Allow me to begin by stating that it was not our intention to have our one-year-old daughter, NJ, throw up in the Jetta we were test-driving. However, considering how everything turned out for us, it was a tactic I wouldn't hesitate to employ in the future.
This was not our first time around the vehicle-purchasing block together. Shortly after getting married and moving to Portland, my husband and I had sold both our cars and replaced them with a new-to-us X-Terra that we assured our newly-wed selves we would “take off-roading.” (As it turns out, pregnancy and off-roading don’t mix so well.)
The experience had given us insight into the used-car “culture” of Portland. To sum it up in six words: hagglers will be shot on sight. Still, with a combination of patience, moxie, and sang-froid, we’d managed to beat the system and get a pretty good deal, and were determined to do so again when we set out in quest of a new commuter car for my husband last weekend.
We rolled into the car lot fresh from church in our good clothes, looking fly and feeling strong. It was busy. The first warm Sunday afternoon of spring had brought all the potential car-buyers out of the woodwork. We cursed the weather but hoped to use the mayhem to our advantage. We finally snagged a salesman: a smiling, urbane fellow who was clearly ready to spend the last drop of his life-blood in defense of those five digits on the windshield.
Of course we had painstakingly gone through their inventory online and in a preliminary reconnaissance tour the day before, and we had our eye on something already (not that we told the salesman that). We performed the circling steps of the car-shopping dance admirably, keeping our tone detached, unimpressed, and non-commital. In the end we condescended to take the thing on a test-drive. We played it cool, or at least as cool as one can play it while transferring a car-seat and one-year-old between back seats.
The car did not disappoint. It was above and beyond all that we’d hoped for: clean, low miles, fully loaded with features that were still working … a real catch. The sticker price was reasonable enough, but we had another number in mind.
I was chatting up the salesman when I heard an ominous gurgle from the backseat behind me, and turned around just in time to see NJ plaster her front with everything she had. My husband later incorrectly referred to this substance as “spit-up.” Let me be clear, spit-up is what infants do, infants whose sole diet is either breastmilk or formula. I laugh in the face of spit-up. No, this was bona-fide, pro-level, “When did you eat THAT?!” vomit. And there was a lot of it.
As the pungent aroma of fresh up-chuck mingled with NJ’s distraught sobs, the three sides of my personality fought for preeminence.
Mom side: “My baby!”
Writer side: “This is going to be personal narrative gold.”
Car-buying shark side: “This – changes – EVERYTHING.”
You see, when your one-year-old has, to put it delicately, blown chunks in a vehicle you are considering for purchase, there are two ways you could look at it: you can feel guilty and obligated to purchase the vehicle, the old, “you throw up in it, you buy it” mantra. Or you can take the position that the car has lost value by virtue of being thrown up in (by my calculation that should really knock at least $300 off the price).
The Mom side took the driver’s seat, but the car-buying shark called shot-gun.
I quickly made the situation clear to both my husband and the car salesman.“I don’t think she got any on the car itself,” I said, lingering on the word “think.” “Maybe we should just go home.”
When we got back to the dealership, the salesman, realizing that we were about to become the ones that got away, swooped in with a stack several inches thick of tri-fold paper towels from the bathroom and an unlimited supply of bottled water, doing his best to keep us on the premises.
My husband and I communicated telepathically, “He’s desperate. We strike now.”
“Why don’t you guys go ahead in and I’ll try to get her cleaned up,” I said.
My husband began phase one while I attempted to accomplish with paper towels and bottled water what ought only to be attempted with a pressure washer. As luck would have it, NJ was wearing a jumper that day. Once I had extricated her from the car seat, the jumper, and her tights, and liberally applied wet paper towels to her, she was actually reasonably clean (although not without a distinct, lingering aroma). She'd also experienced a 180 degree change in her mood (babies’ happiness, I have found, can be directly correlated with how few clothes they are wearing). I marched into the dealership, our half-naked baby on my hip, to find negotiations in full swing.
The manager got involved and the five of us went at it. It was a steal already, they said. We have a budget, we said. NJ put her feet on the table because she’s a thug. Back and forth, push and pull. Their price came down, our price went up, but not enough to meet in the middle.
Finally, we did what we had to do and got up from the table, shook hands, and headed home.
It’s impossible to know what would've happened if it hadn’t been for the throw-up incident. All I know is that two minutes after we pulled out, we got a call from the dealership with an offer we couldn’t refuse.
We got the car. And NJ’s been smirking to herself ever since.