Friday, August 20, 2021

Man On A Beach

I'm a man on a beach. 


How I got here I dare not explain in words, yet here I am everyday scribing experience after experience that comes to memory. The thoughts make my heart heavy, yet I continue purely because the experiences somehow have value beyond me. 


I'm a man on a beach.


My transgressions are strong in my memory. Many of them haunt me as the moon casts a glowing column of light on the water. The clouds are thin but many. The wind rolls back and forth under my collar as I stand. 


I'm a man on a beach. 


I snap back to the present as the waves flatten and flow up the sand. The warm water crests over my feet and wets the ankle of my pants. It's fucking midnight, what am I doing here?


I'm a man on a beach. 


Wait? Is that me? Am I alive in there? Do I feel something? No it can't be. That's impossible at this point. You can only be numb cause none of what goes on really has any meaning. The experiences are supposed to make you feel things, change your motivations even; until the day you die.


I'm a man on a beach.


Am I? Are you sure I'm a man? Or am I a facade stretched over a core of nothingness? Fuck, am I Patrick Bateman? Nah that character is only fictitious in execution and absurdity. But I couldn't be one of the real life Bateman-types because I'm poor, so I hold compassion for people, because I think it makes my existence a bit more legitimate. In reality it means nothing, even though I made somebody else feel something. That's enough for me though: making people feel something. If I'm capable enough maybe I can help save someone else from emptiness. But for right now I'm just a man on a beach.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Vision Part Two: Master and Slave

I once wrote about when religion created an arrogant monster out of a simple preacher. Greed took on his heart and came out victorious in a way young me never thought possible. Young me saw a lot of good in church at one point, as did a lot of young black kids in the south. It is the specific root that anchors our culture. So today, I want to think about the good times and what they mean today looking back. 

Sundays were always this beautiful crash of noise and colour in our church. I say Sunday owing to the fact it felt like an all-day event sometimes. In the Winter the sun would barely be in the sky when you arrived, and sometimes would be on its way back down by the time we left. My dad used to fidget and whine if he was missing any sport he kept up with, so much so he started driving separately to church so he could leave when he wanted. 


But while we were there all day, there was work being done. I never understood any of it as a child, why grown people would sing, yell, or even cry about a force they've never seen. I never understood the dancing under the crescendo of hard drumming and wailing organs. To “shout” is the verb that puts it all together. The bishop would yell sing-songy incantations over the music:


BREAKTHROUGH! INCREASE! MORE THAN ENOUGH! OHHHHH! JESUS!


Folk would cry, waving their arms, and some would break out running down the aisles as the bishop continued moving the flock with his voice. It looked almost hypnotic to me at the time, the congregation locked in a trance. But as I got older I realised all the energy came from within every member of the congregation. This wasn't a performance or a holy shindig, this was something entirely different. 


What it really all came down to was pain and how faith became the main catharsis for said pain. The music, the tears, the wailing for the grace of God was a cleansing of the hardships everybody faced. Black people generally suffer quietly in our day-to-day lives, the societal pressures we share bring us closer to each other, with a silent understanding of what someone has been through. But all of us knew that on Sunday there was a place to let go of all these things.


You just lost your child to violence? 


Praise the Lord.


You’re due for eviction from your home?


Pray louder.


Your power is about to be shut off?


Cry out the name of the Lord.


You’re facing racists at work?


God’s got it.


Your job is cutting back your hours?


Bring it to God.


I used to wonder why mother would cry and shout every week until I was old enough to feel all the same adult pain she did. She let her emotions flow on Sunday, every late bill or worsening cancer diagnosis was just another reason to celebrate just being. Faith was the outlet that kept life all together. Week in and week out, the pure pain of blackness weighed heavy on the souls of the congregation, and faith kept everyone going. 


This is a tradition that has continued for generations. My father, now in his late 70’s, grew up the same way. With his mother and grandmother singing hymns and praises every week. Shaking off the pain of a society that was broken and physically divided. My father is about three generations away from slavery, where this tradition all began. Singing hymns, praying that the Lord would deliver you from bondage, all developed during those times. The fact that black people still have the deep need to shed the wickedness of the world around us with church all these years later shows that the minds at work that surround us in society haven't changed. We might not be enslaved, but America still doesn't want to let go of the dynamic. 


