Amazing car-buying experience at Roger Beasley Saab this weekend.

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So many times we’re tempted to write rants about lousy customer experience.  This weekend, I had an unusually great experience at a car dealer, Roger Beasley Saab, that I thought I would publish my thoughts on it.  I should probably preface my glee with admitting I have ALWAYS had horrible experiences at car dealerships.  Always got a bad deal, never even understood the deal because the financing contracts were incomprehensible, and typically was pressured into buying something I didn’t really want.

I wanted to trade my car in for another used car because, well, I was bored with it.  I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and I wanted to reduce my car payment.  I had done a lot of research on the value of my car, and a few different models I was interested in at the Saab dealer.  I also brought my iPad into the dealer because I wanted to verify everything independently.  My salesguy (Scott) was amazing. Extremely low-key, but really helpful and knowledgable.  Not only did he not have a problem with my iPad, he shared his computer screen with me to go out onto the Internet to verify pricing on public web sites that I myself had used.  He was great about considering all my concerns, as well as making sure he was honest about what I’d probably get for my trade.  

When we finally settled on a car that would work within my parameters, he took me to his “Business Manager.”  The financing is usually where everything gets really weird, pressured, and uncomfortable.  I couldn’t believe how much this did NOT happen.  I only met with one guy (Ed) who was an incredibly nice and really helped me get to a financing deal that made sense.  He didn’t balk when I told him I wouldn’t accept his first offer.  He continued to keep looking around and making tweaks until the deal fit my criteria.  I couldn’t believe it.

I left with a nice car the same day.  I understood the deal completely and not only did I think I got a fair deal; I felt I good a good deal.  It just does not get better than that. 

If you’re considering buying a Saab, here are Scott and Ed’s cards.  

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Voila, new car (new old car, that is).  I actually have a longer story about why Saab, but that’s a post for another day. 

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Eye on Poverty: Homelessness Revealed

With so many Americans still out of work, I’m particularly sensitive to the plight of the homeless these days. It’s alarming to recognize how quickly individuals could find themselves without proper shelter for themselves and their families. I heard a statistic on the radio that homelessness has risen to over 10,000 in the city of Austin. Austin is particularly humane about helping the homeless with various community and local programs, as well as not criminalizing panhandling (it doesn’t work: read why). There is much work to do, but as cities go, Austin is more progressive than most.

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Last week, Austin was visited by Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal) who is touring the U.S. filming the homeless in various cities . Take a look at some of the video Horvath has shot on InvisiblePeople.tv/blog Unless you’re truly heartless, it will leave a permanent impression. Horvath is succeeding already in his mission to “put a face on the homeless.”Alan Graham (@mlfnow) was introduced to Horvath via Twitter. It’s a huge testament to how social media can be used for social good. A group of us in Austin (@mikechapman, @jonl, @heatherjstrout and @bryanperson) collaborated on a social media initiative during SXSW to raise Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ profile. In short, social media has been the gift that keeps on giving for Alan and his team.In other homelessness news, I had the privilege to watch a documentary last night by local director Layton Blaylock, “Art from the Streets.” The film was a part of a local initiative currently underway by Lights.Camera.Help. another non-profit that hosts a film festival dedicated to promoting non-profit and cause-driven organizations. The documentary covers the amazing Art from the Streets program that has been held every year in Austin for the last 17 years.There is a similar thread linking the Art from the Streets program and the work done for the homeless by Horvath, Graham and others. It’s the compassionate interest in delivering something of higher value than heightened awareness, food, clothing or temporary shelter: it’s delivering dignity to a pocket of our society that exists on the periphery of our lives. I encourage you to purchase Blaylock’s film from his web site. It would be terrific if this film were picked up by a national distributor. It exemplifies, along with Alan Graham’s good works, how Austin is a model city for its treatment and creative resourcefulness in educating us who the homeless are: they’re us without our creature comforts.

