By Greg Clark, August 31, 1940
“Look at that,” exclaimed Jimmie Frise under his breath.
Across the street, a brand new light blue car was pulled up at the curb and a man and his wife were circling slowly and daftly around it while right behind them, an eager expression on his face, another man, obviously a car salesman, followed them close.
“We ought to be pleased somebody has enough money to buy a new car,” I submitted.
“I hope they don’t buy that one,” said Jim. “I had one of those in 1930. Of all the lemons I ever owned!”
“That’s a pretty good make of car now,” I corrected. “In 10 years they can improve a car a lot.”
“The makers of that car,” stated Jim, “are not interested in making cars. All they’re interested in is making money. I like a car made by people who have all the money they want and who therefore go in for making cars.”
“Nobody ever has enough money,” I disagreed. “Just because man has a hundred million dollars, do you think he will quit? Never. He will dig in with fresh zest to see if he can have as much fun making the second hundred million as he had with the first. Don’t ever delude yourself with the idea men will get tired of making money.”
“I hope he doesn’t buy that car,” said Jim anxiously, as we watched the neighbor get in behind the wheel of the light blue beauty, while his wife and the salesman got in the back seat.
“What the dickens has it got to do with you?” I demanded. “Relax, brother.”
“There is really only one car on the market,” stated Jim. “I’ve got my second one now …”
“Oho, Jim,” I scoffed, “not that thing you drive! That’s not a car that’s a truck. You don’t …”
“I suppose,” said Jim, bitterly, “you would recommend the make of car you drive? When two weeks after you bought it, you were threatening the people who sold it to you that you would drive ’round the streets of Toronto with a big sign on it, “This Is a Lemon’.”
“Every new car takes a little time to break in,” I confessed. “I admit I was a little hasty about that car. It’s certainly okay now. But that poor old lawn mower of yours. Why, Jim, there isn’t a week goes by that I don’t hear you cursing and moaning about your car…”
“Just a habit,” cut in Jimmie. “Just a habit. A man gets into the habit of cussing out his car. It’s only a trick for covering up his own neglect of the car, not getting the little things attended to greasing, tightening up and so on. I tell you, a car has to be a good car to stand up to the treatment I give it.”
“It seems to me,” I said, “your car has been in the repair shop twice in the past three weeks?”
“Well, it’s a year old.” explained Jim, “and just nicely broken in. It needed the clutch relined and then the other day I heard a kind of whine in the rear end. They put in a new bearing or two. That’s nothing out of the way at the end of a year. Why, the car I had in 1930 of that make across the road there, had to be torn apart and entirely rebuilt with spare parts in the first six months I owned it.”
Selecting a New Car
“The wise guys tell me,” I stated, that the sure way to get a good car is this: Inquire around the garage as to which make of car had the most grief last year. Then buy one of that make this year. The makers having suffered a severe lesson one year go the limit to ensure a good car the next year.”
“There they go,” interrupted Jim. The lovely car across the road gave a grind or two of new and unaccustomed gears and slowly moved into action. Smooth as a canoe, it crawled into speed and vanished, so fresh and graceful, up the street.
“Just like a bride,” mused Jimmie. “A man with a new car is a man in love.”
“Selecting a new car,” I mused too, “is like marriage. For better or for worse. You make your choice. And what comes of the match depends not only on how you treat the car, but what the car has in it. Like wives, lots of cars can be treated terribly and still stand up and play the game. And others, no matter how you pamper them, are forever cranky and forever letting you down.”
“Let’s watch for them coming back,” said Jim. “We can tell by the expression on their faces. Gee, I hope he doesn’t choose that car.”
“Why not?” I insisted.
“Because,” said Jim. “I’ve got an idea. You know who I bought my car from? He’s one of our gang that plays pool at noon…”
“Aaaaaahhh,” I exclaimed. “So that’s how you select your car?”
“It’s as good a way as any,” growled Jim. “Anyway, I was just thinking it would be a nice thing to turn him a little business. If these people come back with a look on their faces that means they aren’t decided yet, I’m going to phone Sam to come right out with a demonstrator car.”