We aren’t free still, the fact that we still have to release so much pain in the church shows it. That’s how a congregation of people could leave it in God’s hands when the preacher arrives in a Maybach. Because the blind faith that they put in God to deliver them from inequity also made them vulnerable to applying it to all things in life. Maybe one day God somehow answers all the prayers of our ancestors through some wild reversal of fate. Who knows, but until then the black church will always be bright and loud on Sunday.


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Vignettes Vol 4

 2001 Infiniti Q45:


It's 9:45 and yet another tow ordered through AAA is yanking the Q onto the flatbed in front of a Circle K somewhere in Huntersville. I'm late to work which doesn't really mean anything because I work at Classic Nissan of Statesville. The store was a desperate mark on my resume made up of a mix of necessity and the appearance of a certain position on my CV. I was following the path I had seen some of my young white counterparts fast track their way up the ladder. See, this isn't a play on privilege, at least not the way you'd assume. See, what the shiny young white guys figured out is having the audacity to apply for management at a low-tier store. That's the really where the difference in culture and effects of slavery and discrimination present themselves, because as a young black guy all I could see was every terrible thing that could happen just by me having the audacity to ask for a position. That level of conditioning is not bred from fear, but rather just purely existing in a society that doesn't want you there. But I didn't care, I knew I was more valuable than my counterparts and ended up with the same results they did. But that was very far in the back of my brain as the Ram 5500 with the long ass sedan on its frame pulled off of Garner Bagnal Blvd. I sat up in the passenger seat after 30 minutes of watching my Q45 bounce up and down in the rear view mirror and trying to sell the driver a new Altima. The morning meetings had passed by the time I waved off the tow truck and made my way to the sales tower. I straightened my collar and got right to work and quickly realised I didn't have to have the audacity to show up to work late in a tow truck. I made it to where I didn't have to answer to a soul about my actions. I had three cars, mostly broken, sitting on the back line and I didn't have to hear a word about it. I made it further up the layer cake, but my poor decision-making was still apparent. Plus, what the fuck was I driving home?



1997 Acura 2.2CL:


A week ago I got a ticket in this stupid thing. Just driving back to the dealership from KFC with lunch. There was no tag on the car but that didn’t really matter to me because I was driving a mile down the street. What I didn’t see was the state trooper hiding behind the railway bridge on my way back. Traffic stops always make me nervous as hell for reasons I don’t think I actually need to say. But, the most positive law enforcement interactions I’ve ever had involved the NCSHP, so I at least was able to wipe the terror from my face before I spoke to the trooper. He was in a good mood and told me he pulled me over for the seat belt, but inquired about the missing license plate. I pointed up the street to the dealership and told him I worked 500 ft away and had just bought the car from a coworker and was taking it for a quick test drive before I arranged to get it home. This was really 95% the truth minus the fact I bought the car 6 weeks ago and haven’t received the title from my coworker yet. But that was the least important thing at the time, me getting back to the dealership with lunch and no handcuffs or bullets being involved was the goal. I got my wish and I parked the ratchet Acura back behind the shop as soon as I pulled into the lot. In the weeks that followed I took a Honda Accord someone gave me in exchange for a debt owed and traded my friend Malcolm for the Q45. The Accord was his type of easy sale, and the Q45 was my type of destructive. It was truly meant to be until the Infiniti broke every time it moved. Now that the Q was sitting in the back of the dealership with coolant running out of its orifices, I’m here in the Acura. I jacked a 30 day plate off a car that got returned earlier that week, and took off towards Charlotte. It was dark, and in 5th gear with the cruise control engaged, the all-black Honda product blended into everything around it. Traffic was sparse heading south on I-77 this time of the night. The toll lanes were still 15 minutes away and I had to keep my head on a swivel viewing the random patches of grass along the median, where the Iredell County Sheriff’s Deputies would perch to collect money from the uninitiated. I wasn’t planning on the F22B1 generating high numbers on the speedometer. This was an Accord EX-L Coupe with a nicer looking interior, but it still felt different somehow. Even though the Acura wasn’t a powerful, silken companion made for endless cruising, it felt safe. I never felt like pieces were going to fall off as I drove or the cooling system would fail catastrophically. It was an extra layer of stability I didn’t know how bad I needed at the time. I made it to a place in life and now I needed life to lead me to a place I didn’t yet understand. She looked ratchet as hell but she was ready, that Acura was the best companion I could have on the journey.   