Cosmic Connections, Lessons, and Some Blessings from the Social Web

I’ve written many times about how the social web is teaching us and opening us up to a greater understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. This week, I witnessed first hand the power of relationships, the immediacy of the social web, and learned a great lesson in tolerance and understanding, and dare I say, faith? I’ve written a few times casually about how I’ve been personally affected by the downturn in the economy. As a result of my own economic crisis, I was turned down as a worthy co-signer for Amie’s student loans. Mostly I have felt awful about the prospect that I would be the one, in the end, who stood in the way of Amie’s dream of going to New York University. Of course University of Texas, Austin is an excellent school, but Amie’s heart already moved into the dorms at NYU. For good reason, she convinced me over the past few months NYU is where she belongs and where she aims to fulfill her lifelong ambition to contribute toward improving our imperfect world.

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Last week, Amie graduated with honors from Westwood High School. Here she is pictured at the Erwin Center donning her IB bling. I forced her to stand with the Capitol Dome in the background to snap this photo. You can see how enthusiastic she is by her expression about the prospect of linking her graduation to Texas and UT. The reward of graduating from such a difficult school in such a competitive program was eclipsed by the heart-breaking disappointment that Amie would not be returning East to continue on her academic journey. To Amie’s credit, she accepted her fate and began to let her friends in the Northeast know she would be staying in Austin.

On Friday, last week, I was “facebooking.” A friend asked me a question on my wall regarding where Amie would be going in the fall. The difficulties we’d been having had been chronicled on my Facebook page for months, so a wide range of my friends were curious about Amie’s ultimate college decision. When I responded to my friend that we were unable to send Amie to NYU and she’d have to attend UT Austin in the fall, I received a pop-up IM from another friend who was on Facebook at that moment. That friend was Greg Grosh. He asked me why Amie couldn’t go to NYU, and I explained all the details over IM. Greg’s reply? “I’ll be happy to co-sign Amie’s student loans.” My knee-jerk response: “Are you fking kidding me???”

As it turns out Greg, who is in what he calls his “second retirement” is affiliated with The Point Foundation which “provides scholarships, mentorship, leadership training and hope for students of merit who have been marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” Greg is helping a few kids get through school and is willing to help Amie too. This news floored me on a few levels. First of all, the cosmic connection here is Amie is more connected to gay friends and family than anyone I know. Her father is gay, in fact. I’ve always been mildly uncomfortable with the gay community that surrounds Amie.  Greg’s generous offer has forced me to take a hard look at my own repressed intolerance. Reading the literature on the Point Foundation’s web site has done me a world of good. I encountered something similar (via Facebook again) a few months ago relative to racism. Who knew I was a racist?

The SocialWeb that connects us is breaking down the ignorant walls that divide us. I’m living proof of the power of the SocialWeb to challenge our entrenched, stereotypical, ignorant biases by exposing us to new ideas and new freedoms. The second meaningful outcome relative to Amie’s new opportunity is related to generational poverty. Getting Amie to NYU is symbolic to me. Although I’m certain Amie would have done well at UT, the opportunity to attend a private university should break the cycle of generational poverty that has been shadowing my particular branch of the family tree. I was the first one to attend college in my immediate family, although I never completed my education. There have been many debates over the value of a good education. I could probably argue both sides persuasively. My most convicted arguments would fall on the side of pro formal education, however. It’s taken a lifetime of “breaking the rules” to understand this, but in this new era of social mobility and connection, I believe it now more than ever. Further, if this is the generation that is going to finally set things right, they’ll need all the ammunition they can stockpile. And the reinforcements they’ll need will come in the shape of empathy, knowledge, and compassion for those people and places that exist outside of our comfort zone.

So, congratulations Amie. You’re going to NYU. Thank you Greg for your generosity, and thank you Mark Zuckerberg for keeping us connected and integrating our public and private lives. Oh, the biggest news here is Amie finally signed up for Facebook. My rebellious day-dream believer is now a digizen.