Monday, April 24, 2006

Plight of the poor #001: crappy cars

My next door neighbor, Frieda Sanford, had to get her car towed home today. It wouldn't start wherever she parked it last.

Frieda goes through cars like Oprah goes through baked hams. It seems like Frieda has a different car every 4-6 months. I've been driving for 19 years and I'm on my 4th car, and one of those came through marriage.

Like all people, Frieda drives only what she can afford. And she can only afford cars that have been through 2 or 3 previous owners. When her car starts giving her trouble and her boys (The Tiger & The Bulldog) or boyfriend (Manuel) can't fix it, she goes to one of these used car joints and trades it in. These places charge low monthly payments and high interest for a car that could have been bought outright for $1500-$2000.

Except this time she actually bought this car outright from an individual. Her previous car was a '98 Buick which was the best car she ever owned. But a relative did the math on her payments and realized she was paying over $7000 for that car. This made her feel like she was getting ripped off. So she took the Buick back and bought a car with a "for sale" sign in a parking lot on Mockingbird Ln.

But the Buick never gave her problems.

In everything she buys, Frieda always goes cheap. Regardless of how long or little something lasts, she always buys the product with the smaller price.

Most of the poor doesn't understand the concept of "you get what you pay for".

But then again, they can only afford the worst. So maybe they do.


jason said...

That's the truth. My friend was bragging about how cheap he got a pair of used running shoes. I was thinking, "But they've only got about ten miles left." I thought it was my Christian duty to convince him of the importance of getting what you pay for. Then, a couple of months ago I realized, "We're in different economic classes."

Like you said, "We both get what we pay for, it's just that I can afford more." Things get really disturbing when I try and consider why I can afford more.

Mike Exum said...




My little friend Stella decided she wants to go back to school at 60 years old and get the nursing degree she gave up on when babies started coming so long ago. The school she wants to go to (in large part because it is so cheap (and thus substandard as a nursing school as I hear it)) is 20 miles away in a neighboring town. So she and her daughter went car shopping together.

They bought a late 90's model Buick. A really great looking car. I was stunned. I really could not believe that Stella could pull off such a deal. Her car "looked" nicer than mine. Her friend Alma was always trying to keep her eye sore heap rolling, but Stella was styling. I rejoiced with her.

But then a couple of months later, I knocked on Stellas door one night and she did not answer. It was all dark inside. I went next door to Alma's and asked if she had seen Stella. She said, "Oh yeah. She's in there. You gotta holler and tell her who you are out on the porch. She is hiding from her creditors."

At the time, Stella's daughter had the car at her place. But Stella was about to lose her rented furniture. Alma's husband told me about Stella's loan. She had actually cobbled together a $2000 down payment. A real surprise for a crippled woman on welfare. But that down payment should have covered the value of the car, because as it turns out, it had failed to pass inspection a month after it was purchased. It needed brakes and tires. Plus, there is concern that the dealer had reposessed it before selling it again to Stella. He was getting ready to repo it again. She had strapped herself down to $300/mo pmts. This guy was going to make $7000 on this car if she was successful in paying it off, and probably more if she was not. Afterall, he could now sell a car with brakes and tires to the next sucker.

I was enraged. And, as it turns out, Stella's rented furniture, another criminal enterprise, was eventually repo'd. She and the daughter have managed to hang on to the car. But as it turns out, due to family manipulation, the daughter almost always has the car. Stella is not really any closer to realizing her dream of school.

Here is my thought, though I have yet to convince anyone else. Stella actually became a member at the church where I go shortly after I met her. Several in that church have helped her financially, especially because she has taken in a street urchin whose mother did not want him (an absolutely adorable little four yearold boy).

When the furniture was gone, I put out the word and some of us restocked her house with decent furnishings, though it remains in further need.

But back to my thought, I saw a few months ago in the news where a group of black muslim men in NY were upset about a particular liquor store in the neighborhood that was contributing heavily to the drunkeness and all-around debauchery of their local youth. So they took up clubs in hand and paid the shop a visit. They all went to jail for smashing up the place, but they actually had a legitimate moral argument that made prosecution tricky.

