In spite of our colds, Art and I spent the day yesterday in that old holiday tradition of buying a new car. We’d been having trouble with the old car off and on for as long as we have had it, and so we decided to go for something a bit more dependable this time around. I know you think I’m going to talk about the process of buying a car, which is interesting in and of its self, but I’m not. I want to tell you about the people I met in the process; a subject of much greater interest to me.
We dealt with three different sales people yesterday. I’m not sure what their official titles are, but each one had a substantial hand in helping us. Each of them was so surprising!
First, there was a middle-aged Mexican-American man. (I’ll call him Ruben). Ruben was so unassuming, so low-keyed, and so friendly, that at first I thought maybe he was a recent hiree in training who was just helping out the sales staff on a very busy day. He sat us down and went to get the car, which was parked behind many other cars. He had to move all the cars just to get to the one we wanted to test drive. He returned about ten minutes later and ushered us to the car. He politely opened all the doors, lifted the hood and opened the trunk. He said nothing more than what was absolutely necessary. He answered our few questions simply and quietly.
Then, while we were driving the car, he told us that he had been with the company for over twenty years selling cars. He opined that the car we were interested in was a good car, but that it had “too much power” for him – that it scared him a little. He mentioned his grown daughter, and how he had bought her one of these cars, but had opted for the one with a little less power, feeling it was a safer option.
As we sat at the desk inside the showroom, Ruben asked us about our livelihood. When he heard that we were musicians, his face lit up. He told us that he had just taken his family to see the movie of “Phantom of the Opera”. They had seen the stage version many times. He had also recently seen the Baz Luhrman production of “La Boheme”, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He and his family had already bought tickets for “Les Miserables” and he was very much looking forward to the experience. As we sat filling out our credit application, I looked over at Ruben and noticed he was wearing a very tiny diamond stud in his ear.
Then there was a young woman of about twenty-three, also of Mexican descent, but she had been born in this country. (I’ll call her Sarita). Sarita talked very fast and had a hint of the Valley girl cadence to her speech pattern (You know – The “upspeak” where every declarative statement is made to sound like a question because the voice goes up at the end?).
At first, I imagined that she was going to be the “smooth talker” who would try to persuade us to spend more than we wanted to spend on all the bells and whistles attached to the car. But when Sarita asked us what we did for a living, and when Art told her we were musicians, she broke out in a big grin. “Me, too!” she exclaimed. “I am a mariachi musician!” Sarita plays guitar and sings in a mariachi band. And like Art and myself, Sarita and her husband share their musical interests. (Her husband plays violin). Sarita and her husband both have “day jobs” along with touring in their bands. I was amazed by her sheer energy and openness. Before we left Sarita gave us one of her cards and wrote down the name of the restaurant where she plays at night with her all-girl mariachi band. Even though it’s a pretty long drive from where we live, I think we’ll have to go out and hear her play.
Finally there was a bespectacled gentleman in his sixties wearing a sport jacket and tie who came in to ask us more questions for the credit application. (I’ll call him Joseph). Art, making friendly conversation, asked Joseph how long he had lived in Los Angeles. This launched Joseph into a very condensed version of his life story.
Joseph was a black man from Mississippi. His mother had abandoned him at birth. He never knew his father. He had lived the first nine years of his life with his grandmother in Mississippi, but at the age of nine, his mother had reappeared and taken him to live with her in Los Angeles. Being suddenly dropped out of the sky, as it were, in a totally strange culture where the school system was very different than the rural one he had experienced in the South, Joseph almost got lost in the shuffle.
He managed to get through school for the next few years without really learning to read fluently. He dropped out of high school. Then, he somehow managed to land a job selling cars at this very dealership without knowing how to read or write a contract. Soon he was enrolled in night school and within six months he had earned his G.E.D. His next hurdle in life was overcoming an alcohol addiction, which he obviously had done quite successfully. I watched him as he perused our contract carefully. I was incredibly impressed.
Oh, by the way, we did get our car, and we’re very happy with it. But we got so much more along the way! I don’t know if or when we will ever see any of these remarkable people again, but I’m so grateful to have known them, however briefly. I am constantly reminded that no one and nothing can be judged by outward appearances. Ain’t life grand?
© 2004, Robin Munson