Wednesday, June 11, 2014



This whole odyssey of looking for a new truck started two weeks ago. Before that, we were a couple watching our 25 year old (1989) Toyota truck come to its end. Regular road-use end; we still have plans in the woods for the old warrior. We bought the original truck, our 4 year old son Carson with us, from the Keene, New Hampshire Toyota dealership, and we kept it as a loyal family companion all these years. Truck grew old, marriage grew with it, and now we're 40 years married together and an easy enough reason to call the new truck purchase we want a "40 year wedding anniversary.” So be it.

We start the hunt for a new truck. Knowing little about what is currently out there.

We haven't bought anything new in the vehicle department for 25 years. We've been driving hand-me-downs all that time around the ’89 truck, beaters to get in out of town, but when driving a long distance we've rented a vehicle for an excursion. While the Toyota pickup has aged, and its capability to serve for a long secure drive lessened, we've picked up the rentals and have had a short string of mechanics dealing with the beaters, but this has now grown old. We've lost the mom & pops rental agencies that made renting a kick and a blast and cheap enough to do, and we've likewise lost the faithful old-timer mechanic with a bell on his door when we walk in. The mechanic who was there to work when he said he would be. We're facing a changed world of fly-by-nights, shady mechanics, wheeler-dealers, and suddenly everyone thinks they are worth $90 an hour. Let's take the 40 year anniversary impetus and get rid of the rental agency hustle, and dump the shady mechanics into one oil drum, buy a new truck and try to get back to a world done right. It's possible. Plus we've been saving all those 25 years since we bought the ’89 Toyota for a new vehicle.  No loan, no lease, no borrowing, clean.

We start off, knowing very little, by looking at a Ford F-150, used, cheap, but we can see it's falling apart, rotting at the seams. It only has 50,000 miles on it, 2003, suspicious already with those numbers not quite adding up, body tumbling, shiny on the outside/rotting on the inside, and the dealership is talking about having it mended and undercoated for us overnight. A nightmare. We run away.

Across the street another dealership is selling one of the notorious Toyota pickups with the suspect frames, same time period as the F-150. 2005. Very high mileage. Susan takes a look while she is in town but I'm not interested.

One or two days at this rigamarole, and there was other tomfoolery but I'll spare you, we head back to the Toyota dealership where we bought our ’89 Toyota in Keene, New Hampshire. The dealership has since moved up the road, been expanded immeasurably (the corporation also owns Honda and Subaru dealerships) and it looks very solid. We've lost some of the key elements at the dealership we once knew and we're fond of, like the foreman in the mechanic crew — a good guy we met during a dicey situation with the '89 truck out of his work crew and he handled it beautifully and professionally. We had taken the truck over for service work and it was picked up by Susan with an unknown at the time gas leak. The other work was accomplished fine but the gas leak was undetected, and there was the long drive home to Vermont from the dealership for Susan, through road work, machinery, sparks etc., with this unknown gas leak. By the time she returned home, now with a migraine from the gas fumes, we noted the leak, the danger, called the dealership and met Mike Bresnahan, the best kind of fellow you'd want to meet in this sort of scrape. He drove all the way over from the dealership personally that day and we figured things through. He admitted the mistake was from his end, and he did his best to square up with us both the economics and our future with Toyota. He had the good sense to know there was a future to maintain. This attitude and solid character is precisely what we search for in a relationship, any relationship. It comes before money or any salesmanship; it's the backbone of a reputable company. Any reputable country. Any reputable individual.

So now Mike has retired, or at least retired from Toyota and moved northward to a new location, and in fact it’s his dream spot and new home and from what I hear he's still got his hand in with servicing vehicles up where he lives. I'm happy for him. He used to share with us his plan to one day retire to this location with his family and maybe it's happened for him. I like hearing he's still helping people with vehicles because he's very good at it. At his old location in Keene Toyota, where we are now returning to, I only hear good things about Mike.  From the sales folks to mechanics. We're about to meet the sales folk and mechanics, and there's one of the original mechanics there from 30 years ago and he remembers us and plans to take care of things. You'll see.

So with the prospects for a used F-150 out of the way, we're quickly moving aside a used Toyota pickup because of the so-so body frame, and despite the steep price to the new trucks, it's starting to look like the direction to move in. We've now been at this a few days. We have visited a half-dozen dealerships with new and used vehicles, our eyes pinpointing more and more at Toyota. There happens to be an employee at Keene Toyota by the name of George Thompson whose phone number we’ve stumbled upon, and lucky us, because George takes the time to introduce us to Fenton Auto Sales with the care of hand-shaping pottery — he doesn’t have to, nobody has to, but he does. We're getting around in our 2001 Subaru Forester. When we get to the dealership our car is the crummiest one in the parking lot. Kind of funny. Kind of dawning on us.

