Financial Peace Path…The Prius Story

The Prius Story Part 1. “LUCKY”

I thought I’d bring everyone a little story as I’ve begun shopping for a new car.

All my life I’ve driven a hatchback - except for Lena the VW. She’s a 4 door sedan.

In good keeping with my previous record, I’ve decided to get another hatchback. Specifically, a Silver Pine Mica Prius. This is the color Toyota named it but I think
“SilverMicaPine” rolls off the tongue easier. In either case my new Dream car is Green. The guys at work call it “tree hugger green”. That’s fair I guess.

Lucky is the name of the car salesman who has been working DILIGENTLY to garner my business. Honestly, I’m still looking and there are several things to work out before I make a leap into another car payment. It seems Lucky is non-plussed by this, and calls me once every three days.

Lucky is a very nice Indian man with American Car Sales acumen. By that I mean I get the feeling he makes stuff up; which is different than lying because he’s salesman mode. It is the American ritual of buying a car. I just expect it. And smile because I think it’s such a strange interaction.

The first time I met Lucky was on my lunch break in early August. The Toyota dealership is right across the street from my favorite mexican restuarant so I pulled in to price a Prius and began learning about the different options. I’m looking at the price stickers and Lucky approaches me, preparing for conversation, he sprays 2 shots of breath freshener from a skinny aerosol (sp) can.

We begin our exchange and I notice he has the ubiquitous salesman pinky ring. Along with 2 or 3 other rings. I just smile.

The thing about Lucky though is that he is the most eager car salesman I’ve met so far. He immediately had me on a test drive. Which was nice. Nice to enjoy some AC in August! The Prius I drove was very quiet and definitely an option 2. Which means it has a backup camera and keyless entry. But it lacks the 9 speaker JBL stereo, that I must admit, I lust for. The main thing though was that it was not SilverMicaPine. And the color - to Lucky’s chagrin - has been a big sticking point for the growth of salesman/ customer friendship. I ask lots of questions during the drive - many I already know the answer to. Lucky always gives an answer though. Believable answers even.

It was a great test drive and at the end he asked me to drive up to the top of a parking structure behind the Toyota store front. On the 4th floor - in all its glory- A pristine SilverMicaPine Prius option 6! (JBL Stereo, Navigation, Leather Trim). Lucky let me sit in this car - the leather seats were scorching hot and exceeded my price range but it was OH SO nice to just sit in it. There I was - Finally sitting in the much sought after - hard to find - Silver Mica Pine.

After it was all over Lucky was proud of himself and got me to fill out an ‘up’ - basically my phone number - and presented me with a brochure.

We shake hands and he tells me he’ll call when he gets anaother Silver Mica Pine in.

I drive to Baja Fresh and get a taco.

The Prius Story Part 2, “MR. STEPHEN”

This is a little story of how Lucky the car salesman began referring to me as Mr. Stephen.After I gave Lucky my phone number I knew he’d begin calling me. And
the first few times were easy enough to screen. But honestly,
sometimes, I want to hear what Lucky has to say.What I think I really want him to say is “We just received a pre
owned Silver Mica Pine Prius Option 6 with 10,000 miles on it; We’re
selling it to you especially for Seventeen Grand, Tax and Title
included. Plus we’re offering zero percent financing today ONLY…Because
I’m Lucky and I beat every deal!”These are some of my favorite words that I want to hear from Lucky’s golden tongue-with appropriate bejeweled hand gestures.Instead, this is what he said.“Hello Stephen we have just gotten in several Prius. One has the
option 6 that you wanted with JBL stereo and it only has 35,000 miles
on it with the stickers!”“The carpool stickers?” I ask.“Yes option 6 with the very valuable carpool stickers.”“How much are you asking for a used Prius Lucky?” My interest is piqued.“Only twenty nine thousand.”

“Well what color is it?” I ask.

“OH it’s Blue but it’s option 6 like you want. And you know Stephen, that it’s very hard to find option 6.”

“So, Stephen do you think you would like to come in and take a test drive?”

At this point I became…well; pissed off. I was surprised how easy it
was to talk. It was like I just opened my mouth and something like
these words came out really fast.

