A Parable for Our Times

 

By James A. Kidney

I finally decided to buy a new car the other day.  Wow, it is a cumbersome and annoying process.  At the end, I was feeling helpless and victimized, and with no new car.

Of course, as with everyone, I first went to the two dominant car dealerships — Regal and Demos.  It was easy to get to them on Metro.  They both have huge, bright dealerships on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol.  The salesmen are very cheerful and upbeat, except if you walk out the door without buying a car.  Then you get some flak.  But the dealerships seem to promise all you would ever want in a car.

That was the promise, but not the reality.  At Regal, there were only two colors — white and green.  The green was full of special features — satellite radio and tv, and animal leather seats that eject when an accident is unavoidable, landing you with a soft cushioned pillow that envelopes your body and releases $50,000 for emergency cash.  I hear white tiger is very popular among the green car buyers.  The only special features in the white model, shared with green, are automatic door locks and heavily tinted windows, so no one can identify you or get in the car who is not wanted.

Demos had way more colors — red, brown and black, as well as white and green.  I was surprised to find that when I asked for the white model, I had to wait in line. Customers waiting for other colors were served faster, especially the green customers, who seemed better dressed than the customers for other colors.  As was the case at Regal, the green customers were given the best treatment and got the best features on their cars.  Still, when my turn in the white line came, the service was polite and welcoming, as long as I seemed willing to make a purchase.

But when I told the Demos salesman I wanted to think about it and started to leave, he called me all sorts of terrible names and suggested I probably was on drugs.  Not sure I’ll be back.

Everybody complains about the cars at Regal and Demos.  It is well-known and accepted that the Regal loses its steering ability after a year or two.  The wheels slowly fall off the Demos in about the same time period.  By law, the only recourse is to bring the car back, get a 50 percent or less refund, and pay for a new Regal or Demos.

But folks are pretty much resigned to buying a Regal or a Demos.  They are the only brands with access to the interstate highway system and roads funded with federal dollars.

As you probably know, that’s not because they are safer or better.  Instead, Regal and Demos have met government requirements that are pretty much designed to keep them in business.  Any car allowed on the interstates and federally funded highways must meet certain manufacturing standards that require unnecessarily expensive machines like those used to stamp, press and assemble the Regal and Demos.  If the Regal or Demos fail inspection, you have two years to fix them.  Other cars must be repaired immediately or scrapped.  Plus, there are minimum advertising expenses that must be met which are prohibitive to any but Regal and Demos, especially since the Monopolies were created.

Ah, the Monopolies.  I am old enough to remember when there were many communication outlets for advertising and these outlets competed for ad dollars.  But since the Internet was reduced to two sites, with lots of different URLs leading to the same two places, the cost of advertising has become prohibitive (and mostly unnecessary, since there are few competitors) for all but Demos and Regal.  The two sites, USIA (U.S. Information Agency) and Amazon, charge high prices to advertisers and customers, but in the name of cutting taxes and job creation, so it’s OK.  I think we all can agree that we all should share in supporting our country’s only news, information, entertainment and shopping sources.

Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but I decided to check out the alternative brands despite their drawbacks.  There are only a couple.  I had to grab an AmazingUber to take me way out in Fairfax County to find the dealerships, which are not on USIA Maps.  You really need to know someone who has been to one of the dealers to know where they are.  My friend, Bernie, was familiar with the routes, though he eventually bought a Demos.

These dealerships — Indie and Rad — are little more than shacks.  There were very few potential customers.  The cars are known to be sturdy.  They last for years.  They provide safety features — though no ejection seats or emergency cash.  The Indie and the Rad are designed, I was told, to actually serve your goal of getting safely and economically from place to place.  The Rad’s slogan is “We Solve Your Travel Problem Sensibly.”  Regal and Demos would not dare to have such a slogan because people would laugh.

But Rad and Indie only provide a sensible vehicle.  They can’t attract many buyers because of all the rules erected around access to the interstates and federally funded roads.  Rad and Indie drivers are pretty much stuck having to meander through back roads to get to a destination.  Sometimes there is just no permissible route. You can’t, for example, get to Washington, D.C. in a Rad or Indie.  Or to most state capitals.

I don’t know why we have such a messed up transit system nowadays.  USIA never talks about it, and it’s not really Amazon’s turf.  It is rumored that the folks in the White House and Congress are big shareholders in Regal and Demos — which I think is a conflict of interest.

Oops.  Sorry.  I take that back.  “Conflict-of-interest” is like “climate change” and “evolution” — it doesn’t exist.

 

So what's your view on these issues? Send a comment.

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