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Control

Control is probably the largest contributor to human behaviour. We fight for it in so many aspects of our lives: relationships, the way we make our living, where we live, we want control. There are also places where we BELIEVE we are fighting for control. For most Americans, one of those places is a franchise car dealership. 

See, from the moment you park your car out front, you have no control over anything that happens afterwards. No seriously, you have zero control over anything that happens after that point. You’re led to believe you’re in control, of course. See, those discovery questions you’re asked early in the process are so the dealer can decide what car they’re selling you. 


So while you fold your arms and try to be combative with the salesperson the whole sales team is already thinking about the next customer. Quite frankly, once you begin behaving that way most sales managers want you as far away from their store as possible. What you think will make the dealer bend to your whim is actually your lost opportunity for a decent deal or at least prolonging what the dealership was willing to offer to another date. Again, you are not in control. 


Every step on the road to the sale (honestly in any sales profession) is about control. Generally this control is held by way of urgency. That pressure is engineered not to “make you buy a car” but instead make sure that control is held at every step of the process. What’s the difference? The difference is the first direction only gets you committed to the idea of buying a car. The latter instead is to get you committed to actual ownership. 


See, if the salesperson is worth their weight the presentation and test drive should be the most obvious examples of committing the customer to actual ownership. Physically seeing yourself behind the wheel of that car and experiencing that fleeting example of what it’s ownership should entail is the first call your mind makes to actually owning that vehicle. But in reality your salesperson was two steps ahead of where you are now five minutes after you walked in the door. 


How? Let me take it from the top. Let’s say it’s Saturday and you walk in the front doors of some Asian automaker’s franchise dealership. The salesperson greets you, offers you a beverage and sits you down. 


Pause the tape. 


As soon as you plant yourself in that seat you’ve given the salesperson control. You’ve said I’ll listen to them and answer their questions and even raise some of my own. You have said that you’re willing to give your valuable time to the process. So you’ll tell the salesperson what your top color preferences are and what options you’d like to have. 


Hold on, stop again. 


Now that you’ve given them the needs assessment all the feelings you get later during the test drive are a given if the salesperson is doing their job. Also you’ve helped the dealership make or lose money on their own terms. The salesperson should touch the desk and piece in the sales manager. Then at a modern dealership, inventory searches are powerful enough to pinpoint the car the customer wants and tell you which ones you have and how long they’ve been there so you can make an educated decision of which one to sell. And on top of everything you’ve also given the salesperson ammunition to fire back at you when you’re attempting to negotiate. 


“Well you said you absolutely needed the sunroof, correct?”


But again we continue past the presentation and test drive. You’re back and now it’s time to talk numbers. This is where most customers become gangstas during the process. Thinking that they’re doing some hard, pile-driving negotiation when in reality they’re only really choosing a set of numbers within parameters the dealer already decided for them. So when the sales manager sends the salesperson back out to you with a set of numbers, trust when I say they didn’t pull said numbers out of their ass just to insult you. A hardened salesperson could already read your motivation.


“Hit them high and let’s see how much of it we can keep.”


“They know the internet price. Which incentives do they not qualify for?” 


“How much is their trade worth? I think if we show them a fat number for it they’ll ignore the rest.”


That last one is very important. If you come into a franchise car dealership demanding a dollar amount for your trade you can fuck yourself. You’re not in control, and if the number is crazy enough the sales manager is laughing at you. There are only two real routes after this either the dealer offers you less money or they give you your number but raise the price of the car. Both of these scenarios are insulting to you. Do you want to avoid insult? Negotiate reasonably. The process is designed to not be a waste of your time, so don’t make it so. 


Let DJ Khaled ring through your brain as you demand some mathematically impossible monthly payment numbers.


“You played yourself.”


Math is math. Dealerships don’t have time to bend the rules of mathematics to your whims. You’re more likely to get a swift goodbye. You are not in control. Don’t imagine that you are and you’re more inclined to get through the process in a timely fashion and with your wallet intact. I’m not even going to waste anymore of your time with the F&I process as it relates to control. But I hope I’ve given you an understanding of the psychology that goes into a dealership selling you a car. 