Now I am not muslim, nor am I inclined toward violence, but I think a group of Stella's brothers from church should pay her car dealer a visit. I imagine 6 or 8 brothers, big men preferably, going down to the lot to "shop" for a car. I imagine the dealer and his staff wetting themselves like excited puppies at the sight. Then a spokesman for Stella among the men ask the dealer, about her loan.

He could stress that the value of the car has already been covered in the down pmt. He could discuss how that among the men with him, not to mention the men from the church who did not come, some are doctors, some lawyers, many others business men from around town. If the dealer was to release Stella from further obligation, that would really bode well for the dealer's reputation. But as her bro's we are concerned that she not be mistreated.

Shoot, these men could go so far as to invite the dealer to become one of Stella's big bro's.

This is the business of the church. The Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. It is church v. empire here. But, as is often pointed out, on this blog among others, quickening the church to do its job, is often more easily said than done. Alas, such is the case here. However, I relate this long comment both to show that I get it and to spark the imagination.

Thanks for shining a light on this dark imperial practice. Keep up the good work, B.

Many blessings... & adios.

Darius said...

It ain't a pretty picture, that's for sure...

Agent B said...

X -

I definately think it's the church's job to defend elderly women who have no other defense (is she a widow?).

I'd be happy to join a vigilante group that defended the defenseless, especially women who are taken advantage of in the market place.

Of course...a peaceful vigilante, by all means.

Or a sack of door knobs would work. (big sarcastic winky face here)

miller said...

He could discuss how that among the men with him, not to mention the men from the church who did not come, some are doctors, some lawyers, many others business men from around town.

why didn't these brothers just buy a $2000 car from a reputable dealer the first time?

that seems like a more Christ like way to do things...

Mike Exum said...


Stella's no widow, but she was a single mother and now grandmother. She is on disability and lives in governmental low income housing. She is a good friend.

And as for her bro's, they do many things to help take care of her, but the scenario I imagine is just too great a stretch for them at this juncture.

And of course, I like you am for the nonviolent approach, but with a heavy authoritative tone to be sure. I think my imagined scenario is a little too heavy for some.

More laters....

miller said...

I think my imagined scenario is a little too heavy for some.

hey, i'm all about kickin' ass and takin' names... i just think the "bro's" may need to be the first target! i mean why do we expect a guy from the dog-eat-dog to act right when the "bro's" who "have" are more worried about their cable and their wireless than the "widows"...

yeah, there's some ass kickin' needs to happen alright...

Mike Exum said...


I disagree. Stella's taken enough ass kickin'. I say the ass kickin' needs to stop. And the bro's and the dealer need to do some cross carrying. Jesus is the answer, not Rambo.

Thanks for the input.


miller said...


"Now I am not muslim, nor am I inclined toward violence, but I think a group of Stella's brothers from church should pay her car dealer a visit."

i can't find anything about a cross there.

can you?

maybe what happened is we both used language stronger than we really meant...

Mike Exum said...


Maybe. But then my comment is only ambivalent at most. Because paying the dealer a visit is not necessarily devoid of cross bearing. In fact, it is highly likely, unless the bro's decide to bring clubs - proverbial or otherwise.

It could well be that the bro's should offer to pay the loan themselves. However, I am also inclined to think that other options are open at that point that might be more fitting. After all, even the most famous cross bearer on occasion saw fit to chew out the Pharisees and even call them vipers etc. That still was not an "ass kickin'" and that basically is where I had a difference with you.

