Life of a Salesman

May 29, 1999

RAY: Ha! We're back. You're listening to Car Talk with us, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and we're here to discuss cars, car repair, and the new Puzzler.

TOM: I can hardly wait.

RAY: Now, you've got to pay attention to all the details because...

TOM: I'm going to.

RAY: I can say with almost honesty, that everything you're about to hear is relevant and pertinent and useful.

TOM: Really?

RAY: No, not really.

TOM: No, you can't say that.

RAY: Well, the germ of this puzzle was presented by one of my customers, who also happens to be, and has been for the past 30 years, a traveling salesman. He travels around from town to town, selling whatever he sells. I think he sells nuts and bolts, et cetera--cotter pins and the like.

TOM: Great!

RAY: And like I said, he's been a salesman for 30 years, and when he first started out on this job, I guess he immediately fell into disfavor with the company hierarchy, because they assigned him...he started in the middle of winter, and they assigned him exotic places like Moose Jaw, Maine; Freeze-Your-Butt, New Hampshire; places like that. So, he would have to travel by car from one location to another. And he often found himself, because he was a salesman, driving from town to town in the winter looking for cheap motels in which to spend the night. So, are you with me so far?

TOM: I'm with you so far.

RAY: You are, huh?

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: Well, that's too bad.

TOM: Mostly in the great Northeast here.

RAY: Oh, yeah, his route was Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, upstate New York. Whew! Terrible!

TOM: Man! He really ticked somebody off!

RAY: Well, worse than that, when the weather got nice they shipped him down to Florida, Georgia, Alabama. Then as soon as the winter came...

TOM: Back he goes.

RAY: Back he goes.

TOM: Yeah!

RAY: And he began to notice, he said, a disturbing thing. When he would stop at these motels, oftentimes the owner of the motel was also the clerk, and they'd have you fill out that little card--you know, name, address, home phone--in case you skip out in the middle of the night. And, he said, in some of those they had a little thing that said OCCUPATION. And in some cases they had nothing that asked for occupation, but it seemed to be always the case that the motel owner would ask him what he did for a living.

TOM: Really?

RAY: And then when he said he was a salesman, he would almost always be assigned a room on the second floor if they had one, or if the hotel had a second floor.

TOM: Right. So, they, oh...

RAY: And he asked me if I knew why this happened. And I said I didn't have a clue. So he gave me a clue.

TOM: He did?

RAY: Well, I asked him if it had anything to do with the car that he drove. And he said, "I guess you could say so. At the time I was driving a Volkswagen." And that's all I knew, and from that I was able to get the answer out of him when I got him in a headlock.


RAY: You got to look for all the little hints. It was like 30 years ago.

TOM: Thirty years ago. That would be 1969. Hippies.

RAY: He started working 30...

TOM: War.

RAY: He started working 30 years ago, and he had been working as a salesman continuously.

TOM: Right, so it's in the early '70s.

RAY: In the early '70s, OK. Yeah, there you go. Come on.

TOM: The second floor?

RAY: The second floor. He's a salesman, he drives a lot, he's concerned about getting what now? Come on. Come on, you can do it.

TOM: Gasoline!

RAY: Yeah, he's concerned about getting good what?

TOM: Mileage. Yeah?

RAY: So, he buys himself a Volkswagen. But not just any old Volkswagen. He buys himself the car that gets the best mileage. He buys himself a Volkswagen diesel. Because he's in Moose Jaw, Maine, and Freeze-Your-Butt, New Hampshire, in the wintertime, he's got to plug the thing in overnight. Otherwise, it won't start. The reason they put him on the second floor all the time is so they could see the extension cord that he had run from his motel room to his car, and they would unplug it on him in the middle of the night. So, if you were a salesperson plying your trade at that time, you often got unplugged.

TOM: That would be about the worst answer I've...I mean, that was impossible to figure out!

RAY: All the hints were there! Starting selling nuts and bolts 30 years ago. Cold part of the country.

TOM: Hints? You call those hints?

RAY: Well, I had to obfuscate and, you know?

TOM: You call those hints?

RAY: Well, I got it.

TOM: Oh, brother! That's beautiful. Even though we didn't have any winners, we had to choose.

RAY: We did have a winner this week.

TOM: Only because we chose from among all the losers.

RAY: Well, this was the guy that actually was the salesman.

TOM: That's how he did it. Oh, he's the guy who was telling the story?

RAY: The guy that told me, yeah.

TOM: He's the only one who knew the answer, and his name is Scott Kunsel. He's from Crete.

RAY: Nebraska!

TOM: Oh, Crete, Nebraska.

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