Disclaimer: I do not advocate the disrespectful behavior I’m about to describe or the hobby I’m about to elaborate on. It’s not nice… not nice at all. Driving speeds are deliberately omitted from this blog post.
I’ve always loved driving. Every car I’ve ever purchased has had a manual transmission. I learned to drive on a manual transmission truck and have loved them ever since. Every decade that passes it gets harder and harder to find manual transmission vehicles without a special order. With driverless cars on the horizon my relationship with this driving style may be coming to an end.
In the early 1990’s I lived in Jacksonville, NC. I was hired at a law firm as a receptionist, but was quickly moved to a back room position as an insurance claim paralegal because I wasn’t “Southern enough”. I didn’t want to spend the first 2-3 minutes of every call discussing the weather or the blooming flowers. I was the receptionist. Wasn’t it simply my job to receive a call and transfer it to the proper party? Not in the Southern United States it wasn’t. I was too “abrupt” apparently.
Who they thought they hired
Who they actually hired…
One day, one of the partners asked me to take his car to the carwash for him. I wasn’t opposed to menial tasks, and let’s face it getting time out of the office was a bonus. He handed me the keys and I walked out to his spot. Back then it was common for offices to have labeled parking spaces as a sign of prestige, so it was easy for me to identify his car. It was a beautiful new Jaguar. It took me about 2 hours to get his car washed because “the line was busy”. I had never been in such a luxurious vehicle before. I basically melted into the seats. As a reference, I was driving a Dodge Shadow at the time, and proud of it, as my first new car. I had driven plenty of muscle cars in the past (Chevelle…. Favorite car to drive HANDS DOWN). I had never driven a luxury car. How could I NOT take it out on the empty highways of Jacksonville. Everything was awesome, except the music. He had no tape in the car and the radio was nothing but talk shows where churches asked listeners for money or people complained about the heat and general state of the economy.
What his car looked like
What my car looked like
After this experience, I decided that I was going to need to find a way to drive cars outside of my wheelhouse. Hence, a new hobby was born: the test drive hustle… and I’m not talking about a dance, I’m talking about a victimless con. Note my use of the word “victimless” as if any hustle or con could truly be victimless. Let’s say on a scale of 1 – 10 I perceived the negative impact to be a 1… we’ll call it “nearly victimless”.
When I get anxiety or stress, driving helps alleviate it. Driving fast helps even more. Driving fast in a car I’ve never driven is even better. Driving fast in a car I’ve never driven, in an area I’ve never driven in is the best.
I have my flaws, just like everyone does, but one of my better qualities is my credit score. Very sexy, no? I pay my bills ahead of time. When I can’t pay them, I find a way. I’ll rob Peter to pay Paul. I’ll work a second job, or third job. I’ll negotiate with the people billing me. I have never paid a bill late, and I never will. My thought process is that if I have a high credit score, I will always be ok. I set it as my top priority, and everything else falls into its own place beneath it.
One of the cool things about having perfect credit is that anyone will give you a loan, a credit card, anything you want… without collateral and without high interest. The mortgage broker says “I’ll let you know how much the bank approves” and you’re thinking “Whatever I want so…. We’re good”. What does my credit score have to do with my desire to drive fast cars that I’ve never driven? Everything.
After my Jaguar experience I became a bit depressed (not in a clinical way, in more of a moping, bitching and complaining way) because I loved the experience so much but didn’t have the means to do it again. *Shrugs shoulders* oh well. Then, one day when driving from North Carolina to Massachusetts, I stopped at a diner to eat. As I was going back to the highway, I saw an Audi dealership. Thoughts of the Jaguar came back into my mind. “I wonder what their highest end Audi is like?”. I pulled in, got out and started looking at the cars. Then came the magical words that would jump start my new hobby “Care to take it for a test drive?”. Well…. Yes actually, yes I do.
They ran my credit… perfect… excited look in car salesman’s eyes. “Let’s go!”. I got into the blue, 1994 Audi A4. “Can we go on the highway?” “Sure, just watch your speed”. “Ok” (Not happening). We got on the highway and made some small talk. I accelerated slowly but steadily hoping he wouldn’t notice how fast we were going… until suddenly he did. He pleaded with me calmly to slow the vehicle down, I responded with short, confident phrases like “It’s ok”. “It’s fine”. “Don’t worry this is no problem”. We eventually drove back to the dealership. I wasn’t sure if he would scold me, or get a manager, etc. The car wasn’t damaged at all. There was no “problem” really. I sensed that, more than anything else, he was embarrassed that he hadn’t been able to control the situation. I told him I’d think about purchasing the car, took his business card, winked, and left… in my 1994 Dodge Shadow (my car should have been a bit of a red flag, no?).