You have made a good challenge though. And I appreciate it. After all, I am a red-blooded American male with unholy itches for females and fightin' from time to time. But that is not the character I strive for, and so I am always having to rethink myself.


miller said...


this has been about the most frustrating conversation i've had in a long time.

you suggest what i interpreted as strong arm tactics.

i come back with the cross.

you say i can't handle your suggestion... implying i'm a wimp.

well i get my back up and run to the Jesus in the temple with a braided whip tactic... where he used it on the "religious" people not the people of the world.

then you come back with "you just need to be more like Jesus".

what gives?

are you just jackin' with me? if you are, quit!

the truth is that if the "bros" had taken care of their responsibilities to begin with this would not even be an issue. don't talk to me about makin' the worldly do right when the "bros" aren't interested in doin' right!

now, rant over!

i think i know your heart because i know Agent B's heart... i think we'd probably see things very much the same... i don't want to fight with you or anyone else...

but i'm not willing to just take my ball and go home. i prefer resolution even if its hard to come to.

help me understand.


Mike Exum said...


I guess I don't know what to say. I had not realized this was a frustrating conversation. (That part I now get (I think)). However, the rest, I don't think I get anymore if I ever did.

As for "jackin'" with you... no, I am not. Never have. I have taken you quite seriously. However, you seem to be quoting me, but I cannot find where I said some of the things you say I said.

I thought you challenged me. I thought you took my imagined scenario to depict the bro's going to rough the dealer up a bit. That is certainly not the picture I intended though I do see it as a "man's job" in that traditionally brothers stick up for sisters when it comes to cars and repairs. However, if the sis's want to do it, that actually might be better. However that is really chasing the "sexist bunny" and I don't think you raised an issue with that.

Really, me, I do not know how to respond to you at this point. I apologize for being so difficult. It was not my intention. I fear that if you are so frustrated, any response from me that is either not to you liking or is misunderstanding the issue at hand (which is my problem at this point) would only escalate your frustration. I don't see much point in that.

You say you are "not willing to take your ball and go home." That is cool. I prefer resolution too, but I really don't know how.
But as you said you think you know my heart, that is a jesture of charity that will be necessary on both our parts in order to find the resolution. Because, again, I am really failing to see where the breakdown is happening. And I am not understanding you clearly.

All that disclaimer said, let me try...

Going back to your first comment on this post. You quoted a bit from my comment. (so far so good) However, the remark you made after the quote, I do not understand. I presumed it was not addressed to me upon the first reading, even though it quoted me, because it did not say it was addressed to me. In that remark you say "why didn't the bro's buy a $2000 car from a reputable dealer the first time?" Two things... 1) The bro's were not shopping for a car at any point. I do not understand why you suggest it. That was Stella. She and her daughter went out and bought a car having never consulted with the bro's or me or anyone I know of. She just did it. And she got took by the dealer. 2) What do you mean by the first time? Only one car was ever purchased. There was not a first or second or more times. I did not respond to you there because it did not make sense to me, and I wondered if you were just someone passing through making aimless remarks. I just really did not care.

However, I responded to B, and then you quoted me again. This time with the "ass kickin'" comment. Upon a more thorough examination of that comment now than I gave it the first time, I see that you were saying the bro's needed the ass kicking. I do not understand why they need it, but I see that you are suggesting that. Earlier, when I read that comment, I presumed, wrongly, that you meant the bro's should do the ass kicking. Perhaps I was blending B's remark with yours and not seeing the difference there. Eitherway, I am not in favor of kicking anyone's ass. I might feel inclined that way sometimes, but that is not the type of person I strive to be (as I said in the more recent comment). The bro's are deficient in serving Stella because they did not go speak to the dealer on her behalf. But that is an unfair statement I am making just now because we have not heard a defense from them. Actually, if we bro's all put our heads together, there might be an entirely different and far more appropriate response to Stella's situation than I have imagined in my scenario. But, as far as I am concerned, the prima facie evidence suggests that they have let her down for not going to the dealer on her behalf. As Christians, I do not think they should strong arm the dealer, but they do have a powerful moral authority that needs to be excercised. I figure that some of the bro's share the role of business man with the dealer in this community. They can speak an effective business language to the dealer about ethics, finances, and his reputation around town. However, they might also invite the dealer to be a bro too. That would be the ultimate. Still, the dealer might (probably would) resist any of their actions. Then, the bro's might offer to pay the loan for her, or at least get the dealer to let her out of it. If they pay the loan on her behalf, that would be very cross bearing, in this instance, and was my half my point in my most recent comment to you.