“Lucky why do you want to sell me a used Prius with 35,000 miles on
it for almost thirty thousand dollars, You know that a brand new Prius
goes for twenty seven grand, That’s almost three grand over retail for
a USED car Lucky and I know it’s because of those carpool stickers you
think you can ask for more than what a new Prius is worth But 35,000
miles? You gotta BE KIDDING me, I drive against traffic everyday and
have no need to pay extra for carpool stickers on a used car. On top of
all that the car is BLUE and if I’m going to pay over twenty grand for
a Prius I’m going to get the color I want and the only color I’m

“Yes MR. Stephen Yes. I understand. I will call back when I get in the Silver Pine.

Adding Mr. in front of Stephen was swift and subtle and held a
certain power at first. Then I was embarrassed because I was unable to
tell if my words came from a place of anger or a place of standing up
for myself. As if to say ‘Respect my money and time, I’m not a schmuck.’

Whatever the reasons are, I’m Mr. Stephen now. It finally feels like I earned it. All thanks to Lucky.

Thanks for checking in.

Stephen A. Thomas

The Prius Story Part 3, “NUMBERS”

I trust everyone is well and know you are all in my thoughts and good intentions.

Last Saturday I drove to Palm Springs (near Joshua Tree) to see,
‘the Flopster’, a friend of many years, since High School actually.
Driving home from Palm Springs I had 2 calls from Lucky BEGGING me to
come in and look at two 2008 Silver Mica Pine Prius that just arrived.
I shook my head and laughed. Partly because of Lucky’s tenacity. Partly
because I was embarrassed from having driven the ‘Flopster’ and his
very gracious wife around in my VW. Fine for me and Herb driving cross
country; however, questionableSouthern etiquette for entertaining
Jackson friends in a high desert resort town.
It was 100 degrees without AC. So when I listened to Lucky’s phone call
I was really thinking, New Car with A/C and locks please!

Monday morning, shortly after arriving to work, I get another call
from Lucky, “Mr. Stephen, I have the Option 5 Prius for you on the lot
right now. Option 5 Silver Pine Mica!” Lucky’s voice timbre and
inflection is strikingly similar to Apu from the Simpsons.

I tell Lucky I’ll come in to take a look at the 2008 Prius after
work. I feel an immediate twinge of being out of my price range but
look it up on Edmund’ anyway. I write down some numbers that I
think are reasonable and responsible.

At 7:30 p.m., Monday night, I went to see Lucky and test drive the,
2008, fresh off the truck, Silver Mica Pine Option 5 Prius.

What can I say? Everything was great. The JBL stereo sounded really
nice and the GPS lit up the car with a nice glow. It was a really nice

I messed around with the controls on the steering wheel as we drove.
It was the first time I entertained buying a car with something more
than a horn button on the steering wheel. I kept hearing this nervous
clicking sound from Lucky’s side of the car. I was too busy digging the
vibe to ask him what all the clicking was.

On this test drive I decided I should try to ramp it up a bit; as
much as you can in a Prius. This is a bubble in the style of a
Kamakiriad -w/o the hydroponic garden or balinese tech (a joke for
Dan)- It was a bit slow in the middle of acceleration but then I looked
down at the control panel. We were going 59mph, uphill, in a
residential neighborhood.

Honestly, I was satisfied with that, but I still needed to REALLY
test it on the 5 Freeway, and began to wonder why I refrained from
bringing that up. I found out later it’s about control.

Back at the dealership I wanted to play a bit and see if Lucky would
entertain any of my numbers that I had written down. I thought these
were good numbers but at the same time it seemed I was forgetting
something or that they had come too easy.

Inside the big, open, harshly lit showroom, Lucky did a credit check
on me and we began the arduous ‘old school’ process of discussing
numbers. Lucky writes down my information and tells me that a manager
will be right with me.


I began to focus on meditation which I found difficult in a Car
Showroom atmosphere. I notice guys in white shirts and silk ties notice
me. I thought I saw one guy who had a gold ring on each finger.

Lucky returned with a young guy named Jack. Jack was stocky and had
a stubble growing from a clean shaven head. He approached me and pulled
me to him when I shook his hand; another control technique. He sat
hunched down at the table where I had been for about 20 minutes so far.
Jack had a piece of paper know as a “Four Square.” This sales tool had
numbers written in Sharpee, numbers written in pen, and maybe some in
pencil too. It was covered in numbers. It was for the most part

He launched right into the trade. He was disappointed when I told
him I was going to sell my VW to a kid in Echo Park - which is true.
Jack countered saying he’d give me $100 for it. I declined his offer
and he said, “Okay but you know people will be coming to your apartment
checking out where you live and stuff if you try to sell it on Craig’s
List or in the Recylcer!”

