Column Classic: The Mothership

By Lisa Scottoline

I’m a terrible negotiator. I’m too emotional, and I can’t pretend I don’t want something I really want.

Like George Clooney.

But today we’re talking cars, and this is the tale of my first attempt at negotiating.

To begin, I have an older car that I take great care of, and it’s aged better than I have, sailing past 100,000 miles without estrogen replacement.

But around 102,000 miles, things started to go wrong, and flaxseed wasn’t helping. I knew I’d be driving long distances on book tour, and I started to worry. I called up my genius assistant Laura to ask her advice, as I do before I make any important decision, like what to eat for lunch.

I asked her, “Laura, do you think I need a new car?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

“But it’s paid off, and I love it.” And I do. It’s a big white sedan called The Mothership.

“I know, but you have to be safe. What if it breaks down on tour?”

“That won’t happen.”

“Except it has. Twice.”

An excellent point. One time, The Mothership died on the way to a bookstore in Connecticut, requiring the bookseller to pick me up at a truck-stop on 1-95. I bet that never happened to James Patterson.

So, I needed a new car, and since I love my dealership, I went there. I thought they loved me, too, which they did, except when it came to the bottom line. They gave me a good deal on a new SUV, but a rock-bottom price on trading in The Mothership.

I asked, “How can you do that to her? I mean, me?”

I told you I get too emotional.

And I added, “Plus you’re supposed to love me.”

But they don’t. They run a business, and it’s not the love business. However, it’s my secret philosophy that all business is the love business, so I got angry. They had taken care of The Mothership for the past ten years, at top dollar, and it was worth so much more.

Guess what I did.

I walked out.

I took my business elsewhere. That very day, I called up another dealership, who said, come on over, we love you, too. In fact, we love you so much that we’ll give you a better deal on your trade-in. And they did, after inspecting The Mothership and calling her “the cleanest 100,000-mile car they had ever seen,” which we are.

I mean, it is.

But just when I was about to say yes, my old dealership called and told me that they still loved me. I told them I was already rebounding with my new dealership, but they said they’d top the offer on The Mothership, and after much back-and-forth, I went back to my old dealership, like ex sex.

But long story short, the day came when I was supposed to pick up my new SUV, and I felt unaccountably sad. I took final pictures of The Mothership. I stalled leaving the house. On the drive to the dealer, I called daughter Francesca and asked her, “Wanna say good-bye to the car?”

“Mom? You don’t sound happy.”

“I’m not. I love this car.”

“Aww, it’s okay. It’s probably not the car, anyway. It’s that you have such great memories in the car.”

I considered this for a minute. “No, it’s the car.”

By the time I reached the dealership, I was crying full-bore, snot included.

My sales guy came over, and when he saw me, his smile faded. “What’s the matter?”

“I love my car. I don’t want to give it up.”

“So, keep it,” he said, which was the first time it even occurred to me. I know it sounds dumb, but it simply never entered my mind. I’d never bought a car without trading one in.

“But what about the money?”

“We’re only offering you a fraction of what the car’s worth. If I were you, I’d keep it.”

“But I’m only one person. Why do I need two cars?”

“They’re two different cars. The old one’s a sedan, and the new one’s an SUV.”

I wiped my eyes. “You mean, like shoes? This is the dressy pair?”

He looked nonplussed. “Uh, right.”

“Really?” My heart leapt with happiness. I decided to keep The Mothership. It’s strappy sandals on wheels, if you follow.

Thus ended my first attempt at hardball negotiations, which backfired. Having bargained for the best price on a trade-in, I couldn’t bring myself to trade anything in.

Because I love it.

It sits in my garage, aging happily.

Soon we’ll both be antique.


Copyright © Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Miles To Go

By Lisa Scottoline

I know I’m supposed to become my mother, but I’m actually becoming my father.

At least I thought of him recently, when I checked the mileage on my car. I’m at 94,272, and I’ve watched it inch up from 94,109 and before that, 93,820. I check my mileage more often than I check my weight, and that’s saying something. On a long trip, I actually watch my mileage like it’s a movie with George Clooney.

I can’t get enough.

Bottom line, I’m way too involved with my car mileage.  The more miles I have, the happier I get.  I dream about hitting 100,000 miles like some people dream about hitting the lottery.