“Kind of nervy, don’t you think?” I submitted.
“I’m a good neighbor,” retorted Jim. “I see a neighbor trying to choose a new car. What more decent thing could I do than give him the benefit of my experience?”
“Yes, and throw a sale in the direction of one of your pool-shooting friends,” I added.
“Well,” said Jim, “business has been bad lately, and Sam hasn’t been able to put his mind on his game. There is no use playing pool with a man whose mind is depressed. If I can cheer the guy up …”
Around the corner came the light blue car. Slow and pretty, she crept up the street in that stately pace we subject new cars to. She halted across the street and the three sat in her, considering. The salesman talked eloquently and took out a little book and read from it. The wife kept squirming around viewing the inside from various angles. The husband in front kept playing with the gadgets and shifting the gears and opening the glove box in the dash. Turned on lights. Tooted the horn delicately.
“Pssst,” hissed Jim. “It’s no sale, I can tell. If it was a sale, the wife would have been in the house by now to telephone her friends.”
“Let’s watch,” I muttered,
The salesman got out and lifted the hood. He persuaded the husband to get out and come and look in. But the husband walked around to the back, opened the trunk and stared in.
“No sale, no sale,” whispered Jim excitedly “When a man looks like that into the trunk compartment, it’s no sale. I’m going in to call Sam.”
And Jim dashed in and I heard him at the telephone. Across the street, the little drama played itself out. The wife sauntered up the walk and stood looking back at the car thoughtfully. The husband stood slightly aloof while the salesman perspired and indicated, with his finger point, special passages out of his little black book. Then Jim came out.
“Sam isn’t at the shop and he isn’t at home,” he groaned. “I bet he is somewhere shooting pool.”
“I’ve got it,” I offered. “Why don’t you demonstrate for Sam? With your car.”
Jim’s eyes lighted. He half started across the lawn.
“Wait,” I cautioned. “The decent thing would be to let the other poor devil depart in peace.”
So we sat gloating on the steps until the salesman of the light blue car finally and reluctantly got in, sat talking with the door open, shut the door, talked through the window, started the engine, continued to talk, let in gear, and went on making his final sales appeal, and at last lurched off and the husband started up the walk.
“Well,” called Jim cheerily and loudly, arresting him. “So it’s a new car for our street, hey?”
“What did you think of that one?” called the neighbor, whose name is Mr. Beevins.
“Pretty!” said Jim, “and you both looked mighty nice in it. But did you like the engine?”
“It all seemed a little stiff and wooden,” said Mr. Beevins, walking back down his walk and we walked down ours to meet him. “I like a car with a sort of lithe feeling, a sort of sinewy feel, if you get me.”
“Exactly,” agreed Jim. “Have you ever tried a So-and-So?”
Naming his own make of car.
“I’ve been in them. That’s a good car,” Mr. Beevins said. “But I had my mind on something a little less expensive.”
“Pshaw,” said Jim, “it’s only $100 or so more, and you get more than your money’s difference, I can tell you.”
“I’ve got four or five salesmen coming tonight,” said Mr. Beevins. “I’m not being stampeded. I’m going to try them all and take the one that sells itself. No salesmen for me. I’m letting the cars do it.”
“Why don’t you include a So-and-So?” suggested Jim, enthusiastically. “Now, you know what sort of a man I am. You’d know about how I would treat a car. Yet that So-and-So of mine has given me the most marvellous …”
Jim stopped and turned abruptly for his side drive as though suddenly smitten with an idea.
“Hold on a second,” he called back to us. “You’ve got five minutes.”
“There’ll be another salesman in about 10 minutes,” said Mr. Beevins to me. “I’ve got them coming on the half hour and the hour.”
“I think he’s going to let you try his car,” I suggested.
“Oh, no, no,” protested Mr. Beevins starting back up his walk.
“It’s not a bad idea,” I submitted earnestly. “After all, you don’t buy a car on its looks.”
With a roar and a rattle, Jim backed his old So-and-So out the side drive, showing how lithe and sinewy it was.