I thought it was early for the Fear Tactic but I would soon find out
he was just an assistant sales manager and had a lot to learn about
instilling fear from other managers.
He left again to think about different numbers.


Lucky and I began to talk about the second time I went to see him.
He was showing me a Silver Prius Option 2 Prius and I brought a CD by a
French duo called AIR to test the stereo. He commented on how much he
liked it so I gave it to him. I said, “if you play track 5 on a test
drive you will definitely sell the car.” He began to tell me a story
how he had sold a Prius using the AIR CD. I think he used the CD as
leverage because when I asked him if he still had it he said yes, then
no, then yes again.

Jack returned with printed sheets this time - payments according to
sticker price and financing that made me feel like I was taking a
shower with prisoners. And I looked at him and said all of it was WAY
too much which is exactly what he expected me to say, so he launched
into his “leasing deal.” Which apparently is centered around a special
interest rate that’s called something DIFFERENT than an interest rate.
I guess this is to soften up the word “interest”. The word that came to
my mind was interest-ing - I told the Burr Headed young gun, ‘No’,
several more times about the lease.
It gave him a good chance to practice his chops though. He rubbed his head in growing frustration.

He kept saying he wanted to earn my business over and over. This
surprised me. I thought this kind of vernacular had long gone away. He
finally asks me in full frustration, “Stephen what’s more important to
you, payment or interest rate”-I looked up at him and said, “Both!” He
was surprised to hear it. Maybe because it was a Monday Night going on
10 o’clock. He went away to a room encased in glass where salesmen talk
to their sales managers. These guys sit on a platform about 5 feet
above everyone else. They are the real numbers guys and they have the
computers. I looked inside and watched one of them scarf down a
footlong Subway in 3 to 4 minutes. He should have won an oven mit or
something for such gastro-intestinal talent.


When Jack left AGAIN, Lucky and I sat at the table together. He
began to tell me what a great deal this was, yada yada yada, Silver
Pine Mica Stereo ‘niner’. He sat there kinda nervous and I noticed his
hands. He had a ring missing. I asked him where his pinky ring was and
he told me he never had a pinky ring just the two gold nugget rings
with his initials on them. Sure enough, he had a Gold Nugget Ring with
a big letter on his fourth finger and one on his middle finger. What
struck me was that those were the initals of his last name. Perhaps he
needed to sell me a car so he could buy an L to go on a Pinky nugget.

At this time I pulled out my own numbers out. I said, “Lucky, these
are the numbers I’m thinking.” Funny thing is I wrote them in sharpee
as if it were my own 4 Square. I said that I got these numbers from
Edmund’s and that I knew what invoice and MSRP came to.

Lucky stood up and looked bewildered and upset. I began to hear
clicking again. This time it was more nervous than before. Then the
clicking disappeared as he walked away.

Jack returned with different numbers, even less favorable than
before. He started becoming incensed that his numbers were so far off
and that I ceased to be his perception of a “lie down.” A person who
pays close to sticker price without negotiating.

After talking about all these numbers and waiting, I noticed that I
was getting a bit tired and hungry and realized I had a 45 minute drive
home. I said, “I think we’re done for tonight.” Thank you for your
time.” I stood up, shook Jack’s hand, then Lucky’s hand and began my

That was the WRONG thing to say.

more later.

