As numbers flew back and forth, I kept my cool. I found it rather hilarious that when I asked one question, the man would droll on for minutes. He said something about working for 43 years. His finger tapped at his temple, while he boasted about all the knowledge in “here.” He said something about a computer system that costs him an arm and a leg each month.
“$700!” his voice echoed.
He hands moved through the air like a vendor selling RedSox programs on opening day.
“$700!” Somehow he found a way to bring the monthly fee back into the foreground. I focused back on the words and not the hand motions. “That’s how much I have to pay for a…” a real long pause here, “tool!” Another pause. He seemed thrilled with himself that he could form this monosyllabic noun. “This tool gives me prices for…”
I spaced out again and did some math for a minute. $700 x 10=$7000, plus $700 x 2 = $1400. $8400! A year! He only pays $8400 a year for a complete pricing system! That is cheap!
I began to calculate how much he might have to pay a developer to create this same tool. The formula began at $8400 / $150 an hour.
…That bit of math was too hard for my brain’s internal calculator to figure out, so I just gave up. I figured he wouldn’t be able to afford an app developer salary for even a month with the same sum of money. I thought, “Man! He got that system for CHEAP!”
My brain snapped back into the conversation.
“…come in here and they know exactly what they are going to pay.” His enunciation on “exactly” was precise, well practiced. He brought age labels into the last bit of the conversation. Something about millennials and “computers” and their “access to information.”
What had I asked about again? Oh right. The price of the car. No. It wasn’t a car. I’m an American man.
American men buy trucks.
Americans hitch boats to trucks and drag them to lakes. We lob coolers filled with beer and peanut butter sandwiches into truck beds with the aim to do nothin' but float on the water all day. We roll down the windows while we drive across the expanses of the great American highways. We let our dogs lick the air as their heads bobble in the air of freedom. We put our cares aside.
Known fact: I’m a dad.
No talks about trucks happened here. I was haggling a price for a minivan. I repeat, I was in negotiations for a minivan. An 8 passenger minivan. With a built in cooler box, vacuum cleaner, AND widescreen T.V. Maybe I am a typical American… bigger, better, bolder.
I sat through the entire repertoire of random emissions the dealer heaved into my unwilling ears, and we agreed on a price. A firm American handshake later, and I started signing paperwork.
Paperwork is processed in the back of the shop, in a room unseen, by a man I’m not meant to meet. The iliadic dealer walked back there, said whatever dealers say when they make a deal, and came back to me with papers. All required signatures, in addition to one random blank white sheet of paper.
“Sign here.” He said pointing to an empty line. “And here. And here.” We repeated the same game thrice.
This is where my brain nearly exploded.
He handed me the empty, stark white 8x11 sheet of paper and said, “and I’m gonna need you to put your social down,” A short intake of air hurried into his lungs. He pointed to the abyss on the page, “right here”
Like it mattered where the salesman’s finger landed on the sheet of paper. I work in the world of information security! I have built-in, hard limits, for some things. Placing my government issued identification number in written form onto a piece of paper is an absolute no go.
I stared into the face of a “Game Over” situation.
I was not about to complete the request. I composed myself. “Excuse me?” I said politely
He responded in an ethical manner, with no malicious intent in his voice. His surprise that I, David, would question him, the Dealer, surprised me! How dare I, David, a random 30 something man buying a… minivan…, question his process! A process HE has been performing for YEARS!
For background sake, this is the first minivan I’ve ever purchased.
“Yeah it’s required by the state of Massachusetts.” This quote was added as a nonchalant prod into the stream of exchanges. This last note was accompanied by looks of disbelief, blinks from a pair of eyelids. The blank sheet of paper was missing the only defined item, the finger, that just a moment ago rested on it. The finger and hand, had returned to the dealer’s lap.
We sat there. We blinked. I don’t doubt my lips puckered in confused
At this point, I got up and walked out from the conversation. I walked out to protect my private information.
I didn’t walk far, I walked right by the dealer’s confused stare, and stood in front of the man in the back room. The man with the computer.
“You need my social?” I asked with as much bravado as a non assertive person can muster. My tone most likely laced with a large amount of confusion.
The man on the computer said, “Yes it’s required by the state of Massachusetts. We didn’t used to have to do this. We had to start entering the information after 9/11.”
He showed me the web page. I checked standard security things:
Green SSL cert icon.
Looks like a valid state web page
I opened my mouth and gave the man my social. He entered it directly into the state of Massachusetts web page. He kept no record of it in his possession, nor in his office, nor on a (GASP!) blank sheet of paper.
I made a jovial comment about his L.L. Bean boat shoes lounging in the corner. I had a pair at home. “Wish I wore mine today. It’s raining buckets.”
I walked out of his office and sat back down at the dealers desk. “I work in information security. You should never write your social on a random sheet of paper.”
“Hmmm.” was the extent of the response.
Be smart with your information. Whatever it is; an ID number, credit card, or a picture of you, take some steps and learn how to protect your data. Whether it’s the Russian FaceApp company, who now has your pictures forever, or a request from someone to write down your social on a blank piece of paper.
Do what you have to do to protect your data, even if it means walking away from a riveting conversation.