Death Of A Car Salesman

by Patrick Appel

Rich Cohen traces the ups and downs of an industry. A taste:

When I decided to write a story about the salesmen of cars, used and new, it was because I believed the car salesman to be a preacher in the church of the American dream. What is a car salesman if not a cleric who, like a minister or rabbi, sells the vision and moves the product? I believed such a story would be funny, as I would cram it with all the dealership stories I have accumulated in my life of buying and selling and being angry about cars. But as I went along, visiting dealerships, reading articles and books, then watching congressional hearings, the world changed. First gas prices went up, then credit disappeared, then the economy collapsed. (It went down like a camel goes downfirst the front, then the ass.) The auto dealerships were hit early and hard. As the papers filled with stories about an industry on the edge of collapse, the salesman suddenly seemed less like a hateful hawker of false promises than like a sad relic. This American character, no less archetypal than the logger or trapper, was dying. (There is blood on the showroom floor!) The cowboy circa 1910, at the closing of the frontier. I went out like Rickels, full of put-downs and zingers, but came back like Cormac McCarthy, a disillusioned man trying to capture an American type as it fades into oblivion.