The Prius Story Part 4, “THE TALL MAN”

I wish there was a “Larry David”, moment in
this story and I apologize in advance for the lack of humor. It’s more
like a “Jonah” moment. The part where he was in the whale for a long
time.At this point in the story I’m in the whale being swallowed.As I tried to leave Jack was so mad all he could say was, “I just
don’t understand you.” Before I knew it there was a flurry of white
shirts and gold hands surrounding me, blocking any exit attempt and
summoning the Tall Man in the blue suit.Before I knew it the Tall Man was my best friend and instead of a
lot of jewelery he had a REALLY nice pen. He told me he wanted me to be
their 20th customer because he’d get an extra $200 for the day. For
some reason this made me think of toasters from the 70’s and if Herb
ever got a toaster for buying a car.The Tall Man was very calm and articulate and wanted to know where
negotiations began to break down with Lucky and Jack. I began my story
about how, during my time there, I thought I may need something less
expensive. The Tall Man gently produced his nice pen and calmly asked
what numbers I wanted to pay for the car. I showed him my sharpee
numbers.Lucky was FURIOUS that the Tall Man had become involved. He was
scared of him as well. Lucky began talking really fast and really loud.
Angry at me. As if I stole his lunch on the playground and the Tall Man
was our mediator. Lucky began giving an account of everything he did to
help me and how much trouble I had been regarding the color and the
stereo from the very start. He began to click again as he spoke. The
tall man just raised his Right Hand as if to say, “I’ll handle this now
and deal with you later.”Lucky stopped talking, folded his arms across his chest and slumped
down in his chair looking off to the side; pouting. The “Hand”
apparently meant he was in time out.Anyway, the Tall Man’s pen wrote in blue ink and he jotted numbers
down on the back of one of the many sheets Jack had printed out. With
the calmness of someone who had spent an hour meditating, he asked, “If
I can do these numbers will you buy the car.” I said “yes,” because I
was tired - and hungry - and I thought my numbers would be scoffed at.
He asked me to initial the page. This kind of freaked me out but did it
anyway.The Tall Man asked me sit right there and said he would handle
everything. I thought he could be a Ricardo Montelban (sp)
impersonator.He left me there with Lucky who refused to look at me. Lucky just
said over and over - “I’m losing a sale, I’M LOSING A SALE! We’re
giving you the car!” I asked him if he was going to get a spiff from me
being the 20th customer. And all he could say, in a muffled voice, was
“WE LOST A SALE.” by this time he was standing over me - I looked up
and he had popped his lower teeth out of his mouth unable to get them
back in and yell at the same time. I finally realized the clicking
sound all this time was Lucky nervously popping his dentures in and out
of mouth.

Do you want to go home yet?

more later

Stephen A. Thomas

The Prius Story Part 5, “THE F&I GUY”

Hello everyone, thanks for hanging in there with this story. I’ve received some positive feedback and even a call from Betty who asked, “Are you driving around with the window down or running AC?” I refused to tell her since it would be giving away the end of the story.

We return to the story with the “The Tall Man” coming back with a printout of his number offering. I was shocked - it was good. Really good. He had priced the car $500 over invoice; deducted over $3000 off MSRP. Just like that. With the magic pen. I had a rush of adrenaline.

I honestly thought he and I would go back and forth over price for the car. I was in disbelief my sharpee numbers held such power.

At that moment I started to feel overwhelmed with excitement because my dream car really was within reach. Lucky perked up; and to keep things rolling he said, ” I’ll have it washed and filled up with gas.” I just nodded ‘yes’ like Ralphie in Santa Land.

Suddenly, Lucky plopped down in the chair across from me. He had a packet of Prius info and a square plastic key. He took a breath and began the most stilted, memorized infomercial I’ve ever heard. He talked about the Prius hybrid technology - the part I already knew. He used a folded diagram card. I swear it looked like an “In Flight Emergencey” card for Delta Airlines. Fotunatley this only lasted 2 or 3 minutes. He finished his mind numbing speech by telling me to have the car maintained every 5,000 miles. Then he folded the card back up and tried to shove it back into its’ white vinyl folder. He eventually folded over a corner to get it to fit.

He stood up and said he’d meet me after I talked to the Finance and Insurance guy.

I excused myself to the Mens room. I was in a tired and hungry, andrenaline stupor. I just looked at my face in the mirror while I washed my hands in their new fancy - ‘no splash’ sink; and shaking my head, thought, “I Won!”

I gathered myself back together and took a few deep breaths and my ’self’ said - “This is a happy moment and it should be fun - if at any point you stop having fun - that’s when you’ll know if you truly won any car negotiation.”

Have you ever wondered why the Finance and Insurance guys have really tiny offices? I had plenty of time to ponder this as I sat on an uber-comfy, round leather sofa. What a nice relief from the spine mangling IKEA chairs in the main area. This must be another control tactic. All of a sudden I was very relaxed - happy, and looking forward to going home. I notice two F&I guys still working and hope to get the one in Office #2 - he seems happy to be there helping people, even at 10:30 at night. He just emitted a good vibe. That’s what I needed.

