Addiction, automobiles, hot dates and a lingering guilt

(Tribune July 2006)

I confess, I have an addiction.

It started when I was a teenager. Each fall, I waited in anticipation of the new car models. Back then, there were no sneak previews displayed in car magazines. Cars delivered to the local dealerships were covered in canvas sheets. No one ever saw the product until the day of the official unveiling. It was a time of high excitement and the beginning of my addiction.

My problem has followed me throughout my life. Wives, former and present, will attest to the fact that a hot Friday night date with Casson consisted of a quick bite to eat followed by a guided tour through the car lots of Welland County. I am Mr. Excitement.

I recall some good and bad experiences. One night, Noreen and I had dinner at Robertoís followed by a visit to the local Lincoln dealerís lot. In those days, you could drive through the lot in your car. At one point, a salesman appeared, and I stopped and got out to have a chat. When I returned to the car, Noreen burst out laughing, pointing to my crotch. Robertoís used pink linen table napkins, and I had forgotten to remove mine when I left the restaurant. I had been carrying on my conversation with the car salesman with my napkin still tucked in my trousers, looking like I was wearing a pink loincloth.

One of my earliest lessons was that it only made sense for me to buy locally. When I was young, I was in negotiation with Mr. Luke, who had a British Motors dealership on Niagara North, for a new 1959 MGA. Mr. Luke quoted me a pretty good price, but I was young and cocky so I ended up buying my car from a dealer in Hamilton for a small savings. For the next few years, whenever I needed service, which was often, it meant a drive to Hamilton, followed by an inconvenient wait of several hours. Since then, my rule has been always to buy locally even if it meant spending a few extra bucks up front.

Once I was discussing a 1972 Impala with Gino, a salesman who is still active, who at that time was working at Birdland. Even though I was in a grumpy mood, Gino and I came to an understanding, so he wrote up the papers and I gave him a deposit cheque.

The final step was to get the sales managerís approval. At this point, still being grumpy, I sat down and looked Gino straight in the eye. "Gino, we all know what is going to happen next". Gino looked at me without changing expression. I went on. " Gino, you are going in to talk to the sales manager. After a respectable interval, you are going to come back out, you are going to wipe your brow, and you are going to say, Ď Jimmy, we really want the deal but we are going to need another three hundred dollars.í Or maybe 500, or maybe 100. But Gino, if you come back with a need for even one dollar, I am going to rip up my cheque and walk out that door."

Gino knew me and understood my mood. The meeting with the sales manager lasted twice as long as normal and you could tell there was an impassioned debate in progress. When Gino came out, he was grinning and just shook my hand. We had the deal. Here was a salesman who worked his butt off for his commission.

I remember one thing that I am still ashamed of. It involved Mr. Luke and my first new car. I bought a new 1957 Morris Minor and took my trade, a 1950 Austin, in for appraisal. A day after the appraisal, bad noises started coming out of the Austinís front end. It sounded like I had bearing problems, but I was afraid to confess.

The paperwork for the Morris had all been completed, so it was just a matter of exchanging vehicles. My friend, The Horse, borrowed his fatherís Plymouth and we tied my trade behind it with a long rope. Coming up Niagara Street from Turners Corners, we stopped across from Woodlawn Cemetery, untied the rope and got the Austin started. I got it rolling and when in earshot of Lukeís Garage, I shut the motor off and coasted to a stop on the lot. That was almost fifty years ago. I still feel guilty.

I do not want to you to think I cut a pretty sharp deal. Far from it! I have probably left much more money on the table than was necessary. That is the problem with the addiction. As soon as I get a whiff of that new car smell, I am a goner. The price is just the means to the end.

Like the guy in the song, Iíve been everywhere. Keenan, Schooner, Performance, Towne, you name it. The interesting thing about the local dealerships is many of the salesmen have been at the same location forever. In 1977 I bought a Pontiac from Tom Goodwin at Gillespie, and I understand he is still there. I have purchased three Fords from Gerry Boichuk at Farr (Slattery). Gerry has been selling cars in Welland since we were both just out of our teens.

Some day I have got to kick my car habit. I need to get a life. In the meantime, I just keep cruising car lots sniffing the air for that new car smell.

And Gino, in case you ever wondered, yes.

I was really cranky that night. I would have walked!

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