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Humor April 2015

The Grumpy Old Man

Grumpy Gets a New Car

By Donald Rizzo

I'm all about extracting big bucks from people to make 'em feel good. Makes me feel good too. And some professions I can think of have been perfecting that marketing strategy for centuries. But we won't go there today.

I bought a new car the other day and it got me thinking about the whole car mystique. Of course, I was very happy with my 9-year-old, frumpy Honda Accord that still ran like a top. But it had started to smell bad because I smell bad so often from gym workouts and golf that it rubbed off on the poor thing. The smell made me feel pretty macho, but my fragile wife couldn't stand it. So, she insisted I get a new one cause the old one smells bad.

When I pointed out that a three dollar can of air freshener seemed more prudent than a $40,000 solution, she countered with an irrefutable argument. "Why spend money on air freshener when you can apply it to a new car that doesn't stink," she cooed lovingly. Since three dollars is .000075 of $40,000, how could I not be swayed by that logic? We didn't discuss the problem of how to fumigate me so that I don't taint the new vehicle. We'll cross that underarm when we come to it. But I digress.

There is a lot of interesting psychology at play when it comes to cars. As an ex-marketing guy, the whole brand thing amuses me. Not to name brands, but for example, the Toyota Highlander is mechanically identical to the Lexus 350 in every way. The Lexus has somewhat sexier lines and lots of doodads, of course. But 10-15,000 bucks worth of doodads? And that's just one example. There's a million of 'em. Brands are all about the way they make the buyer feel about themselves. Almost nothing to do with intrinsic value. But since I made a decent living in that arena, I'm all about extracting big bucks from people to make 'em feel good. Makes me feel good too. And some professions I can think of have been perfecting that marketing strategy for centuries. But we won't go there today.

Back to the psychology. Ever notice how some men (it's almost always men, but there are a few exceptions), are transformed from spineless Casper Milquetoasts to hyper-aggressive gorillas when they get behind the wheel (sorry, I used to have those tendencies until I hit 70 and made a tiny and tentative step toward growing up.) Casper can be fawningly polite, person-to-person, stepping aside to allow you ahead of him through a door, and backing up his cart so you can proceed him down the super market aisle. But just try getting him to let you slide into your lane in traffic. VROOOOM! He guns it, closing the gap to a paper-thin sliver, risking his life and everyone's around him, to be sure he adds more pain to your already miserable commute.

And then there's tailgaters. I HATE tailgaters! Here's a trick for them. Keeping your foot on the accelerator at your current speed, gently tap your brake with the other foot. Your brake lights go on, he thinks you're stopping, and he slams on his brakes and is thus rear-ended by the poor guy behind him. Works every time. You continue blithely on your way while they call the police and untangle the wreckage.

I've cured many tailgaters with that one. As a side benefit it helps the economy by pumping money into small businesses like wrecking services, doctors' offices, body shops and ambulance- chasing lawyers handling fraudulent injury claims. Everybody wins. Guess what? Surprisingly, my wife hates this little game. Says I'm acting like an infant and we'll probably end up getting shot. Which is a great segue into the battle of the sexes.

I've been driving for approaching a century with one relatively minor accident that was my fault on my record (I did back into a low wall with my wife's car recently, but that doesn't count because it was below my sight line.) My dear wife, however, is on the edge of her seat transfixed with terror every time we pull out of the garage. One of her most effective workout routines is pumping the phantom brake on the passenger side. She works out her arms by doing vertical push ups against the dashboard when I get within 30 car lengths of the guy in front of me.

For some time I thought I was alone in this persecution. I was pretty convinced that I am a terrible person who should be banned from the highway. But over the years I have heard the same theme from thousands of husbands. I am not alone! What a consoling revelation. So I've come to realize it's not a personal thing at all. It's some kind of an immutable universal law of nature like Einstein's theory or something. It’s in the cosmos like dark energy of the string theory.

Regardless of whether men drive recklessly or not, women will keep trying to change them. It's like the earth revolving around the sun. You just can't make it go away. Women need mechanisms to control their husbands so that they don't end up buying a Harley, joining Hell's Angels and disappearing into the sunset with some groupie tramp on the rear fender. That's just the way it is.

So I don't feel quite so bad about myself. Now I have a car that doesn't stink (for now) and an excuse for reckless and aggressive driving. And the 40 grand I ponied up? At least I won't have to take the loss in the market. These days the only thing that depreciates faster than a car is my portfolio. Is life in the suburbs good, or what?


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