Used car dealerships merging with hot tar and fast food restaurants: here, I find myself in a perpetually adulterated wave of corporate greed and moral corruption, wide-eyed and bewildered, frantically searching for the reassuring glow of the humane lighthouse (whether it be the royal blue of magnanimity or the dull grey of ambivalence) to guide me in this turbulent sea of immorality. A mere passenger to my compardre’s nightmare, we trudge through the roads of South Florida’s underbelly, patiently waiting for the tide of greed to ebb so we can rush to its exposed shores in an attempt to scrounge up any pity pennies we can negotiate for his beat-up, red smudged 1999 Dodge Ram Van.
We stop at one dealership after another with barely enough room to drive in-between, only to find the same sordid salesman, hair greased back, contemptuous smile painted poorly across his acrid face, a clone. “I realise you may have purchased the van for close to $3000; however, due to the small amount of rust on the tailgate and missing bulb on the left indicator, I… I mean, we are only able to offer you $200.” His mouth mechanically mimes out of time as his internal computer desperately attempts to re-synchronise itself.
Exhausted from the repetition of this vacuous, inane drone, we decide to take a short detour to the esteemed Race Track gas station and vent our frustrations over a bean and cheese burrito. Slowly masticating this artificial shit, I find myself in the centre of our air-conditioned prison, stabbing out another anxiously rolled cigarette, wondering how the fuck this salesman (or any, for that matter) wakes up in his triple king-sized posturepedic bed, gulps his mornings coffee poured into his favourite mug by none other than the quintessential Carol-fucking-Brady American housewife without splashing it in his own face and bludgeoning himself to death with the empty mug, forever leaving the words ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ branded on his bloody forehead right before the corpse disintegrates to ashes and his spirit screeches back to hell. As we drive towards the 9th, 10th, 11th, whatever dealership of the day, my mind grapples with this scenario and eventually dismisses it as sheer insanity.
We pull into the seemingly empty parking lot of another dealership, and for the first time of the day I see the sky and the sun and begin to think that maybe this car park was built purposely around that large luminescent space rock or maybe the rock around it. We scan the establishment, completing our ritualistic bitch, moan and final cigarette before the battle, or maybe slaughter, only to realise that something was different about this place. Immediately, I write off the notion as a mirage conjured by my growing fever and begin the march towards the entrance. As we near the door, my eyes steal a nervous glance from my amigo, who looks less like the proud and dignified Spaniard I had come to revere and more like an embarrassed adolescent cowardly returning home to his parents only a couple of hours after his reckless departure in which he declared, “I hate you both and am leaving forever.” What a pussy. I, however, feel increasingly calm and relaxed. Must be the fever.
The transparent doors glide open for us and suddenly we are engulfed by a blinding, holy light – death is surely upon us; however, as my eyes gradually adjust, I surprisingly find myself face-to-face with no reaper but a wide-smiled guy named Mark (or was it Peter?) who seems so grateful for our presence that I can only assume he had been waiting to meet us since birth. Our hands meet in a strong yet familiar shake and our eyes share a moment of mutual respect. He is immaculately groomed and smells of fresh bread. As I further inspect the showroom, I discover three more Colgate smiles honed in on me and suddenly realise that Mark couldn’t have been alone in his quest from the womb. Entering my brain’s time machine and fingering the appropriate dials and knobs, I transport to a dark, sticky ectoplasm-soaked cunt catacomb and stare incredulously as four amiable foeti potter around the womb; spending their days flipping through Freud, Gestalt and How to Greet Me For Dummies whilst fighting over the regurgitated mush oozing freely from the umbilical cord.
Together we amble to the van; Mark, completely in control of the situation, says something generic like,”Here at CarMax we have over 1000 auctions every day in most states in America,” but he seems oddly sincere and genuine. Like an ice-skating Gandhi he dodges, weaves and dances on that narrow precipice that lies between friendly and formal. For the beginning, we attempt to highlight the finer points of the van: “it has low miles, great on fuel, sad to let her go,” I found myself dribbling. However, instead of the expected shrug and probing retort, he maintained that he would not be the one valuing the van today and that our questions were thus obsolete. At first I am sceptical of his intentions and wonder if this makes Mark obsolete, the van obsolete, even us obsolete, but as our relationship shifts further away from business and closer to a trusting friendship, I deny my gut and just accept that things are now out of both of our control.
For the next half an hour, I feel like I’m on a conveyor belt in a human industrial line perfectly crafted for the consumer. We transition smoothly from the van to his modest and peaceful cubicle and I allow my fears and anxieties to be gently sedated by his amiable chit-chat. As he introduces me to his family’s picture, on the wall I feel myself slowly drifting off into peace. Zzzzzzz. “So here we go – we seem to have the quote; now if I just click this button…” Mark sings as I awake in a post-op haze of mindlessness and euphoria. He gesticulates at a number on his computer screen and my eyes follow his perfectly manicured hands. $1200 flashes periodically. It seems that while we shared stories of travelling and adventure, the van had been valued, negotiated and is only one signature short of a sale. Too relaxed and detached at this point to care, we scribble our consent, bid Mark an all-American, “Godspeed,” and skip arm in arm out of one of the greatest experiences of my life, ignorant and blissful.
The whole institution of CarMax was a perfect organism, like one gigantic cell; it was a-sexual and unstoppable, stoic yet relaxed, a thriving biosphere teeming with life, full of endless strings of proteins all co-operating relentlessly in harmonious unison for the survival of the consumer. It was beautiful, wondrous and magical, and even though at the end of the day we only received half the van’s estimated value, I still feel content. I guess the moral of the story, if it’s not just an outlet for my mind’s insatiable ramblings, is consume, consume, consume, because we never had a choice.