Before Mr. Beevins could retire into his house, Jim had backed in a large, agile curve and was talking out the window.
“Hop in here and take the wheel Beevins,” cried Jim, heartily. “It won’t take five minutes. You’ll get a better idea of the smartest car on the market today from driving this old bus than from all the specially oiled and selected demonstrators …
“I’ve got another salesman coming in about seven minutes,” protested Mr. Beevins.
“Just around the block,” said Jim.
So Beevins got in behind the steering wheel and I got in back.
“From the purely disinterested angle of a satisfied user,” said Jim, as Beevins stepped on the starter cautiously and fumbled at the clutch.
Beevins was not at ease. He gripped the steering wheel and puckered his face. He started to turn the corner to go around the block.
“No, no, straight on,” cried Jim, startling Beevins into keeping on up the street until we came to the highway.
“Just run her a piece out here,” said Jim, his arm affectionately along the back of the seat, “and let her out. I want you to feel a real sinewy car. As one neighbor to another, hey?”
He laughed gaily but Beevins just sat with his face puckered anxiously, humped over the wheel.
“Okay, we’re clear,” said Jim, “step on her.”
Too Much Neighborliness
Mr. Beevins stepped very reservedly on the gas and we got to forty. I haven’t been in Jim’s car lately, and I didn’t know it had so many sounds. It had a loud roar, a sort of base note, over which rang a dozen lesser tunes, of rattles, clunks, clicks, hisses and buzzes. Something tinny was loose somewhere and it kept a sort of faint clanging note going.
“Don’t pay any attention to the noises,” shouted Jim, cheerily. “That’s just the way I neglect it. But wait till you get her up around 60. The smoothest perform …”
She was going 40 when suddenly there was a bump and a horrible grinding sound which at the same time dragged the car to an agonized stop. Mr. Beevins steered her shakily to the shoulder of the road.
“It sounds like the rear end,” I submitted.
“I think a wire gave way,” said Jim. “Ignition.”
We got out and Jim lifted the hood while I got down and looked underneath. I could hear something hissing. The big dirty iron housings looked hot.
Mr. Beevins looked at his watch.
“The salesman will be at my house,” he said, “and my wife will be fussy about me being there.”
“Just a minute,” said Jim, “I want you to feel this baby at 60.”
“I’m afraid I’ll simply have to get back,” said Mr. Beevins. Traffic was whistling past and Mr. Beevins raised his thumb in the time honored signal.
“Now, just a second, Beevins,” pleaded Jim. “I’ll get this right in a minute. Don’t fret. We’ll be on our way home in five minutes.”
But Beevins went ahead thumbing and suddenly a small, sleek, low, racey seal brown car swooped to a stop just a few yards beyond us and Beevins ran towards it.
“Thanks, all the same, Frise,” he waved back. “This is the same make of car the salesman is waiting to show me…”
And he patted the seal brown stranger car’s top affectionately as he slid inside.
And like a bird taking off, that small sleek car swept almost soundlessly into motion and vanished like a streak up the highway homeward.
“That’s gratitude,” said Jim.
“You can carry neighborliness too far,” I pointed out.
“I hope he gets what he deserves,” said Jimmie. “Any man who buys a car on the appearance of it fresh from the factory …”
“I suppose,” I agreed, “that he ought to ride in all the neighbors’ crocks and choose the make that is the least wrecked.”
“What’s the matter with this?” demanded Jim hotly. “This is no crock. Apart from rattles …”
“And at the moment it won’t go,” I recalled to him.
So 100 yards up was a garage and came down and looked at us and diagnosed that the rear end had gone.
“It can’t be,” cried Jim. “I had the rear end overhauled less than a week ago.”
“Well,” said the garage man, “the rear end is gone.”
So Jim had it towed away downtown to the garage that does all his work. And we rode in the front of the towing truck as far as the front steps where we sat until dark and saw Mr. Beevins decide on the light blue one his wife had liked best right from the start.
Editor’s Notes: It was common in those days for car salesmen to come to your house to demonstrate cars, rather than go to them.