini-vans, I just walked into a Honda dealer and bought an Odyssey. I own the car I drive now because I liked the way my neighbor looked in hers – sophisticated and put together. I bought one for myself, thinking I might look the same way.

(I don’t.)

The root of the problem lies where most (ok, all), of my problems begin: I don’t know what I want.

I’ve studiously considered small, mid-size, sub-compact, luxury, hatchback, new, used, certified pre-owned, American, foreign, financed and leased. I can speak with frightening eloquence about any given car’s ranking in its class, its gas mileage, what comes standard, what fully-loaded costs. Car sentences come out of my mouth that make my best friend burst out laughing and my husband’s eyes glaze over.

I thought that research would bring me closer to understanding what it is I want, but, in fact, it’s just made things more cloudy and confused.

My family is no help. “Just get something with a USB port,” my husband has said. The kids agree. Beyond that, they couldn’t care less.

So this is how my conversations go with the car salesmen. Sitting across from them at their desks, my mind on one thing and one thing only: will I regret foregoing leather seats? They lean toward me, look deep into my eyes and ask the question that I’ve been hoping I’d know the answer to by now: What is it, exactly, that you’re looking for?

They want to help me. They want to meet my needs. I can feel it emanating from them, in their breath, and in the way they tap, tap, tap their pens gently on a clean white sheet of paper – a sheet that could soon be filled with whatever my imagination puts forth, however I care to spell out my heart’s desire.

“I need a car with a USB port,” I say. And it should be black.”

They wait, pen poised, but I’m finished. They smile. I smile. And then we go drive some stuff around.

I barely pay attention to the cars as I drive them. I ask the salesmen whether it’s scary to get in a car with a stranger, to be a passenger next to someone you don’t even know. One guy told me he was car-jacked a few years ago. A guy he took out pulled a knife on him about a mile from the dealership. He let the salesman out of the car and drove off.

“I’m not going to do that to you,” I tell him.

He thanks me.

We park, shake hands, exchange numbers. I have little recollection of the encounters. I want the earth to move, but it stays put.

That I don’t know what I want is not entirely true. There’s a specific model of VW, which is not only a convertible but it’s a hard-top, auto-retracting convertible that, when the top is opening or closing, makes the car look like a Transformer. It’s a 2-door, tight-fit, over-priced, poorly rated car that is so cute in red it’s almost unbearable. That’s the car I want.

“Really? A convertible?” my husband says to me. “You don’t even like driving with your windows open.”


If someone just put a car in my driveway and started sending me monthly bills, that would be ideal. But so far that hasn’t happened and it doesn’t seem likely that it will. So, I’m going to have to read more Edmund’s reviews, visit more dealers. Find myself a 4-door, automatic, front-wheel drive USB port, even if it kills me.

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