My own personal version of Hell might just look like a car dealership. Buying a car is the only situation that I can think of where you start at one price, only to be haggled UP by the person selling to you. Somehow, the salesman always makes you feel like you are at their mercy - like you are so woefully undeserving of the car that you are trying to purchase, and they are just doing you a favor by trying to take your money.
When else would we allow ourselves to be treated this way? How would it be if restaurants operated like this?
Let's say you go in prepared, knowing that you'll have to eat in a little while, but you aren't so hungry that you'd be inclined to make a bad decision. Your hunger level is at a 3 of 10 when you walk in. You're greeted immediately, and a waiter informs you that they certainly DO have a table that would be great for you, they just have to go and get it ready. Sounds reasonable, but then it takes about fifteen minutes for you to finally be seated. By then, your hunger level has gone up a little, maybe about a 4, but you are still totally in control as you peruse the menu.
Perhaps you ask the waiter a few questions about the pizzas you are looking at. It turns out that this waiter is QUITE the pizza enthusiast. In fact, he can't wait to finish his shift so he can eat that very same pizza you are considering. It's his favorite. Finally, you settle on the pizza of your choice, priced at a reasonable $11.95. You're waiter congratulates you on an excellent decision, then speeds off, leaving you happy, but hungry (now at a level of 6 or so, with all of the menu browsing and anticipation going on).
After about ten minutes, the manager shows up to discuss your bill. It turns out that the pizza you've selected isn't actually $11.95. Those prices are only available with a series of special rebates and coupons that you don't have. For you, that pizza will cost more like $17.95.
Jeez, you only came in here with $15.00 in your pocket. What will you do now? You're getting hungrier, and you really wanted that pizza! Should you consider getting a different pizza? Won't they all be marked up just as badly? You start to panic. You feel disappointment setting in like a heavy weight on your shoulders.
But wait, the manager has a solution. If you open a credit card with the restaurant, they can give you a special discount and bring the price of the pizza down to $15.50. Phew! What a relief. You'll get to have lunch after all. You shake hands with the manager and he runs off to finalize your deal and get your pizza into the oven.
All this stress has raised your hunger level to a 7, teetering on the brink of an 8. You're feeling nervous too, because you really hadn't planned on spending quite so much on lunch, or opening a new credit card account. "Oh well", you think, sometimes that's just the way it goes, right?
The pizza finally arrives, and it looks amazing. It smells so good, and it's hot and bubbly and everything you dreamed it would be. Your hunger level jumps up to a screaming 9 as soon as you lay eyes on it. But before the waiter sets it down on the table, the manager intervenes.
He looks upset, really upset. He's SO sorry, but there was a mistake! They ordered you THE WRONG PIZZA. This pizza right in front of you, the one that is so close you can taste it, actually costs $16.95, even after that special financing discount they gave you. Though it seems identical to the pizza you ordered, he insists that THIS pizza comes with extra options, and the restaurant just can't afford to swallow the extra cost. They're so sorry though, and would be happy to throw in extra paper napkins with your $16.95 pizza.
So what do you do now? You're hungry. You're tired. You're upset, and somehow, without you even realizing you've been here for almost an hour! Your lunch break is almost over, and you have to get back to work. If you walk out, you won't have time to eat at all! The manager consoles you again as you sign your name to the financing contract, one that with interest, will end up costing you an extra 3.5% on your lunch. As he lays down the pizza in front of you he cheers. Congratulations! You made a GREAT choice!
This is pretty much what happened to Scott Bobleo and I this week at the Clay Cooley Nissan dealership in South Austin. Only the object in question, of course, was not a pizza, but a new car. I used hunger in the story not only as a metaphor, but in honor of what became my very real situation by the end of the night. We were basically held hostage there for over four hours while a ridiculous game of bait and switch unfolded before us. It was really and truly slimy, the kind of horror story that car dealer stereotypes are made of.
Being over nine months pregnant, the whole ordeal was way too much. By the time we were two hours in, I was having contractions, and I'd started to get hungry. Lately, when I get hungry, I get REALLY hungry, like shaking, painful hungry. We begged them to speed things up, and we explained over and over that I needed to leave so that I could rest and eat. They kept apologizing and begging for "five more minutes" which turned into ten, which turned into thirty, etc.
In hindsight, I wonder if they were intentionally using my distress to try and hustle us. Anyone could see that I was exhausted and extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps they thought if they could just tire me out, I'd roll over eventually and pay extra for a car with bells and whistles that I didn't even ask for. They seriously miscalculated my priorities. By the end of the night, I cared a lot more about getting some protein in my body than driving away with a new car. We left empty handed, empty stomached, and infuriated.
Today I crafted a nice long letter to the dealership, the dealership's owner, and Nissan corporate. Torturing a pregnant lady to try and make an extra handful of cash is pretty freaking low. The worst part is that we still don't have a car, so we'll have to do this all over again somewhere else. Maybe I'll get lucky and go into labor before Scott Bobleo can drag me into another dealership.
That says a lot, doesn't it? I'd rather push a baby out of my body than deal with another sleazy car salesman.