We've stretched our wings now from Northampton, MA Toyota, up to Greenfield, MA (like night and day as far as the management: you get slick in Northampton and a little more down-home in Greenfield), we also receive a general manager on the floor of Northampton you want to avoid. He may be making the sales and numbers for the bosses, but he's horrendous with the public. We haven't met the hidden away manager in Greenfield yet, but we’ve met Mike Dubour, a salesman. He's been there 25 years. Easy going with all the get-up-and-go of walking that extra mile with you, he's eager to find us what we want. We like him and his energy, but we're still fumbling through the roster of Toyota trucks: do we want the access cab, regular cab, or now the 4-door; how about the off-road, definitely not the Tundra: it would never fit down the alley way woods roads we chopped out 40 years at home in our woodlot fit for the smaller '89 Toyota pickup and the Willys jeep we used to draw wood and haul fieldstone for our work. Toyota is thundered with "packages,” so there's lots to learn. We fuddle now between dealerships and the two best, by far, are Greenfield Toyota (MA) and Keene Toyota (NH).  Keene is where we bought the '89. Its scope and rise has been a large success over the years since we've been away. Both dealerships worked on our '89 pickup truck, but the truck was mainly worked on at Keene. On a cool late May day we happened to wander back over there and just happened to buy a 2014 FJ Cruiser. Don't ask me how, except I used to pull wood out with all sorts of jeeps and Land Cruisers in the 60s & 70s, always loved jeeps, owned and worked for years the '57 Willys (now rotting away in a corner of the dooryard back at home), liked very much the look of this new one; the model was about to be discontinued by Toyota (more of our fate — what we seem to like, goes away) and we weren't leaving the dealership without it. Bought it.

It can be done. In a few long days of research and doing our homework.

It also helps a great deal to personally get to know the staff at the dealership. At Keene Toyota this is possible. We knew no one when we arrived — two days later when we leave we know — let's count it up: at least four sales people, cashier, mechanic bunch, business manager or two, and as soon as you walk in the door at the dealership there's a fellow who knows to greet you having watched you paw around out in the warm sun parking lot for over an hour and he wonders if you'd both like a cold bottle of water? He'll get the bottled water for you.

We'll spend six hours one day looking for our truck and this outfit will make sure during this time it is indeed special. This is plain fact. Look around at the other salesmen's desks, it's busy, other couples are also being treated sort of special. In the long run this is better than money. Even better, it stretches straight back into the large garage where mechanics are tooling away. It's Mike Cushman who you look for back there, 30 year veteran, New Hampshire boy, he takes our new vehicle and treats it with kid gloves. You can't even believe the shady mechanics you've met and tolerated in your past. They all disappear right before your eyes when you're with Mike.

If you think this is a sales pitch, I feel sorry for you. I'm a stonemason in the woods who cares next to nothing about automotive mechanics. But I know stone and stone is like a Land Cruiser is like a good and knowledgeable mechanic is like a business staff that can communicate and move some parts of the whole mechanism for you is like a success story. End of story.

We need a second vehicle, but we're loyal, and we'd like to give Greenfield Toyota the business if we can. Mike, the salesman we first met at the start of our journey a week earlier is there, and we started off with Mike after a dreadful visit with Lia Toyota in Northampton. Keene is ideal but their trucks are priced a little too steep for the second vehicle and Mike seems to think he can muster our plans for us. What Susan likes about him — and it's always important what Susan (or any companion) likes — is when she talks to Mike over the phone seeking a vehicle, Mike is already surveying the Internet and Toyota inventories, the possible draw from dealer swaps, digging and rooting out what he can while he talks with us and gradually moves dreams into ideas and plans. Keene will do this for you with their eyes closed, too; it's just we were stuck loyal to New Hampshire for the first vehicle and we wouldn't leave them until we had it, and we feel the same about Mike. Otherwise, it's a putrid, sorry business and nobody's having fun. That "sorry" part is about to meet us in Greenfield, hang on.

