New York Times uses lovably quaint Miami car dealer to teach us a lesson about optimism

Categories: Media Watch
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It's been about two years since our economy tanked, a year since anybody noticed it, and reporters and pundits have now officially began looking at the other side of Lake Recession. Alarm has been replaced by resignation and a bit of wizened optimism. You've probably read or heard a piece by now about how American life will be different once our economy gets back up on its feet again -- less disposable income, more of an old-school work ethic, the death of consumer luxury goods. If you're in the media and you haven't written one of these things, dude, you better get cracking before it's old hat. 

This week, the New York Times used a straight-out-of-Central-Casting Miami car dealer -- Ralph W. Sifford, owner of two local Grand Prize dealerships, who "wears a gold Rolex and keeps his tie tight" -- to teach us a lesson about remaining optimistic even as the good times will never return in strength, or something like that.

You see, 70-year-old Sifford, who claims to be the first local dealer to hang an American flag outside his shop, sells only domestic vehicles -- so even after the recession recedes, he's in trouble. Dealerships all around him are going belly-up, and he just laid off 20 employees. But don't you dare tell Sifford it's the end of the world as he knows it:

And in the midst of such churn, Mr. Sifford and his staff have become the American car industry in miniature: On any given day, both the upbeat predictions that kept Detroit from changing and the brand loyalty that gives dealers hope are on full display.

If there were any doubt as to what reporter Damien Cave is trying to get at here, it's quashed when he bluntly compares Sifford's staff to the stubbornly optimistic title character of Graham Greene's The Quiet American. And the final exchange reads like something ripped from a Broadway play:

It was the last day of March. Mr. Levenson shouted to another salesman, "Right now we've got what, 78 vehicles out?" 

"Almost 80," the other salesman said.

"And last month we did 50," Mr. Levenson said, "so that's a big improvement."

March actually ended with 99 vehicles sold. It was success only in the narrowest sense: A few years ago, Grand Prize Chevrolet sold 180 to 190 each month, Mr. Sifford said. Most were new; last month, the majority were used.

Mr. Sifford, in his office overlooking the showroom, said that maybe everyone, winners still, needed to get used to smaller prizes.

"Once you've had steak, how do you go back to hamburger?" he said. "It's really difficult -- and that's what we have to do."

Ohhhhh, I get it. Thanks, Times!



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