RIP: Saturn Mike

"We're having a great day here at Saturn!" is how the receptionist always answered the phone at the dealership since I first began calling them in 1997. It didn't change today with my last phone call. I had hoped to have the oil changed at the dealership this Saturday one last time, but it was not meant to be. They close their doors for good on Wednesday. I thought there would be more time. Newspaper reports stated that the Harvey store would remain open for a few months. Like with everything else these days, you can't depend on anything staying in place without decaying before your eyes.

I called Mike last week when I heard reports about Saturn Armageddon: vehicles no longer in production, parts no longer made, all dealerships shutting down simultaneously, and my car would only hold value in Confederate money. Mike tried to reassure me that Saturn vehicles would be produced until the end of 2009 with an option going into 2010. And he discussed the various scenarios about how the national brand of Saturn could still be saved. The list of possible buyers, possible countries of assembly, and possible conglomerates looking into continuing the brand sounded like the end of football season and the die-hard Saints fans looking at wildcard angles in the hopes of even getting to the playoffs.

Despite his jovial mood (jokingly asked me if I wanted to buy a car!), his talk was somber and he didn't know how long they would be operational. At that point, they were going from month to month not knowing if they would still be going for another month. He wanted to stay with Saturn for as long as he could. Today's call to Mike felt like a condolence over a death.

I remember buying my first new car, a Saturn 1997 SL1, from Mike. It was my first car buying experience. Dad was at my side, but he remained silent as I asked questions and took the test drive. Once the price was decided, the options discussed, and I had forked over my trade-in and money, I asked Dad how he felt and he said he trusted Mike. Mike was former Army. An older gentleman. Knew everything there was to know about every part of the car. What impressed me the most was that he gave me advise on purchasing cars made by competitors in case I didn't want to buy a Saturn. This could have been a mind trick, but I doubt it. He had a complacency that put me at ease. Afterwards, I felt like going into a fetal position. It was a big purchase. I wasn't sure if I had made the right decision. The paperwork hadn't been completed yet and Mike told me to take the car home for the weekend and to call if I had any questions. Driving home, I glanced at the interior and felt as though I had climbed a mountain.

When I went back to officially buy the car, two things happened. First, the other sales people gathered around me and gave the cheer. Second, I had a picture taken with the car and a calendar made with the picture. Never had that type of treatment before. Probably won't happen again.

Mike sent postcards for every holiday and helped me through two more new Saturn car experiences. It was never a question that he would sell me my next car. It was as automatic as setting up an appointment to see the doctor for a yearly exam. I had one issue the entire time I dealt with the dealership and Mike was there. I had a problem with my CD player on my second car. I came in a few times to get it changed out under warranty and there was always an issue with it being the wrong part or not finding the serial number. In frustration, I emailed the dealership and told them this was not the type of service I was used to. Unknown to me, Mike was the one who read the dealership email and I received a call. He asked me to come in and they would get the CD player installed. When I arrived, he found me and apologized for what happened. He gave me his business card and wrote on the back "one free oil change" for my trouble.

When I was involved a rear-end collision two years ago, Mike was the second person I called (insurance company the first) and he gave me advise on the collision place he had used in the past and how to go about getting it fixed. He helped me again when my rear window was vandalized and needed to find a place to have it replaced. I was never a number, never given the runaround. He's always been there when I needed him for the past twelve years.

The last "issue" was when the electronic key on my key ring was malfunctioning. I called Mike and before he began going through an explanation on how to get into it, he suggested I use the spare key. I started laughing -- I never thought of that. When I told him I felt like a moron, he belly-laughed. Then he went into an explanation of opening and replacing the battery inside the electronic key. I never would have guessed that would be placed in the old times, old days -- the old, new normal.

Not to go into personal detail about his life, but he has a lot to ponder. He's not far from retirement and he's unsure as to whether he wants to go back in sales with his time remaining. He said that he can get a job somewhere -- that wasn't the issue. He felt bad for me, a Saturn owner. But Mike said with a smile in his voice that this was a bump in the road that life throws at you sometimes and he'd let all the Saturn owners know if he sets up shop at another dealership.

Saturn is a great car and I'll drive it until I trade it in or it is no longer driveable. I knew Mike and I would part company someday. I had hoped it would be under better circumstances and that I'd have another salesperson who would be my Saturn contact.

Here's hoping that life improves for all of us under the new, new, new, new, new normal.