Yes, I do understand there are outliers to this process. But not everyone is buying a 911 GT3, and even those of us that call ourselves automotive enthusiasts sometimes buy an Altima. Either way, someone was in control of you at multiple steps during the process. People release that control so easily during the process they don’t have a clue it’s happened. So be conscious, because the dealer sure is. 








Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Test Drive Unlimited


I’ve bought too many cars in my life. At this point I’m jaded to the process and even the excitement around buying a car. In pieces over the years I’ve pretty much broken down the entire car buying process. From the second you walk into a conventional dealership in this country everything is about walking you through those steps as quickly and thoroughly as possible. 

But the test drive is the one step dealers take the most seriously. I’ve watched salespersons get their customer taken from them simply because they lacked control enough to get the customer to drive a car. This has been this way for decades longer than I’ve been alive, and was thought to be this way forever. 

That was until Al Gore’s internet became advanced enough that you pretty much could buy anything from butt plugs to appliances from home. At first this was a threat to the status quo of the industry, because it put pricing first and ignored the standard road to the sale. But eventually it actually made the industry better, slowly turning salespeople from money-obsessed deviated septums to product specialists. 

Those product specialists were now more responsible for selling you on the features of a vehicle than ever before. Customers are well-researched more often than not nowadays and it falls on these salespersons to still wow you if you walk through the door looking. But what if you don’t want to come to the lot and look at the car you spent three weeks on the internet researching and tracking down? What do you do then? 

The dealership isn’t going to miss your business over this. They will accommodate and will be more and more willing to do so into the future because of how the business model has changed. Carvana and Vroom exist purely because people were tired of the conventional car sales model and wanted to buy them like they’re on Amazon. 

But that’s enough about why we do test drives. In my opinion you don’t need to drive a vehicle before you buy it. Let me add this though, everything I’ve said here so far applies to buying your average automobile. Outliers like enthusiast vehicles, higher end luxury cars, and true exotics I very lightly recommend you take the test drive. Why the difference? Well lack of difference is why somebody buying a Rogue or an Escape doesn’t really need to test drive the car. The cars are so similar in that landscape nowadays that driving impressions aren’t really all that important. 

On the other hand even though I (lightly) recommend you drive the wild stuff, it honestly doesn’t matter if you test drive it or not. Most dealers that will let you buy without driving will let you out of the deal if you genuinely don’t like the car. And if you really have your mind set on something you’ll buy it without trying it. I’ve done it quite a few times myself. 

I was always taught that your average retail buyer is almost totally moving off of emotion when they’re in the showroom until the numbers. But buying without test driving or otherwise is probably the most emotionally involved you can get with a vehicle, even if you did work out an excellent price. And honestly, if you’re not emotionally involved it’s probably not the car for you. So buy how you want because at the end the day the only person that needs to be involved with what you’re feeling is you.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Vision

My childhood church


I wrote a piece recently over at Hagerty about my childhood pastor, and how a dumbass Maybach helped drag him where he belonged. Prison, that is. Hell wasn't exactly where he needed to go, but it is what he put the church through. There’s more to that story than I touched on in my piece but I’m going to give you the rest now.

I haven’t used the bishop’s name, mostly because I didn’t really need to, but because it’s easy enough to find on your own with a Google search. With that said, it was a large local scandal and a lot of what came out of it wasn’t even known to many members of the church. 


That leads me to a question a few people have asked me: how the hell did it get this bad without anyone knowing? That question has an answer with many parts but I’ll begin with the simple answer: we honestly didn’t see, at least the congregation didn’t. The people involved in the day-to-day doings of the church did, however. Most Black churches really do have a janky building fund but ours wasn’t normal. Eventually things got completely out of control and one would be hard pressed to not see what was happening. But until then everyone gave.


Giving is a major part of any Christian church. During the late 90’s many people in the congregation, including my own parents, reached deep into their pockets to raise money for the “vision” God had for us. The vision was paying off 66 acres of land the church purchased in the mid-90’s by the year 2000. The wild part is the church managed to do it. There was a large wall plaque in the shape of a tree in the church lobby with brass leaves with every name that contributed. There was even a song called The Vision by the church choir that made contemporary gospel radio. I remember the reprise “It is so!” from the song as the choir and band would join together during the offering collection. Things still made sense then, but in the years that followed, giving in our church turned into a heist. 