So Mike swiftly finds the vehicle we’re after from a Berkshire hills dealership, where I was born and raised, so we like this good omen. We drive down to Greenfield immediately to have a look at the truck. It has 44 miles on it. Our New Hampshire purchase had 73 miles. You can't get much more 'brand new' for a wedding anniversary gift. We begin to talk with Mike over price and options and we end up with a very fair price. It all looks sealed and now he has to take the figure to the business office, the dreaded business office, where knuckles are cracked. We wait.

Out comes the manager from the business office. We meet and greet and then start to crunch numbers and comparisons from other dealerships. This fellow wants to at first please. Whatever magic has been performed by Keene Toyota with our first vehicle package (remember Toyota's packages and dealership packages: it's where they make their bread & butter), this fellow would like to match . . . he can't quite, but he comes close . . . add in Mike's hard work and hustle, plus dedication to us, and we agree to purchase the vehicle. Susan has a lifetime of employment as a secretary and book-keeping experience and is keeping extensive notes. What anyone is saying, Susan is writing down. I'm listening to everyone from the ground up. We tell Mike we're very close on a decision but we first want to head south and climb Sugarloaf Mountain where we think the best when in this region and we'll be back before closing time for the truck. We leave a deposit with Mike, and he's probably wondering what in the hell it is about this mountain.

In less than two hours we're back; we've also managed to fit in some grocery shopping. Susan hasn't said anything to me but she's already feeling something is growing ominous. I'm feeling all is moving ahead. Probably because I asked Mike about the possibility of finding a welder in his garage and he took the time to take me out to meet Andy, one of the mechanics, and like Mike Cushman back in Keene Toyota, Andy's a good guy. Ready to talk. Ready to help. You see I'm still working on a chance to get my '89 Toyota pickup back in shape with a welded rear frame. Not for road inspection. Just to keep as a firewood and stone hauler in the woodlot at home. Maybe Andy can assist us from where he is and where my truck is stuck (water pump and clutch are momentarily shot), so we put our heads together, he’s helpful, and blocks the short conversation up with good advice. Has it stuck in anybody's head yet that this good attitude and grace is better than money? The guys that do it, know it is. I want to believe the corporate owners at Greenfield and Keene know its value.

Unfortunately, the business manager at Greenfield doesn't get it. Here's the scenario:

We've worked some days with Mike on a vehicle purchase. He's basically been patient with two novices learning the ropes of Toyota's new products. He's listened to our silly, but sincere plan, for a wedding anniversary vehicle gift. He's taken seriously our finances and figures. We thought we had everything ironed out with the business manager and according to Mike, we have. Deposit left. Mountain climbed. Groceries in the back of our old Subaru. We've returned obediently a half hour before closing time to mint the deal and write the final check. Now watch this part people: the business manager shows up and changes his tune. In his bravado to chase and meet the terrific warranty from Keene Toyota, in our earlier meeting when he agreed to an 8 year/125,000 warranty "bumper to bumper" extended package from Toyota, which almost equals what Keene has offered, in the very last minute — the difference of $180.00 — this guy is actually ready to stop the sale if we don't agree to an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty package. Even his dealership brochure shows "8 year/125,000 mile" warranty and he's quibbling over $180.00. In Susan's notes she had written down when the business manager spoke of the "8 year/125,000". I heard him say this.  He quickly admitted he did say these figures but didn't mean to! Not seeming to understand that EVERYTHING everyone is saying are facts toward a solution. A purchase. A sale. We go home with the truck, they keep the bags of gold. The world goes round.

Then he makes a bigger mistake by saying, "I'm not lying and I'm not saying you're lying."

Lying? Who's talking about lying?

I correct this mendacious comment and remind the man "lying" is never a word one brings up in conversation with any customer, or any transaction. What we have here is a misunderstanding. I'm also starting to register the ominous and creepy crawly prospects (what Susan sensed) of a professional actually wanting to railroad a perfectly fine transaction (Mike's in the background listening with his sorry head dropped down) either because he thinks we got too good of a deal, or else he has personal prejudice with the likes of us: two people wanting to buy a new vehicle from Greenfield Toyota. I'd actually like to have the owner of the company sitting with us right about now listening to this all going down. All over a mere $180.00. I mostso would like the owner there when the business manager finally gets frustrated and says, "I don't think I want to sell you the truck."  And then he forecasts and projects even further, “I don’t think you will be happy with anything.”

