The best advice I ever received about cars came from a fellow named Charlie.
He sat me down. Looked right into my 22 year old face and told me,
“You know nothing!”
He was right.
This may shock more than a few of you who have been here since TTAC’s early days.
I grew up not knowing the difference between a V6 and a V8. Cars? Well, my parents and brothers drove them. As for me, the world as it related to cars only changed once I got my learner’s permit.
Cars equated to freedom, and freedom equated to an escape from my life in New Jersey. Two years later I was free as a bird. Four years after that, I found myself caged in an unpleasant conversation with Charlie.
Charlie’s advice that day had nothing to do with cars… not yet.
At that point it had only to do with selling seafood in New York’s Chinatown. My Dad had high blood pressure, 212/108 at one point, and I had been given the assignment of learning that side of the food business while he recovered.
To sell food you have never eaten, in a culture that you never experienced before, in a language you don’t quite know yet… all of it takes an awful lot of listening skills. My work would be humbling and an amazing turnabout from my prior years in school.
In a collegiate world where student participation could count as much as 50% of my grade, I had to learn to say nothing and listen to the implicit behaviors of his customers. I would walk eight miles a day, twice a week, in New York’s Chinatown along with Flushing and Elmhurst on alternating weeks. Lots of walking. Lots of time to think and examine my surroundings.
First, I would take a look at what products of ours were vacating the shelves. Second… what products of the competitors looked the slightest bit aged or dusty. Always without exception, I would wait for the elder Chinese proprietor to acknowledge my presence. Even if that took twenty to thirty minutes.
They knew English. All of them had kids that graduated from college or well beyond that point. Many even had grandkids that were my age. But my instructions were firm, “Only Cantonese!”. I would let the owner show me what needed to be restocked and whenever he (or she) would ask about my father, I would only reply in Cantonese. Then after we would go through the restocks, I would announce the names of some of the competitor’s products that were not quite selling.
“Tow-goo”, “Gin-cee-bow”, “Sha-din-gyu”. Mushrooms, pacfic clams, sardines. Hundreds of items would be drilled into me as well as a few dozen basic sentences in Cantonese.
I would point or walk to the shelf with the items that were still gathering that thin layer of dust that showed lack of movement. Sometimes I succeeded in getting a new product on the shelves. Other times not so much. But I always got them to smile and enjoy the experience.
Friendly, smart, reserved, respectful. It was a brilliant act of nuance for my father to force me out of my old habits.
Charlie’s advice that day helped me become a better listener. Eventually other mentors would help me in my work as an auctioneer, car dealer, and writer…. because I listened.
I would always start those experiences with a rock solid assumption… three simple words.
“You… know… nothing!”
It made learning that much easier to do.
So who gave you the best advice about cars? Even in a roundabout way?