I remember quite a many Sunday where the bishop guilted the congregation into giving. He would say things like “the Lord told me there are 50 people in here with 100 dollars” followed up by some variation of “don’t miss your blessing cause you don’t want to give.” To make it worse he’d even hold up ending our service until the money appeared. He actually asked the ushers to not open the doors to the sanctuary until the congregation coughed up the money he wanted. 


And he pretty much took all of it. The church was in absolute shambles for a few years and we didn’t start noticing until there were literal cracks forming in our buildings. Yes the foundation of the main church had cracks in it, from years of neglect. The roof began to spring leaks, and the pews fell apart. All the Bishop did was beg harder and try his best to distract us in the name of the Lord. 


Speaking of distractions, the bishop came up with many. One was our television ministry: a million dollars a year just so the little man could say he was on television like T.D. Jakes or Creflo Dollar. He told the congregation it was good for the church, that it would aid in us building our new church faster. Yet, instead of building a new church on the 66 acres of land we owned debt free, we ended up purchasing a second church in Huntersville with the Bishop’s wife as the head pastor. That decision was made around the same time the Bishop decided to change the plans we had for the vacant land. What was originally supposed to be a simple place of worship morphed into a 15000 seat mega-church designed to make even Joel Osteen look broke. I remember going to the groundbreaking ceremony that year, my mother looked on, skeptical. We continued raising money towards this new church all while the Bishop spent it on his Maybach, Audemars Piguets, and tailored suits. 


The lake house in recent years


Then there was the house, I touched on it briefly in my original piece but I couldn’t even accurately describe it in the little space I gave it. Him and his wife rented the house from the wife of deceased NFL star Reggie White. Right on the shores of Lake Norman, it stuck to the custom home code of the late 90’s. It was a nearly 20,000 square foot monstrosity that housed his wife’s bad taste in furniture. It also housed the cars, towards the end there were many. It was wild seeing them strewn about outside the house they moved into after they couldn’t rent at the lake anymore. I can’t help but laugh at the thought of a Maybach and a Phantom sitting in front of suburban tract housing. But eventually all that went away when he did. 


Our church almost went away too, it was limping along in bankruptcy with maybe 150 members left in the congregation after he went away. But as divine of intervention I’ve ever seen, things all fell into place for the church to survive. And now, 10 years later it’s thriving without the force of greed holding it down. That’s the happy ending in all of this. I may tell that part of the story another time. But now, there’s more important things to address. 


The world has it’s way of balancing out all things, good and evil, hot and cold, I could go on and on. We tend to fall on the wrong side of morality and goodness when we let any one thing consume our lives. I think for the Bishop, greed wasn’t what motivated him, greed made some of the bad decisions, but it didn’t move him.


What did move him was the idea of being someone. In hindsight, the Bishop could’ve made his way there easily, he had a reputation for being a powerhouse in the pulpit. And he was, that’s part of how he was able to rob the church’s purse so openly. But all he had to do was wait. To live in some type of modesty for a few more years. He could’ve had what he wanted through conventional means if he was willing to wait. But he wasn’t. So he went for it. He nearly ruined a church that existed long before him, before he even thought about being a man of the cloth. What I’m really saying here is blindly following his ambition led to his own downfall. We all should be led by our ambition, but never consumed by it. When you leave that balance behind, you lose yourself, you lose your purpose, and you may even lose your life as you know it. 


For everyone that sat in those pews every Sunday, the vision represented more than property. It was pride in something much larger than themselves that they did together. It’s fitting that the county took that 66 acres and built a composting centre on it. The church was supposed to take in lost, dead souls and make them whole. Instead they’re taking dead tree limbs and making a fine selection of mulch, to grow great new fauna. But to be fair, the Bishop and the congregation truly could’ve come out of this in worse positions. The world still managed to find balance. In a way maybe the vision really was something much larger than a property, a building, an institution. With that said, I’ll leave you with words from the song:


Write the vision, make it plain;

That they may run and not faint

Though the vision.... is only for a while

It shall speak... and not lie

For if the Lord said it

You can count on it;

He will do just what He said






Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Spectator Sport



“There sure were a lot more niggers there than I expected.”

