The Young Einstein

Sometimes it is not a good thing if you are referred to by the above name.

The year was 1985. I was a young lad who had just completed his graduate studies. I had survived for five years living as a graduate student assistant on a pittance, and was now being let loose with a PhD into the real world. I had no clue what I was in for, but I went with the flow.   I owned almost nothing at that point in my life.

Arriving at my new digs in in a new state I pondered the empty apartment and my new existence. I needed to buy stuff! I was also in need of an automobile to drive to work. Looking at the car pages in the newspapers I got it into my head that I needed to get myself a certain type of car. The research I did in this regard was minimal. These were the days before the Internet. It was all based on instinct. The car had to have a manual gear shifting capability because that was the “real” way to drive cars. Those were the days.

I needed to wait a few months before I had enough money to put down for a down payment for a car. While looking around, I ended up at a dealership in the upper part of the state. The black Cordia in the dealership’s showroom seemed to be a good deal, a good balance between sportiness and price. Then it was time to talk to one of the salesman about buying the car. Boy, was I clueless!

Salesmen at car dealerships make their money on commissions. The objective is to sell as many cars as possible for as high a price as possible. The first guy I talked to was somewhat new to the job. When I started talking prices with him, it got to the point where he decided to go to his superior. I don’t know if this was because the numbers I was using were ridiculous, or whether he thought I was a tough customer. The guy who he handed me off to was a veteran.

I started bargaining with the guy without any idea about what I was getting myself into. I got completely confused by the fact that car dealerships actually advertised monthly cost for leasing a vehicle in the newspapers, whereas I was looking for a monthly cost for repayment of loans for purchasing the vehicle.  I had started off on the wrong foot. At some point we started talking about interest rates for loans. This gentleman (using the term loosely) showed me some numbers for the expected monthly payment based on different down payments and terms for the loan. Because of my deep sense of suspicion I convinced myself that these guys were pulling wool over my eyes and coming up with numbers to bamboozle me. After all, this conversation had digressed from the cost of the car, into one that involved many other parameters.

As I mentioned before, these were the days before the Internet. There was no website at which I could plug in the different numbers and come up with a monthly payment for a loan. I went back to my apartment and proceeded to write down the equations that one would use to calculate the monthly payment for a loan. I plugged in the inputs, used my calculator, and came up with the outputs.

I went back to the car dealership to show them that they were actually selling me the car for a higher price by focusing on the monthly payments and playing with numbers related to the loan itself. I showed them how the calculations worked. The guys looked flabbergasted! I am pretty sure none of them had the intellectual capacity to understand the math involved. The response I remember clearly was being called an “Einstein”.  I guess it is to their credit that they knew about Einstein, but they clearly did not mean this in a complementary way. They shuffled off to a back room to talk it over.

I did end up buying the car without feeling too bad about the price I was paying for it, and I enjoyed driving my black Cordia (with a stick shift!) for many years. But the circumstances of that transaction have not vanished from memory. I might have had a PhD at that time but I was totally clueless about the ways of the world. Anyone with any sense should have known that showing how I had arrived at my conclusions did not matter one whit. What really mattered was that you had the numbers to work with, and, more importantly, the ability to make a convincing argument. I had little ability to negotiate, and perhaps I could have made my point without being a young Einstein.

Many years have passed and my hair has now turned to grey.   This memory reminds me of how green I was those days.

Published by

Kuriacose Joseph

I am an engineer by training. I am exploring new horizons after having spent many years in the Industry. My interests are varied and I tend to write about what is on my mind at any particular moment in time.

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