He doesn't think he wants to sell us the truck?
I can't imagine why not, unless he's troubled, because we're about to write a pretty big check. Imagine days of work by Mike, Bob and Susan. A swap taking place by Mike who had the truck driven over the hill & dale of the Mohawk Trail, in the rain, to his dealership. Our money is good and the deposit is down. We had Greenfield Toyota install a new clutch into our '89 pickup years ago; we have a solid record of maintenance with this dealership. A logger buddy just bought a new Toyota pickup this spring, and I asked him who he dealt with: Mike. I took Mike's name. Other neighbors have their new Toyota pickup serviced in Greenfield, they like the place. The word of mouth is rampant and friendly. The only person not friendly is the business manager, who for some unexplained and last minute psychotic reason doesn't want to now sell us the truck. And he feels we won’t be happy about anything. We’re the very same people who have been working the last two weeks with many people, at two different dealerships, on landing two vehicles and have already written the check for this second one. What’s happy got to do with it? We walked in happy! The clock is inching up to closing time. Friday. If you're the owner of this establishment, keep reading because this is what is going on.

The business manager now decides to stand up and walk away; he leaves us, abandons our prospects on this note. Nice huh? I want this vehicle for my wife and she's sitting beside me sick to her stomach watching and listening to this guy. I don't want to get Mike in trouble but I have to believe he doesn't know what in the hell is going on either. I'm not moving but I'm also not watching a lot of hard work and negotiation that was fair and honest get shot to ribbons by an arrogant individual. Mike's going to lose this sale because a business manager can't live up to his word on an "8 year/125,000 mile warranty package" that we've accepted, paid for in full, on this man's decision two hours earlier? I'm supposed to leave without the truck I bought for my wife as a gift? It's come to this?

No, what it’s come to is this — it has nothing at all to do with money or miles. We’ll never drive 125,000 miles in 8 years. Not happening. Our 1989 Toyota has 192,000 miles on it and the oil still looks like grade B maple syrup dripping off the dip stick. It’s never been black. It doesn’t matter that the water pump and clutch are shot, the truck is still very much alive. We’re loyal to the truck. Hell, we’re still loyal to the guy we bought it from 25 years ago and 12 years after that he was out of sales and we ran into him at a photocopy shop making small posters for his current yoga teaching class. Life is bigger than any money, although money is going to buy this new truck, and so is a bright and fraternal attitude from a business manager and an entire business department.

If you’re at Keene Toyota right about now peering in to this fiasco you’re saying to Bob & Susan: “We told you guys to stick with us.” We know, we know. But we have trouble with loyalty and Mike’s been very good at trying to drum up this truck, so we stuck by him and took our licks. Learned the hard way. We stuck with Keene and will stick there again.

55 years ago I met a gentleman by the name of Sweeney who was a colleague of my grandfather and father, both lumbermen in the Berkshires, and all the lumber company's trucks were Fords and Chevys. Sweeney was their insurance man and banker, and he may have been related to the Sweeney who once owned and operated Sweeney Ford where this Toyota dealership is now located in Greenfield. There's some hollowed ground here. A handshake was a handshake. Not only does this business manager think he has the power to "not sell [us] the truck" in the last minute, he walks away! And by the way, please keep note, he never clarified or apologized for these punk, rude acts.

In the closing minutes of a work day we hung with Mike at his desk and we're left to piece together a selfishly busted apart puzzle. What a rotten spot to leave any customer in.

And, a second “by-the-way” — and curiously — tell me that the unfinished and large plastic and tarpaulin blowing haunted half-built new garage, left dormant at Greenfield Toyota, isn't a symbolic showcase for a dealership that could do better? This is why we're throwing our very small shoulder into the company's direction. It's positive. They’re right down the road from us as the crow flies. We say, help out the little guy and all that. Our salesman is one of the good guys working with care; the mechanics we've met are on the up & up; so what's happening in the spooky middle ground with management?

My wife and I don't at all appreciate the bum's rush and outright personal assault by a business manager who left us high and dry, twisting on a rope, and then — just as mysteriously, and arrogantly — changed his mind and went ahead and approved our sale like it’s all been a personal whim. A game. This is sadistic stuff. Unprofessional by a mile. Way too easy to read.

I advise the business manager to take a page out of Steve Hill’s sound managerial book over in Keene. You’re all “Toyota” — learn from one another why don’t you!

As my wife said on the ride home with the truck — thanks to us holding our ground for fairness — while at Keene Toyota you get for the time you're there to buy a vehicle, and you damn well get your vehicle, it's a magic carpet ride. At Greenfield Toyota, it's a jail break.

It's a shame. But thanks, Mike, Andy at Greenfield Toyota. Thank you all at Keene Toyota.

Bob Arnold
7 July 2014