My dad looked across the patio table in disbelief. I’m not going to use either of the men’s names that were sitting there enjoying their Budweiser across from him, because that won’t take back what was said. However it was an interesting end to a day that’s been fuzzy to me for years because I tried to forget it happened. 


The guy that let the hard -er out of his mouth was the husband of one of my mother’s coworkers. They had both been to our home plenty of times for cookouts, dinners, and everything else in between. They seemed to be great people, I only say that because it took a lot for my father not to mind any guest intruding upon his consciousness at home. But also they were trustworthy enough for my parents to let the husband take me to that year’s (2000) Coca-Cola 600. 


I was ridiculously excited for this, I remembered the excitement around Dale Earnhardt Jr taking the pole in qualifying. But I was most excited to see my NASCAR idol Jeff Gordon running his rainbow Monte Carlo in person. NASCAR was my earliest racing obsession, it was natural with me growing up in its spiritual home. Hell, the year before a family friend managed to get me a tour of the Hendrick Motorsports facility. My mother still holds on to the pictures from that day of me sitting inside a fresh #24 car. It was a dream almost. 


The family friend and one of his buddies picked me up that afternoon to head up to the track. The gravel parking lots surrounding Lowe’s Motor Speedway were mostly friendly looking, chock full of people who had been pregaming most of the afternoon. The bridge collapse had just happened just the week before and I remember the state troopers guiding us across US 29 to the track. 


Once I got inside things weren’t as friendly anymore. I definitely was in the only mixed-race group there, and at the time I don’t think I was capable of understanding that two white guys walking around with a black child was abnormal to the people swirling around us. I did see other black people, mostly young men, making up small specks in the crowd. Every time I saw another brown face the tension eased a bit and by the time we made it to the stands I felt comfortable enough to just enjoy the race. 


And I had good memories from the race, the rush of the cars running in a pack single digit feet away from me as I stood near the wall. It was a loud, colorful, moving experience that I couldn’t have anywhere else. I was a thirty minute drive away from the house, but the action felt like home. At least I did feel that way, the warm late-May sun turned the stands into a hot pool full of people. Then the first chicken bone got thrown at me, and the pool full of just faces quickly made itself a pool full of people I didn’t belong in.


See, the best thing about living in the Charlotte area in the 90’s and 2000’s was Bojangles’ chicken being everywhere including being a vendor at every local sports venue. What this meant is near sunset that Memorial Day weekend the drunken motorsports fans were enjoying the Cajun-seasoned goodness. The beer gave them the mental wherewithal to throw the bones of their recently-enjoyed chicken at me, a child, for whatever reason. Whoever it was behind me in the stands had eaten quite a few pieces. I remember two hitting me in the back in rapid succession. Another hit me directly in the back of my head. I remember turning around confused, and couldn’t figure out which mouth nigger came out of. More bones came later, more of them started to miss as time went on, a span of minutes. 


I don’t remember shit after that. Honestly, I didn’t completely understand or know what I experienced that very day. But I reflected on the moments over and over for years, and as I got older the vivid flashes of my memory painted an uglier story than I wish to remember. For years I replayed the memory and shook it off, filing it away like so many things in the past. I never really ever came to terms with my feelings about it all, generally staying away from motorsports until I was nearly an adult. I felt like my passion in life was something that I didn’t deserve to belong to, I felt like an outsider to something that burned deep in my heart my whole life. 


But why am I telling any of you this? I’m not really sure. I’m not somebody that makes statements. But I’ve retold so many of my personal experiences that involve me, but not many of them that are a part of me. This story not only shaped who I became but is probably one of the few times in my life I resented the passion I feel for the automobile. It was an experience that I hated, but it happened, and I know countless other people like myself have had similar experiences. I just don’t want them to ever feel alone or powerless because of it.


With all that said, be kind to people, especially children. Your feelings about a certain group of people should never apply to a child. Live like this world has a future.  My dad only told me what was said on their patio recently, it woke up everything I felt that day brighter than ever and I’ve had to stew on it everyday since. So live like the world has a future. We tend to hurt people less often when we truly see them for who they are. So live like the world has a future.