Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I'm So the Wrong Guy to Ask Advice From About Anything

I'm not the kind of guy who gives a lot of advice. I'm more than happy to tell you when I think you are doing something wrong, but I try to shy away from dispensing advice. It's not a rule of mine, but it is a guiding principle.

Giving advice is scary stuff.
 When I do stray from this philosophy, a little voice inside my head screams, “What the EF are you doing?” as I make suggestions to someone about how to run his/her affairs or live his/her life. I have many younger friends; and I hope I do have some wisdom worth sharing, but handing out advice is a slippery slope that whatever meager wisdom I have accumulated over the years should steer me away from.

Sometimes I simply can't help myself. Before I even realize what I'm doing, I'm passing out advice on relationships, finance or careers. None of which, incidentally, have I ever had even a modicum of success at. I don't want to imagine all the carnage my advice has probably left in its wake over the years.

Too often the devil wins the argument.
Having said that, the irony that I basically give advice for a living isn't lost on me. But it's different when anonymous third parties read the stuff I write than when I'm sitting next to someone at a bar, waving around a beer, sermonizing on some issue in his/her life. That can – and often does – come back to bite me on the ass.

This was driven home to me again a couple of weeks ago as I occupied my regular seat at the bar sipping on a glass of Immortal Zin at Greenville's Soby's, minding my own business. As I was naval gazing, one of the servers said he was on the market for a car and what would I recommend.

Normally, this question would set off alarm bells in my head not unlike a clanging klaxon on a diving submarine. “What car should I buy?” and “What do you think of fill-in-the-blank car?” are questions that can only bring me misery.

Usually the fill-in-the-blank car question is an attempt to get me to validate some buying decision already made. That is, the answer seeker already owns the car and wants me to make them feel good about having purchased it. I'm all for doing that. People don't want to think they made a bad decision, particularly where several thousands of dollars are concerned. I usually respond by asking, “Why, do you own one?” Nine times out of ten, they do. I then tell them what a genius they are.

But the what-should-I-buy question requires too many variables to answer: new, used, sedan, convertible, compact, full-size and on and on. Most people asking this question aren't really known to me. I am nearly clueless about their lifestyles, habits or requirements. They might as well be asking me what flavor ice cream they should order. How the hell should I know?

Not to mention that if they buy what I recommend and then something goes wrong....

"Hey, you know that car you told me to buy?"
But forgetting all of this for the moment, I decided to try to answer this guy's question. Silly me. I rattled off two or three new models that I like, and each was met with a shake of the head and a very emphatic no-no-no response.

“I wanted you to answer with a Ford or Lexus,” he muttered as he stalked away.

Here's the thing: If he wanted me to narrow my recommendations to a specific brand or two, he should have said that up front. I drive 100 or more new cars a year from over 30 manufacturers. If someone has a particular model or even a brand in mind, the chances of my blurting it out are pretty slim – maybe 1,000 to 1.

I'm happy to recommend something to friends when asked, but, because they are friends, I have some idea what they like, want and need. I usually tell them to let me think about it for a day or two and I e-mail a few suggestions.

Responding to the question cold from an acquaintance or stranger, is just looking for trouble.

So, I try to avoid giving advice – especially car-buying advice – but sometimes I backslide. I am only human after all.


  1. Terry said he always used to ask the person if they had bought the car already, and if they had, he would do as you say, tell them "good choice." He might give his opinion if the person was still looking. One time, he said, a Herald colleague asked him about a car she was going to buy, and Terry recommended something else. She then proceeded to argue with him that her choice was better. I don't know if he used the unkind words or not, but he was thinking them.

  2. I was sitting in the joint we used to hang out in after work across the street from The Boca News one evening. The bartender mentioned to a lady sitting across the bar from me that I was the auto editor for the paper. She yells across the bar, "Hey, I have a question for you." I thought, here it comes and prepared for a what-car question. She continued, "Why didn't my paper come yesterday?" Small-town papers...