One of the truths about the news business and telling stories is that the story sometimes sneaks its way into our own lives.
I’ve become friends with countless interviewees over the years. I once flew in a glider to report a story. Thirty years ago, I got the worst haircut you’ve ever seen, sacrificing myself for a photo page and a feature about a man who gave $1 haircuts. The hack job he gave me wasn’t worth a plug nickel. We later discovered he was partially blind. I told a story about walking across Spain in both a book and a magazine called International Living.
It happened unexpectedly again last week gathering information for a year-end story here at the Leader.
We wanted to convey to readers the challenges local businesses faced in 2021, and highlight the creative approaches business leaders used to overcome them. You’ll find that story on this issue’s front page. The innovative ideas that Mountain View Chevrolet general manager Greg Peters shared almost mesmerized me.
Peters told me about the added-value sales experience he’s created for customers. He’s not just selling cars. He’s picking up out-of-state customers at the airport, suggesting fishing guides, taking people to music on the square. Peters and his staff even connect firearms enthusiasts with local expert Lance Buchanan.
But there was one part of the business model from 2021 Peters mentioned that really got my attention.
One tentacle of the COVID pandemic has resulted in dramatically reduced production of a semi-conductor microchip produced in China that regulates computer automation in most pickup trucks. The result is seen today on just about any lot selling trucks. New models are few and far between. Pickup truck inventory now comes from owners with late model, low mileage trucks who are willing to sell back to the dealer. The kicker?
The dealers are in such need of good vehicles to sell they are paying top dollar for used trucks, often more than the buyer paid two or three years ago. This is in stark contrast to the days when a truck lost $20,000 in value the moment the new owner drove it off the lot.
I hung up the phone with Peters and my wheels started turning. All I could think about was the 2019 Ford four-wheel-drive pickup in my driveway with 36,000 miles. I love that truck. It’s taken us on family beach vacations, pulled RVs, boats, and trailers, and got us through Snowpocalypse in Round Bottom Valley last February.
But then I began crunching numbers. It’s never a good sign. I’m a word guy, not a number cruncher.
Could this be true? For one of the few times in my life am I at the right place at the right time? That never happens. I’m almost always the guy who gets taken for thousands while someone else walks away with the cash.
The realization came that if someone was willing to pay me at or near what I paid for the truck, I’d have enough left over to pay a few bills and pretty much go into the New Year with nothing more than a minor bill or two. This in a year where two of my three adult children are getting married and I’m already seeing price tags that create a cold sweat.
So, I started working the phones. The ease with which I sold that truck last Wednesday was shocking.
A few photos and a text message. That’s all it took. Two hours later, the dealership I originally bought the truck from made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. They’d buy the truck back for a thousand dollars more than I paid two years ago.
Suddenly, a sick feeling hit my stomach. This was too easy, and too good to be true, and something’s wrong. I’m really gonna screw something up here. But with the idea of reducing my monthly debt by $800 when circumstances are as they are, and inflation is as it is, the word passed across my lips.
Twelve hours later, and for the first time in 38 years, I did not own a vehicle.
Back home that morning I scoured the internet, knowing that it made no sense at all to sell, take the cash, and buy another high-priced vehicle. So, I’d maximize the scenario with cash left over from the sale and buy a cheap, used vehicle I could live with for a while and walk the streets of Mountain View jingling a little extra change in my pocket.
There it was, waiting for me in Humboldt, Tenn. A 1992 Geo Tracker with 107,000 miles. Trackers are a rare vehicle with a cult following. They go forever with incredible gas mileage. We owned one on our cotton farm in the 90s. They are nice looking little trucks, strictly utilitarian, and drive like a toolbox through a Category 2 hurricane.
We met the owners that next morning in Dyersburg and headed back across northern Arkansas to our Tranquility Base.
The wisdom in this decision remains to be seen. It’s a small truck for a big boy.
But if I see you on the street any time soon, I’ll give you a robust, “beep, beep!” I’m the big boy in the little truck.
See you in next week’s newspaper.
(Steve Watkins is a writer/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org).
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