Sunday, August 06, 2006

Please Tread on Me (Seeing America one garage at a time)

There were a lot of things I should have been doing this Sunday, but I needed to go see my mother and also my daughter was determined to get a treadmill for herself.  She even offered to use her own money, earned from working on weekends and over the summer at the local ice cream parlor.  In my town, the ice cream is hand-packed and sells for four dollars a cone.  With the help of, we found that used exercise equipment sells for less in my mother’s town than it does where we live, maybe because everyone’s buying expensive ice cream here instead.   I used the occasion to talk my daughter into going with me to see her grandparents and hunting for the best available deal in exercise equipment.

For most of the last eighteen months, my daughter hasn't talked to me much which I’ve been hoping has more to do with the mysteries of adolescence than the realities of our relationship.  With the older one, we got our alone time when I drove her to volleyball tournaments since the younger one was a baby at the time.  Now that the youngest one is the only kid in the house, the tournaments have been a whole-family event for us so we haven’t carved out as much alone time together.  

The first treadmill was about seven miles from our own house.  Earlier in the morning, we had surfed the net looking for recommendations on buying treadmills.  The simple advice was “If you’re serious, don’t buy anything that was less than two thousand dollars new.”  

We wanted to spend no more than three hundred dollars.  The consumer reports website also strongly suggested not buying used treadmills from gyms or from anyone that had had them for longer than a year or two.  Not surprisingly, hardly anyone sells any two year old item that cost two thousand dollars new for less than three hundred dollars unless it’s either a stock IPO or a boxed set of CD’s by American Idol artists.  
In any case, we thought we’d check out a “home-use” treadmill that was on the older side of the Consumer Reports recommendations simply because the guy was asking two hundred dollars and lived so close to us.

As we prepared to knock on the door there, my daughter and I started talking about the ideal seller, from our perspective, of a used treadmill.  The simple answer was that we wanted someone who was a bit on the flabby side, but not so heavy that he or she might have bent the rollers or stressed the motor. A man appeared who looked to be the first cousin of the guy in “Office Space” who obsesses over the stapler (which is also more or less what I look like these days).  I asked my questions about horsepower, roller size, the composition of the deck.  The guy responded with the purchase receipt from six years ago and his maintenance records.  He assured us that he’d never used it more than three times a week and used it for walking not running.  We believed him on the second count.  I made it clear that it was indeed my daughter who would be paying for it. The guy asked her where she went to college.  I made a lowball offer.  He said he’d see how the next two days went and get back to us.  “You have my phone number?”  He assured me that he did, but I sort of doubted it.

The second man lived in my mother’s town.  He told me that he used to own an exercise equipment store.  His duplex was a bit run down and he was carrying a baby as we talked.  The garage was filled with old exercise bikes and a “Precor”, more or less the Mercedes of exercise equipment, treadmill with meters that looked like they came from the 1990’s.  The man was very friendly and helpful and the thing was clearly built like a tank, just a tank from the last war.  It felt solid enough, but I couldn’t understand why a guy who was a dealer couldn’t tell me how old the treadmill was.  On the other hand, the motor looked both huge and very clean and the tread itself was shiny and black.  

We talked some more about Morocco, his native country.  He said, “You know, Casablanca.”  
I said “Marrakesh” and he was very happy that I knew more than one city there.  
“Well to be honest,” I told him, “I only know Marrakesh from the old song.”
“Yes, Casablanca,” he answered, “A great movie.”
I didn’t bother to correct him.  I was afraid if we started talking Crosby, Stills, and Nash that he might think that I’d really come to buy something other than exercise equipment.

My daughter said nothing as she watched us talk around the question of whether I was interested enough to make an offer. When I was a teenager, my dad used to like to take me along when he had to go buy supplies for the restaurant.  He was a master of the “have a friendly conversation” while really talking business.  “You build a relationship even a friendship and then you talk prices, they want to do business with you once they start thinking that you’re coming back,” my dad would explain.

I never got it down, my dad used to always know a little something personal about each of his suppliers.  In one warehouse, he might be talking about the Giants.  In the back of a storefront, he’d talk about someone’s relatives who were still in the old country.  Another visit, he’d be bringing the guy behind the cage a cigar to try out or even appetizers from the restaurant.  I’d forgotten how adept my dad was at bargaining in the pre-craig’s list world.  

Back in the car, once again, my daughter and I talked about the fact that we’d made two appointments to see treadmills in my mother’s town and how that meant the first guy would have had to have presented us with an irresistible bargain before we’d give up the chance to check out the last deal.  She pointed out that the man’s exercise store couldn’t have been too successful given his house, but also mentioned that he must have needed the money for his baby.  

The last stop was a giant, very much in shape, ex-Marine with two small babies.  He offered us something to drink, explained that he was the second owner but that neither he  nor the original owner ever used the thing much.  Unlike the other treadmills we’d looked at earlier in the day, this one was dead quiet and smooth.  We made an offer, he rebuffed it.  I asked my daughter what she thought and she shrugged and said it didn’t make much difference.  I started to write a check, he wanted cash, we had to drive to the bank.  

I said something about his maybe getting out of the corps at the right time, he  responded by saying “Depends on how you look at these things.”  

We took the machine apart to jam it into the back of our little station wagon.  I watched from the car while my daughter withdrew the money from her own bank account.  My mother had offered to pay for the treadmill, but I said “No.”  My mom tends to be over-generous especially with her only grandchild, but I had this perverse sense that I wanted my daughter to make a major purchase with her own money.  This is the year, she’ll get her license, get her braces off, etc.  I guess I like knowing that she is in many ways more grown up than I was at the same age.

On the way home, my daughter asked me about my writing and my novel for the first time.  I asked her about the boys who had been calling the house and for the first time she answered without getting upset.  Every now and then, she would glance back at the mass of metal parts of the Pacemaster pro.  We unloaded the machine, screwed it back together, and cleared a space in the garage.  So many other things I should have been doing today, but there’s a certain pleasure in taking your kid along with you to visit the garages of complete strangers.  She kept saying, “I just need it to last two years, a year and a half really before I’ll be away at college.”  

Why do I want this particular treadmill to last forever?



At 8/07/2006 01:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went everywhere with my stepfather and we always talked about Jung and Freud and their feud and whatever he found interesting. These myriad short trips with my stepfather are certainly still a highlight of my life.

I hope you take your daughter along on all your errands as often as possible.

At 8/07/2006 08:36:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I do think one of the revolutions in parenting in the last generation is that parents spend a lot of their time watching their kids' activities (generally a good thing). There is, however, lots to be said for insisting on doing things the other way around from time to time, though this was really my daughter's activity since she was buying the treadmill for herself.

At 8/07/2006 11:01:00 AM, Blogger inkyhack said...

I'm glad you had the chance to spend an afternoon with your daughter. My daughter and I hang out all the time which I enjoy, so I can appreciate your entry. Your daughter is about two years older than mine and mine is just now starting to get into the whole teen angst thing, which concerns me.

At 8/07/2006 11:24:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Inky,
yes, sometimes you need to do things without realizing you needed to do it before you've done it. Yesterday was like that for us.

Yes, it was a bit scary to have all these strange men think that my teenaged daughter was twenty years old. (she still has braces for one thing). It makes you realize she's not a little kid anymore. On the way back, she took a break from playing her own music on her IPOD into the car stereo to ask if I wanted to listen to Harry Potter. Used to be me trying to appease her with the Harry Potter books on tape.


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