Instead, I got the guy in Office #1. He sat at his desk for several minutes filling out paper work. He motioned for me; barely looking up from his paper work.

By this time it’s 10:45pm and he was VERY ready to go home. I had the distinct feeling he was there out of loyalty which manifested itself as contempt towards me.

We’ll finish up tomorrow.

Thanks for checking in.

The Prius Story, Part 6, “COOL DOWN PERIOD”
The “F&I guy” that motioned me inside was called Rick. He wore an immaculate white shirt with heavy starch, a loose gold bracelet, and gold cuff links. These were the kind of cuff links that might be given as a prize for salesman of the month.

Rick’s office was tiny. REALLY tiny. He could reach across the desk and grab my throat if he wanted, but instead I sat there in a typical “waiting room” chair, My knees hitting his desk.

As he wrote on his papers I thought of Jerry Lundegard and those scenes in Fargo where they would just keep the customer waiting.

I decided to make small talk and asked him about the replica of the new Airbus 380 he had. He said his brother gave it to him. He seemed really uninterested in letting the conversation go that direction. I got the vibe this room was arranged for one thing only - SIGNATURES.

There was a phone and a dot matrix printer to feed triplicate contracts through. He also had a computer screen with some proprietary software. It looked like something generated by DOS. I remembered at GC we called it the ‘Green Screen’.

As an extra offficial touch, he had an adding machine.

Then I noticed this plaque in the corner between his desk and the window. The Plaque said “NO COOL DOWN PERIOD.”

I thought that was curious.

Rick brought my attention abruptly to our business at hand.

He said “Now Stephen the Prius is a special car and has really new technology in it. Sometimes things can go wrong, not often, but sometimes they do. How many miles do you drive a day?”

I told Rick I drove 70 miles a day and planned to drive 20,000 miles the first year. I asked him how many miles were on the car now and he said ‘5′. That meant I was the only person ever IN that car. The first time THAT has ever happened.

Rick continued, “Now that means your factory warranty will end in about 18 months. I highly recommend you purchase the Toyota extended warranty, because if anything happens after that 18 months you could be left with a repair bill up to four thousand dollars.” Of course I ask what kind of thing could go wrong?

“Well, like I said, it’s new technology. The computer could have a problem switching between the batteries and the engine, or you could get hit on the freeway!”

All this was a surprise. It was a Toyota! It was supposed to have the half life of nuclear waste! What is this?

But falling under his control, I’d come this far, so I decided to bite.

“Okay Rick, how much is the extended warranty?”

-Jerry Lundegard and his true coat sales pitch immediately flooded my mind.

Rick looked me straight in the eye and said, “Twenty nine hundred dollars.”

He pauses, flicking his pen back and forth, waiting for my reaction.

All I see in my mind is this:

:$2900 - another $2900 - another $2900:

I’m silent. I look down in thought - my ability to keep up with the numbers is gone.

“That only raises your monthly payment $12 a month.”

I tell him, “Okay, can I think about it and tell you tomorrow since I have to bring the down payment to you anyway?”

“No I have to have a commitment from you now. If you want, I can sell it to you for nineteen hundred cash.”

:”another $1900 - another $1900:”

He said, “Think about it for now. Here, sign this; speaking of down payment. This says you’ll bring it to me tomorrow.”

I sign it.

“This says you’ll call your insurance company and get the car insured.”

I sign it.

“And this says Lucky went over how the Prius works, and the maintencance schedule.”

I sign it.

“And this says you didn’t want any sort of additional options. Like satellite radio.”

It was a small document that looked mean somehow. It was all in red and had the word “REFUSED” written across it.

When I asked about this one, Rick just said that they have to show it to me and offer, but most people just take the car as it is. I thought of how many law suits had to happen before they had this thing printed up.

“Very good, we’re almost done!” He takes my pile of paperwork and puts it in a file and in continued fluid motion produces a long contract and begins feeding it through the dot matrix printer.

I asked Rick how my credit report came out as if I was at the Doctor getting my cholesterol numbers .

