MAD DOG: The Ultimate Car Options

It's hard to think of many things scarier than 20,000 car salesmen under one roof. Sure, the Third Reich marching through Poland comes to mind. So does Ken Starr and Jerry Falwell sitting around watching the Teletubbies episode where Tinky Winky gets a male intern and runs off to Key West to wear leather chaps, get his antenna pierced, and write a tell-all book called "I Put the Pee-pee in PBS." But we're talking car salesmen here. You know, the guys the public ranks below columnists on the Faith and Trust scale, if you can believe such a thing is possible.They showed up en masse in San Francisco not long ago for the National Car Dealers Association convention, and you could spot them from a mile away. Yes, they were the ones wearing plastered-on smiles with their fingers crossed as they handed out imprinted keychains which read: "No, WE'RE No. 1!"So what do these guys talk about when they're together? Oh, tricks of the trade, just like at any other convention. Things like how to claim the steering wheel is an option, how to call the janitor into the office and pawn him off as the sales manager so he can offer you the "cheapest price I can without losing my job", and how to add a Bahamas Vacation Preparation Fee to the invoice without attracting too much attention.With all this, do they really need more help? After all, these are the men and women who managed to sell us Pintos, Gremlins, and Yugos, even though none of us will admit it. But this is the dawn of the New Millennium, and like everything else, the rules change. (NOTE: Do not confuse this with The Rules, which are about dating and, according to some authors and single women who'll never find a good man if they keep listening to those authors, will never change.) According to the speakers at the convention, the modern car buyer wants honesty, lots of facts and figures, and a car with a relaxed fit. Oh sorry, that last one is about pants and sneakers. Yes, sneakers. Like it wasn't enough that jeans and shirts have been adapted to the bulging Boomers, Keds now makes women's leather sneakers in a "Relaxed Fit" for those whose middle-aged spread extends to their feet.I have to admit, I've never bought a car from a dealer. I've always preferred getting screwed by someone who's not a pro -- somehow it makes me feel like less of a chump. Yes, this means I've never owned a new car. You could chalk this up to the fact that I've never found one I really liked. Or that I've never had enough money. Or maybe they just don't make the options I really need. Luckily, the last excuse is changing.It's nice that you can get a CD player, power everything, and even a computer that gives you driving directions. But that's just not enough. In Europe, where they're on the forefront of just about everything except bathing, you can get red, yellow, and greenwall tires for your car now.Michelin, the tire company with the mascot that makes Richard Simmons wake up during the night screaming, has test marketed a line of tires with colored sidewalls to replace those boring old black and white ones. With names like Aetna Red, Nordic Green, and Rio Yellow, the tires may yet see the light of mass marketing. A Dutch tire maker, Vredestein, has also been at it, selling enough yellow and redwalls to warrant expanding the size and color selection. But leave it to the South Africans to know what the well-dressed car should be wearing this year -- a flame-thrower. This points up a major cultural difference between them and us. Well, besides the fact that their leaders win Nobel Prizes while ours are happy if they win their lawsuits. Here in the United States it's hard to find a cigarette lighter in a car anymore; in South Africa you can get your cigarette lit just by walking next to one.The reason for this is simple: they know how to have more fun than we do. Just kidding. The real reason for wanting to mount a flame-thrower on their cars is that carjacking is as common in Johannesburg as double parking. Or maybe it takes the place of double parking. Either way, for only $650 (plus delivery, taxes, and dealer prep) you can have a flame-thrower built into your car doors. Then all you have to do is step on a floor pedal and a fireball shoots out the side, sautéing a carjacker without endangering yourself, your passengers, or the paint job. Charl Flourie, the brains behind the Char-o-matic, says someone can get third-degree burns and might be blinded by this, but it won't kill them. Can keychain versions be far behind?You can bet that as soon as word of this reaches the members of the National Car Dealers Association it will be on their Preferred Options List faster than you can say "Would you like fries with that carjacker?" Of course here it will be marketed a little differently, since carjacking isn't quite the crime it is in South Africa."They're great for lighting barbecue grills on the side of the road," the car salesman will tell you. "Plus they'll teach hitchhikers not to flip you off when you pass them by and they can be used to get rid of roadside litter while you drive, making them politically, environmentally, and economically correct."Hey, it doesn't get any better than that.

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