Of cours, in my latest comment, I allowed that there are times when even Jesus cracked the whip. I made no prescription for that here, but allowed that there are times when that might be appropriate. I did not pursue what that would look like; I just stated the notion in the abstract and left it thus put. I also said that if such a course were pursued, the bro's would not thereby be avoiding the cross they may also be called to bear.

I also stated in that comment that my difference with you had come over the ass kicking comment. I am not sure that you and I have any other differences except there. And, as I pointed out in this comment, I originally had taken you to mean that the bro's should do the ass kicking. I now, to be reduntant, realize that you were suggesting that the bro's needed their asses kicked. However, I am disagreeing with that too.

Actually, the bro's, where I go to church, are learning to reach out to the poor all the time. We actually are making progress along the learning curve at Vandelia. We are not all supermen in that regard, but most of us make some substancial sacrifices as the church as a whole is taking on a new character and moving in this direction. My comment about how my imagined scenario is too heavy for them, is suggesting that they have not stretched into that kind of thinking. One of the biggest problems at Vandelia is that few are willing to take a stand where the going gets tough. Our leaders are very willing to bless about any ministry that comes along, but they are slow to fight for them sometimes. This has a bright side and a dark side. And the sides are somewhat reversed from traditional c's of C. However, we have a youth minister who has moved his residence into the neighborhood where we minister, and a couple other members have as well. Our Wed night service feeds hungry people staffed by over worked volunteers. Our classrooms are bursting with tough kids from the "wrong side of the tracks", and we literally have more people for this Wed nite shindig than for Sunday morn worship.

This is just a taste of my apologetic on Vandelia. There is vast room for more growth there, but we are moving into that room. I do not think kicking the asses of those who are redefining their church, their service, their community, and their own christian lives is the answer. So, I quibble with the ass kicking part. That is the point of departure, it seems to me. But then I am having trouble understanding you clearly, so I could be wrong on that point.

As for the part where you express that you are frustrated with me, particularly where I "implied [you are] a wimp", far from it. That statement does not even compute with me. I never meant to imply such. I am bold enough to tell you flat if I meant to, and I did not, so I hope that demonstrates that I didn't.

As for coming back at you with "you need to be more like Jesus" those are not my words. Not my sentiment either. I never made any efforts to tell you how to behave or live or whatever. I only spoke for myself, and pointed out where I thought we were differing. I certainly never prescribed behavior for you.

Well, this is a book now. Far more than I care to write. I am at work, using company time and trying to do this amid massive interuptions. I am not sure this will settle a thing. But you did express charity to me amid your frustration. I want to run with that. I am expressing it to you as well. I have no need to "win" an argument here. I have simply tried to state things as I see them. Do with that as you see fit.

I also, now upon realizing the frustration, am explaining myself at length in hopes that we find the resolution you suggested. However, if you don't see resolution in this comment, please do not expect me to try to explain more. This is too long and complicated in my mind, I cannot imagine how it makes sense in the words I have tried to put it in.

Many blessings....

miller said...

resolution achieved...

thank you for your efforts and your patience!

the problem here was not so much with you as i believe it was with me.

the first miscommunication i want to correct is the "ass kickin'" comment... i do not want to be violent or suggest others should be violent, but i'm a freakin' redneck and my old flesh isn't dead yet so when i get my back up all that language comes out. sorry for that.

all i ever wanted to communicate (and absolutely managed to avoid) was that if there is to be a power play, a good place to start is in relationships that communicate need before the attempt to fill the need leads to disaster. a sis in need should never have to go to a low class dealer for wheels... however, when one slips through the cracks, the power play should not be to straighten out the worldly but to model Jesus (in this case perhaps paying off the note).

when i said there needed an ass kickin' and it should probably be the bros gettin' it... i really did assume we all would understand the metaphorical nature of the comment (again, wrong of me). what i was trying to say is that the power play needs to be takin' place in the transformation of our minds.

mike, you went beyond the call of duty on this one...

and i thank you for it!


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