As a cub newspaper reporter on the crime beat, I was reading the daily log at a local police station's front desk one day when a dazed and confused person strolled in and began ranting.
A gruff police lieutenant ordered him out, then told me, “Some people who can't find their way out of a paper bag find their way in here.”
I knew what he meant. Back at the newsroom, odd people periodically would pop in to share their views with those who made eye contact. I quickly learned that if you listened, they would not stop talking.
One such uninvited visitor would wear out his welcome at a reporter's desk, then go to another to repeat his claim that the U.S. government had no real authority to print money, so the bills in our wallets were worthless.
Those were the days. Now, bulletproof glass usually separates police desk officers from the citizenry in the lobby. And many newsrooms today are off-limits to drop-in company. Only authorized visitors get buzzed in.
But auto dealerships, by the nature of their business, remain very open places. Dealers want lots of showroom-floor traffic. Of course, what they want are customers, not people who come in to complain the CIA is tailing them.
It's not that dealerships are overrun with maladjusted types, but they show up now and then, apparently sometimes in batches. On a social-network website for dealership personnel, a saleswoman asks, “Is it just my store, or is everyone experiencing an abnormal number of weirdos today?”
She goes on to describe her visitors' list.
“We've had two separate sets of drunks, a woman with a small, very odd-looking creature attached to her…(and) a kid asking us for a trade value,” evidently on a bike.
“Will someone pass me a beer, please?” she says. Well, one of those drunks might have helped her out.
On the same online discussion forum, a finance and insurance manager asks, “At what point is a customer too crazy/unstable to deliver a vehicle to?”
That question draws some anecdotes from dealership employees.
One of them tells of working next to a Maryland mental hospital in the 1970s. He got to know a patient, Stanley, who “always wore a tin-foil hat to keep out the cosmic rays and most days had a length of wire as a tie.”
One day, Stanley pulled up in a new Ford. Apparently, he was well-off and had a grocery bag full of money hidden at the hospital. He used the stash to buy the car. Five days later, the dealership took it back after hospital officials complained Stanley was in no condition to buy, let alone drive, a car.
Stanley swore he'd get even with hospital staffers by building his own rocket ship, claiming they'd sure be sorry when he blasted off.
Sometimes, dealerships dig in and invoke a no-returns policy, despite beefs that they sold a vehicle to an unfit person.
For instance, an F&I guy posted his recollection of a 30-year-old man who bought a $45,000 Dodge diesel pickup. His father called the dealership the next day, demanding to know why the heck it sold that truck to his son.
“Because he wanted it and paid for it,” was the response.
The father said the son just got out of rehab. The dealership claimed that alone did not preclude someone from buying a vehicle. (Ask Lindsay Lohan.) Did the father have a court order attesting to his son's alleged mental incompetence? No.
So the dealership refused to take the car back. But it did learn that it's a crazy business at times.
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