It was a dream come true. Finally, after almost forty-five years as a licensed driver, I was getting my Dream Car. Finally, someone was taking a chance on me, on my future, on my value, on my ability to rise from the ashes. I woke up this morning with joy in my heart – the kind of joy that you feel the first time that you fall in love and that love is reciprocated. I got dressed and put my key chains in my purse, key chains that I had gotten in London to attach to my car keys. Key chains that had remained tucked in a drawer for sixteen years, waiting for my car dreams to become a reality. As I walked to the bus stop, I thought to myself, This is the last time I have to walk three blocks to the bus stop with my arthritic knee. I remembered the joy I felt when bought my first car in the 70s, a tan AMC Gremlin that I loved on sight. But this was even better. I had loved Minis since my first trip to London in 1985. For two decades, I had parked a British Racing Green toy Mini Cooper on my desk – a symbol of all that I dreamed of attaining. And today, that dream was coming true.
Last Saturday, I had gone to the Niello Mini dealership to test drive a Mini Cooper. There was a 2014 Mini Cooper S two-door hardtop in British Racing Green that was reduced to $18,997. I took a test drive and fell in love. $19,000 wasn’t that much money. I had a good full time job making almost $30 an hour. When the bank review was done, the terms came out to a monthly payment of $434.34 at 11.49 APR. That was doable, since my rent was only $610 a month and the only other mandatory expenses I had were a $291 student loan payment and a $45 utility bill. Everyone else I knew had rents and mortgages in the four figures, and some even had tuitions to pay, but they all had nice cars. Maybe my mistakes of the past were behind me. Finally, in my sixtieth decade, I would realize a Dream. On the left side of the bank review said “ON APPROVED CREDIT.” I asked the sales representative who had accompanied me on the test drive if that meant that I had not been approved. She assured me that I was already approved. Since she had also given me forms with my credit scores from Experian and TransUnion, I assumed that she was correct. On the following payday Friday, I purchased auto insurance and counted down the minutes until I could go to the dealership to get my new car. I felt vindicated. I remembered an incident many years ago, when I went to the Niello Porsche dealership with my boyfriend. The blonde saleswoman came out, asked if she could help us, and walked away when we said that we were just browsing. It was obvious by her actions that she had already made the assumption that two people of color could never be able to buy a Porsche. From that moment on, I hated Niello and all that it represented – a privileged lifestyle that I would never attain. I would never have a Niello Acura, Alfa Romeo, Saab, BMW, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land-Rover, Maserati, Porsche, Volvo, and Volkswagen. But when the Mini dealership opened, I couldn’t help but admire it from afar. I loved that car. Sometimes, I would make a special effort to walk past the Fulton Avenue lot to admire the shiny cars parked there and dream.
I tried to contain my enthusiasm as I walked into the showroom with my new car insurance paperwork. In January 2012, I was homeless, sleeping in a dirty cot in an emergency homeless shelter in West LA. Now, I was employed, making almost 60K a year, with my own apartment and a social worker job helping other people improve their lives. And in a few minutes, the Dream Car that I had treasured for so many years would become the embodiment of my triumph over adversity. I would enjoy making those six years of payments on a car that I truly loved.
But after I handed my sales representative my insurance information, she went into a room with another employee. She told me that they were “working things out.” She remained in the office for over an hour. What could be taking so long? She had told me on Saturday that I had been approved, giving me the impression that once I presented valid insurance, I could drive away and start my new status as a person with a nice car. I had planned to take one of my friends for a ride over the weekend, a friend that had stood by me for over twenty years. My co-workers couldn’t wait to see the car when I drove to work after the holiday weekend. Finally, I would be envied, not pitied. No longer would people on the street see me at a bus stop and assume that I was poor, uneducated, unemployed, and stupid just because I used public transportation. No one realized that I was single, with no dependents, with a good job, two degrees, a thirty-year work history and a Mensa-level intelligence quotient. But soon, I would have status again.
Finally, she came out of the office. She had a strange look on her face. This time, she had a different bank review. This one had new figures on it – impossible, ridiculous figures on it. Even though the price of the car was $18,922, in order to finance it, I would have to pay $45,839 and put $1,000 down. Even with my good salary and minimal monthly obligations, in order to get this car, I would have to finance 2.5 times more than the price of the car. Instead of the quoted monthly payment of $434.34, I would be paying $636.66, more than my rent. I told the manager that came out that I was told that I had already been approved for the car. I told him that I would not have bought insurance on the car if it wasn’t mine. He said that the sales rep was new and had given me wrong information. He just shook his head with feigned concern and offered me a free Uber ride home. I told him that I was able to afford my own ride home. There was nothing I could do. There was no contract and I hadn’t signed anything.
And then it hit me. No matter how many charities Rick Niello, David Niello and Roger Niello support, they do not care about me or my ability to pay for the car of my dreams. But that is business in America. This is how the poor stay poor. Instead of assisting potential customers who will retain brand loyalty and garner repeat and additional business because someone had the foresight and wisdom to take a chance on them, The Niello Company (and probably every other luxury dealership) and the banks they deal with make it virtually impossible for working people to afford Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles. And people like the Niellos will be the first people to wonder why desperate people fall for get-rich schemes to obtain a piece of the American Pie. I was willing to pay $31,294 for my dream car, but not 2.5 times the price of the car, which was higher than the Kelley Blue Book value for the car. I promptly contacted my friend, who had also planned to purchase a Niello Mini Cooper, and advised her to search elsewhere.
I felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart and called me the N-word. I felt like I was back on that cot again, just another piece of human excrement that had no value in this world. I will never have my Dream Car. I won’t even bother to dream any more. Because of American Greed, dreams of hardworking Americans die everyday. I’m sure that the Niellos have monthly mortgages more than the cost of my dream car. And I know that no Niello will ever lose sleep over the fact that my heart has been broken and my dreams have been shattered. It’s just business…
I looked at The Niello Company Mission Statement. “Our Core Values: We are a team/We respect each other/We encourage self-improvement/We hold high expectations/We embrace change/We enthusiastically value our customer/We support our community.”
I held high expectations that I would be driving my Dream Car. I enthusiastically embraced the American Dream, the idea that one can change and come back from adversity and be given another chance. I was wrong. That only happens in the movies.