After you get out of school, you're looking for that grown up desk job that spells security. You want to make it in the big city, to sip free coffee and pretend you're on The Office. I wanted to dress up in cute skirts and make the case that my student loans weren't a waste of paper. Okay, all I really wanted in a job was free air conditioning. I was new to town and my first apartment in Chicago was so infernally hot, I had to sleep with wet towels draped across my legs in front of a fan as the Red Line train whooshed past my window in five-minute intervals, stirring the same 101 degree air. It was like living under a hair dryer. Also, I wanted health insurance.
After only eight months of job hunting in Chicago, I eventually landed an administrative gig at a real estate company. Finally, Security! Normalcy! Dental insurance? I was ready to quit slinging hash on the midnight shift at Clarke's diner on Belmont, where serving $2 coffee to prostitutes ended each morning with serving $2 coffee to cops. I had made it now. White Collar, USA, here I come. I got the job.
I did alright. I was all Chicklet teeth and sparkles for the first year, organizing my paper clips by size and writing myself into a Hemmingway novel with the big personalities that shuffled about. I even changed the paper in the copy machine and took notes, oh so many notes, during meetings about budgets.
However, several years into Professional Desk Jobbing, I realized there was no summer break. There were no semesters and most importantly, there were no grades. With no measuring stick of my performance, I could whiz through my work at the speed of sound or pluck the keyboard with my tongue at the rate of one letter per hour. The week my hands were afire with the paper cuts of a thousand filed documents and my retinas burned from hours of minutiae, I was rewarded with a paycheck in the same amount as the week I had a three-day hangover. Right down to the penny.
As a general office grunt, the only indication of my success was that I hadn't been fired. It's kind of zen if you think about it. The only reward of life is that you are still living? I can only say that now because the monotony of my current landscape includes housewifing at the gym and other fancy old lady stuff. Back then, time was a gray blanket that seemed to stretch out into forever, a never-ending series of days punctuated only by birthday cake. (Come on, like you never worked in an office where there wasn't birthday cake every other Tuesday.)
It was time to get out.
Naturally, this was my list of requirements for a new job:
- Make tons of money
- Meet cute guys
- Not have to sit
- Not have to be quiet
Alas, there was a car dealership right across the street from my apartment that seemed to fit the bill. I had answered phones at a dealership in high school and lit the town on fire selling advertising during my internship at a newspaper. I was bound to be a natural selling cars, right? It was in my blood.
I got the job selling cars two seconds after I applied for it, and by the way, I was not wrong. Cute, shiny-shoed competition were everywhere and I smoked every one of them. I was the top salesperson in my department and was driving a new Mercedes Benz CLK350 eight months into the job and taking out chunks of my student with my bare teeth.
Some people think selling is a default occupation. I've seen people who want to be artists or chefs show up looking for a job selling cars. They think it will be easy. Besides not being true, that assumption is illogical. Being a success at selling cars is half natural talent and equal part very hard work. You must be willing to show up early and stay late. You need to be outgoing, have a working knowledge of the market and finance and learn the product. You must also smell great and look comfortable in pointy shoes.
You have to listen to people. If someone comes in and tells you she wants a red sedan and you spend an hour talking her into a white two-door because it has a $500 spiff, you just wasted an hour. Listening, learning and presenting yourself as a polished human being is not as easy as it sounds and is the reason most car-selling careers last less than three months. To last, you must be tough and counterintuitively, you must be unselfish.
Me, I'm tough. My dad is tough. My husband is tough. We are the type of people to ignore major bodily injuries. I once wore a pair of boots an entire week that had a nail sticking into the heel. Sales is tough for ladies in particular. I was once assaulted in an elevator by a customer and had a subordinate employee threaten to throw a chair at my face.
We salespeople are also listeners and guidance councilors to the people to whom we sell cars. It's amazing how much of the job feels like therapy at times. Think about the situations that prompt people to buy cars. Divorce. Baby on the way. Relocation. Finally having enough damn money to buy a car. These are all times in people's lives when they need attention and celebration. You're giving people freedom. You are handing them the keys to their car for the first time. Selling cars is a service to humanity! It's practically CHARITY!!! (Okay, I took it too far.)
Selling cars is indeed more than test drives and paperwork. Sometimes, it's taking a lady's picture in front of her first new car bought at the age of 43 or spending two hours configuring a baby seat for nervous first time parents. It can mean security and validation. It can mean not serving third shift coffee any more or paying off debt and freedom and dignity.
And sometimes, it's just free air-conditioning.
This is the second post in the Car Wives series. After being a car kid, I was a car lady and eventually a car wife. I'll cover that later. Until then, maybe I can entertain you on the Car Wives Facebook page.
One of my customers and her new ride.
This is me at my car selling gig.
Here's my sales buddy Nate, a clear professional.
Me with brown hair. Once I got super fancy at selling cars I found myself right back in an office. This time, no cake.