You said it’s fine, but it doesn’t seem fine.
Over the course of the following decades I’ve probably test driven anywhere from 2-4 cars a year that I had no intention of buying. Having people check your credit DOES impact your credit a little, so I figured no more than 4x a year would be a nice boundary. (See, I DO have boundaries after all!) I picture someone at Experian looking at my credit report and thinking… what in the hell does this pattern even mean? Is this the most indecisive car buyer in the entire world? Ha!
Another thing I began to realize is that the radio stations in new cars on the lots are usually programmed to benign talk show stations or easy listening music stations… both of which have their purposes, but clearly don’t meet my particular test drive needs. In the late 1990’s I made a CD titled “Test Drive CD” that had some of my favorite songs to drive fast too. Once in the car with my chaperone, I would wait until we were at a stoplight far enough away from the dealership that turning back for mildly strange behavior was unlikely… and I’d casually say “mind if I pop in a CD?” The answer was always a go. Like any good con, the CD would start with something from Sade or Seal that was very calming. As we’d enter the highway (always against the original plan, they do NOT want you on the highway) my go to line is “Let’s see what this thing can do”. I think the salesman’s reaction to this statement often more fun than driving fast itself. It’s usually a chuckle or assumption that I’m kidding… then the realization that I’m actually getting ON the highway so perhaps I’m not kidding… and if I’m not kidding am I just going to abuse the car or am I going to kidnap them? I’d advance the CD to the next song (proper fast driving music) and proceed to drive at a very unreasonable speed. I would always approach the youngest salesperson and always a young man. I found them the least likely to rat me out, whether due to embarrassment, or wanting to keep their jobs, or wanting to seem cool and go-with-the-flow.
Of course, this doesn’t break any laws. They clearly have my information and have run a credit check. No harm no foul, right?
My Most Recent Test Drive Playlist:
The Prodigy: Smack My Bitch Up (Offensive title but great fast driving song)
Van Halen: Hot for Teacher (Do remember I am a drummer so…)
Motley Crue: Live Wire
Metallica: Shortest Straw
I generally only needed 4 songs because you’ll come close to the kidnapping/car theft perception it of you much longer than that.
Enter the iPod. The era of the iPod opened up an opportunity for me to create a Test Drive Playlist. How delightful!!!! This led to my favorite moment thus far in my unusual part-time hobby. Believe it or not, after years of driving luxury cars, muscle cars, everything under the sun… my all-time favorite has been a Camaro. In 2010 I had a field job that caused me to travel by car around New England almost daily. The 2010 Chevy Camaro was fricking AMAZING. It was beautiful. It was fast. It was a cross between a 1970’s muscle car and a luxury vehicle.
My first obstacle with this test drive is that no salesmen at this particular dealership were under 35 years old. I did the best I could and “Pat”, who appeared to be in his mid-50’s, helped me along. Thanks to my iPod technology, I just clicked on “easy listening playlist”, which Pat reluctantly allowed even though he tells me asking to play music is “unusual”. Oh thanks Pat that’s so sweet! Thank you Carly Simon for getting us to the highway ramp unnoticed.
“Pat, let’s see what this thing can do!” Wink. Pat, Ahhhh let’s take a right here, no right lane… right lane. Wait we…. Ok ok, let’s get off at the next exit. I reach down for the iPod. Pat’s eyes follow my hand. I click on “Test Drive Playlist”. Pat looks at the iPod, sees my playlist selection and says “What the FUC# is a test drive playlist” in a mean dad voice. Clearly he’s not the newbie 23 year old salesman, he knows exactly what test drive playlist means. It means that I test drive cars so often that I need a pre-planned playlist. It means that I didn’t accidentally get on the highway. It means he has no idea what’s going to happen next. Luckily for Pat, it’s just me driving fast, pretending I can’t hear him, and returning to the dealership with an undamaged vehicle. Pat, unlike the skittish young salesman of the past, opens my door and tells me to “Get the Fuc# off his lot”. I say thank you, bow politely, and leave. This was the first time a salesman knew what was coming, before it arrived… thanks to the tattle tale iPod screen.
That was actually the last time I test drove a car I wasn’t planning on buying. I’m honestly not sure why? Maybe I got it out of my system? I do still enjoy driving, and won’t rule out an unnecessary test drive in the future before driving becomes obsolete.
Now my question for my readers is: