The Idle American: Good deals are hard to find...


   It has been said of me throughout my adult life — perhaps also true of years unfolding soon after infancy — that my “antenna” has been on “24/7” alert for good deals.

Don Newbury

   Many, though, have “turned to clabber” due to timing issues. I mean, how was I supposed to know as a lad that the once-raging demand for Davy Crockett’s coonskin caps would flag so soon? After all, they were disappearing from store racks at 98 cents a pop for a long time.

   On a visit to the Metroplex in the mid-1950s, I stared in disbelief at the clearance price on “gen-u-wine” coonskin caps for a mere 11 cents each. I envisioned a small fortune awaiting my claim. Surely I could quickly quadruple my investment with “hotcake like” sales upon my return to rural Brown County. So, I bought a boat load. Okay, so it was a small boat, but the better part of a $20 bill was expended. Alas, the fad was coming to an abrupt halt. I was left “holding the bag,” or, in this case, “caps.” My “clabberhead” nickname seemed well-earned when sales quickly “piffled,” and coonskin caps had bombed at garage sales to, toted to “make offer” tables. Odd as it may seem, an exterminator--perhaps thinking he’d found “live ones”--made a successful bid for the whole table….


   Here’s one other negative experience.

   Upon retirement from higher education, I remember flashing a cunning smile, thinking that I’d outsmarted the stock market. No, not cattle. I’m referencing the symbolic “bears and bulls” on Wall Street in New York City, where flashing lights follow stock market goings-on.

   I had invested a tidy sum on what later was called my purchase of “sweet chariot stocks.” When I bought them, they swung low. My wife hums the “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” melody regularly to keep me in my place….


   Now, I want to write positively of the time I brought the rental car folks to their knees.

   I admit that the find was in Canada, and, in retrospect, maybe the going rate of the well-known brands wasn’t all that much out of line.

   Very much in line, or so it seemed, were the rates offered by Rent-a-Wreck. Details are fuzzy, since this memory hearkens back to the 20th century, 25-30 years ago. The RAW folks were cordial, assuring me that all car-related expenses incurred along the way would be reimbursed 100% upon our return a week or so and a thousand miles later. All we had to do was present receipts….


  I’m hesitant to call the vehicle a “clunker.” That’s what my wife called it when the oil light first reddened. Soon, mounting vehicular problems suggested that the vehicle was several rungs below clunker status.

   It fairly drank oil. So, I bought a case, wondering if I could locate the correct orifice. Since my cardiologist has suggested frequent exercise stops when on long trips, there’d be “two birds” felled at each stop for more oil.

   At each one, I walked around the car several times, with wifey needling with her blasted “Sweet Chariot” hums from the passenger seat….


   It seems that these stops occurred every half-hour, but this could be an exaggeration, like the size of the fish snagged decades ago.

   Whatever, there also was a tire purchase required to keep us moving, and other expenditures filed under “miscellaneous” in our bulging receipt envelope. To make a long story less long, pleasantries were exchanged when the vehicle was turned in. The receipts collected were close to the amount owed, so the befuddled attendant suggested, “Let’s just call it even.”

   I was stunned. The rental had cost us nothing, except time. This remembrance was triggered by astronomical charges at rental car counters these days. One company’s rate spiked at $500 a day; another quoted a $50,000 weekly rate for an SUV.  No one is singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Blame it on COVID-19….

Dr. Newbury is a long-time public speaker and university president who writes weekly. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.