Jason Kapcala hopes lightning strikes twice, as he prepares to negotiate for his next dream car.
Before the Challenger—before my brother Moose and I ever got it into our heads that we would road trip almost seven-hundred miles to look at the car of my dreams—there was another trip to see another car. To catch up, please check out part I of this series.
It’s early June, more than a month before the Wisconsin trip, and I am convinced that I have found my dream car—the vehicle that will come to define my identity heading forward, though I don’t think about it in those exact terms. Nor do I stop to ponder why, after so many years devoted to education—studying and then teaching—I feel the need for a new identity, a fresh start. That question won’t get answered until later.
Instead, my thoughts run toward the way it will feel when I pedal down and hit the highway, the way my car will sparkle once I’ve punched it with a fresh coat of wax. As we pass through the tunnel into New York, I can barely contain my excitement. I feel really good about this decision. At least, until I arrive at the tiny, barb-wire fenced lot in Flatlands to find that the cost of the Brooklyn Challenger has jumped two grand since I left my house.
“That that’s the standard doc fee,” Roman, the salesman, says, leading me into the showroom after a quick test drive. He’s wearing too much gold for a man—around his neck, on his fingers—and his pomaded hair borders on stereotype.
“Doc fee?” I say.
“Yeah, it’s just something we do, you know?”
Moose remains unimpressed. “This guy’s one leisure-suit away from playing Atlantic City,” he says, turning back to the crowded lot and making a crude gesture.
If Roman notices, he doesn’t let on. Instead, he leans back in his chair, laces his fingers over his stomach, and shrugs in mock apology. “Everybody pays the doc fee, buddy. It’s standard, you know? These things happen.”
I don’t know. Perhaps I should have. This added expense wasn’t listed on the website, but as Roman explains to me, they aren’t responsible for omissions. Worse, the car itself looks nothing like its picture. It’s in bad shape, chipped and dented, beat to hell by “some Jarhead” who came back from his deployment and, hungry for a Hemi, decided to trade up to the high-end SRT model. Nothing about that story makes much sense, except for the sand—it’s everywhere. Filling the cup holders. Ground into the floor mats. Coating the engine and the intake.
“Maybe he brought it back from Afghanistan. Or Iraq. Or Texas,” Roman says, when I ask. “Doesn’t matter where it came from, buddy. It’s just sand. It’ll clean right up. These things happen.” He swipes his finger across the engine cover, as though to prove a point. When he wanders off to retrieve the owner’s manual, Moose turns to me and lets out a long sigh that reminds me I’ve just wasted the best part of his weekend.
“You’re not actually thinking of buying that heap, are you?” he asks, one eye trained watchfully on my Magnum, which we’ve parked on the street.
I shake my head. I know how this goes—I know enough about car buying to realize that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Today, I lost. Better to find out now, before signing my pink slip, instead of a thousand miles down the road.
Perhaps, I think to myself, it’s karma.
I had gotten the Magnum for a song.
That was an early June day, too, and the salesman, an older guy who looked a little rumpled like he’d just rolled out of bed, materialized while I was peering inside the window.
“It’s a great wagon for traveling,” he said, sipping at his coffee. “You can practically live in the trunk.” His nonchalance bordered on indifference, as though he weren’t there to sell me the vehicle at all, was just a guy who’d wandered by and wanted to chat about cars. He asked if I were in college and what I was majoring in, and when I told him English, he half-nodded but he didn’t say anything else.
I almost feel proud saying that I snookered that seller—talked him down to rock bottom before pulling out my ace in the hole: the $500-off coupon I’d printed from the web. Another part of me feels guilty admitting that. But the truth is probably somewhere in between. In gambling, the house always wins. When it comes to selling cars, the dealership always comes out on top. On this occasion, they just settled for less.
He’d been selling cars for a long time, that salesman, and he wanted my trade-in Jeep Cherokee, a hand-me-down we’d nicknamed “Old Reliable,” to be his daughter’s first car. If that meant giving in on the price of the Magnum, so be it.
“You’re really supposed to show this to me before we negotiate,” he said, taking the coupon when I handed it to him and smirking, though he didn’t seem all that surprised.
“It’s my first time,” I told him. “I don’t know all the rules yet.”
“You did well,” he said.
That afternoon at lunch, I could tell my father was impressed by the bargain. “You’ll never get a deal like that again,” he said.
He’s probably right, I thought at the time, but now that the Magnum is on its last legs and I’ve got Challenger Fever, I’m counting on the fact that sometimes lightning does strike twice.
Leaving the dealership in Flatlands, I conveniently forget that the keys from the Brooklyn Challenger are still in my coat. My cell phone buzzes in my pocket, but I ignore it. Back home, I wait a day or so before dropping the keys in the closest mailbox, standard shipping 3-5 business days. The note says, Forgot they were in my pocket. These things happen.
Read Thunderstruck: Part 3.
Image credit: zombieite/Flickr