He said EXCELLENT! You have excellent credit Stephen.” and he gave a big smile. maybe he was loosening up?

This made me feel really good.

I decide to mull this over while reading the “NO COOL DOWN PERIOD” plaque.

California passed a state law that allows for “NO COOL DOWN PERIOD” for the customer and when the documents were signed there was no recourse for the customer in any way.

I say to Rick, “I thought there was a 30 day satisfaction guarantee.”

Rick, non chalantly replied, “Where’d you get that from? When you sign on the line the car is yours. You cannot take it back or decide you don’t like it tomorrow. Now, Stephen, since you’re taking out such a big loan for a long time we offer gap insurance in case you get into a situation where you want to trade the car in but you still owe on it.”

:”gap - gap - what’s he talking about, this gap?”:

He tells me it’s $900.

This was a surprise too.
I was unable to think at all under the harsh flourescent light. Although, Herb’s business mantra did come to mind. -”The best surprise is no surprise.”

Exasperrated, I tell Rick, “No, I don’t want any of that.”

He chirps back, “Okay Stephen, just inital everywhere I’ve Xed in blue.”

He hands me the contract and I look at the interest that I was going to pay and the price of the car somehow had gone up six thousand dollars by the time the taxes and warranty had been added.

By this time I needed a breath of fresh air and I wanted to go home like everybody else.

I said, “You know what, Rick? This is a big purchase, I need to think about this cool down period for tonight, and I’ll finish signing everything tomorrow when I bring you the down payment. I think I’m going to go.” I stood up and he quipped “Yeah, well there IS no cool down period. It doesn’t exist!”

Rick stood up tapping a pen on his paperwork and told me to tell the “Tall Man” I was leaving.

I left his clautrophobic cell and walked to the main showroom. I found the tall man who was immediately concerned. I explained about my reservations over the cool down period and told him it was the first I’d ever heard about it. He put his hand on my shoulder guiding me away from the door and said, “We have it posted everywhere Stephen.” He pointed to hardly readable, dull copper signs. They were posted everywhere. I just missed them. They looked like the kind of signs for a monument. The Tall Man began walking slowly and said, “I sell more Prius here than Longo in the Inland Empire, you know how many have ever come back, Stephen? Zero. So there’s nothing to even cool down about.”

I said, “I’ll be upside down if it turns out it’s the wrong car for me.”

He just laughed, “What does that mean, upside down? You can trade it in, I’ll be happy to take it back for…”

“A Corolla,” I finished his sentence for him.

There I was again. He had walked me back to Rick’s office who was waiting for me.

I sat down and ‘The Tall Man’ hovered above me. Rick also hovered and said, “Stephen, it’s my job to tell you that when you sign this the car is yours.”

At that moment ‘The Tall Man” used a stern voice and directed Rick, “Just get the contract signed.” Rick starts shuffling paper, and angrily said, “Come on now, I have everything marked for you. Lucky and everyone has stayed open VERY late just for you, and has spent all this time with you. Let’s go.”

He put the contract in my hand and I just sat there looking at it.

I looked at the numbers and what was once happy, made me feel like I was going to vomit. I felt nauseated.

The Tall Man had left, and Rick followed him.
It was just me and that contract and all I could do was stare at it.

All of a sudden it clicked.

I started thinking of what “NO COOL DOWN PERIOD” really meant.

First, it was serious enough for car dealers to come together and pay lawyers to lobby for this law to be passed.

“Cool Down” must mean I wasn’t cool now in Rick’s office. The word ‘cool’ has the connotation of being relaxed and of right mind. ‘Period’ means for a certain amount of time.


So by law, I was unallowed to be in my right mind for a certain amount of time AFTER I put my intials on that contract. Ironically the initialling will be happening during a period when I’m not in my right mind.

I asked myself if I felt happy.

Then asked myself, if I could think logically about this? Of course not, because I’m not in my right mind! The sign on the wall, promises that the cool down period comes later. Otherwise, why spend money on the sign?

Rick came back into his office as I was standing up. I said, “Rick thanks for your time and your effort and all your information. I ask you now to you respect me as a customer and my wish to leave. Goodbye.

I told Lucky and the last man behind the glass wall goodbye.

And I left.

I used my screwdriver to get back into the VW, and drove home.

…the happiest man alive.

Thanks for checking in.

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