It makes me feel as if I’ve accomplished something, though I haven’t. It’s my car that’s done all the work. I’m just along for the ride. Still, every time I hit a new 10,000 mile mark, I feel like celebrating.

Growing up, I remember The Flying Scottolines driving around in our ‘64 Corvair Monza, and my father pointing to the mileage counter as the little white numbers turned slowly to something. He was so excited that we all clapped, but I didn’t understand why.

Now I’m excited, and I still don’t understand why.

I used to think it was because if I accumulated enough miles, I could justify getting a new car. But that’s not it. I love my car and want to be buried in it, with a Diet Coke in the cupholder.

At around 17,328,000,000 miles.

But I’m wondering if my mileage thing is related to my Things To Do List thing. I love having a Things To Do list, and over the years, I perfected a template for my Things To Do list. I write the list of Things To Do on the right, and on the left, next to each Thing, I draw a big circle. I get to check the circle only after each Thing is Done.

Oh boy, I love checking those circles.  I make a big check, like a schoolteacher at the top of your homework. Then I stand before my list and survey with satisfaction all the checked circles.

And oddly, I admit that I’ve added to the list a Thing I’ve already Done, just so I can check the circle.

I know, right?

It’s kind of kooky.

So I told this to a friend of mine, and she told me she does things this kooky, and she also added another kooky thing. She has a Kindle, which is an electronic reader, and at the bottom of each page, it tells you what percentage of the book that you’ve read. As you read the book, the percentage increases, and she has found herself watching the percentage increase as she reads. She’s gotten used to the fact that she read 57% of a book, as opposed to 45 chapters, and she’s even figured out how many pages it takes to increase the percentage a point. The other night, she couldn’t go to sleep because she had read 96% of the book and she had to get to 100%.

Okay, the friend is me.

Now you know.

I’m sensing that these three things – mileage counters, Things To Do, and reading percentages – are related.

Am I taking too task-oriented an approach to life?

Or am I celebrating the small things?

Or both?

There’s a great quote by E.L. Doctorow, which says that “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I sense this quote is related, too, and that it applies not only to writing, but to everything, at least for me. Because writing a novel is like driving to Toronto or cleaning your house or starting War and Peace. Any large task is intimidating at the beginning, but it’s doable if it’s broken down, mile by mile, Thing by Thing, percentage point by percentage point. And when you finally finish that task, you can check the circle.

Have a Diet Coke, for me.

And my father.

Copyright © Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Can This Marriage Be Saved? 

By Lisa Scottoline

Breaking up is hard to do, especially with a credit card company. 

Our melodrama begins when I’m paying bills and notice a $50.00 balance on a credit card that I hadn’t used in a long time. When I checked the statement, it said that the charge was the annual fee. I was wondering if I needed to pay fifty dollars for a card I didn’t use when I clapped eyes on the interest rate. 


Yes, you read that right. In other words, if I had a balance on the card at any time, they could charge me 30% more than the cost of all the stuff I bought. 

Like a great sale, only in reverse. 

I’m not stingy, but I could get money cheaper from The Mob. 

I read further and saw that the Mafia, er, I mean, the credit card company, could also charge me a late fee of $39.95, which was undoubtedly a fair price for processing the transaction, as I bet their billing department is headed by Albert Einstein. 

So, I made a decision. 

I called the customer service number, which was almost impossible to find on the statement, picked up the phone, and as directed, plugged in my 85-digit account number. Of course, as soon as a woman answered the phone, the first question she asked was: 

“What is your account number?” 

I bit my tongue. They all ask this, and I always want to answer, “Why did you have me key it in? To make it harder to call customer service?” 

Perish the thought. 

So, I told her I wanted to cancel the card, and her tone stiffened. She said, “May I ask why you wish to close your account?” 

For starters, I told her about the annual fee. 

“Would it make a difference if there were no annual fee?” 

I wanted to answer, “Is it that easy to disappear this annual fee, and if so, why do you extort it in the first place?” But instead, I said only, “No, because you have a usurious interest rate and late fee.” 

“Will you hold while I transfer you to a Relationship Counselor?” 

I’m not making this up. This is verbatim. You can divorce your hubby easier than you can divorce your VISA card. I said for fun, “Do I have a choice?” 

“Please hold,” she answered, and after a few clicks, a man came on the line. 

“Thanks for patiently waiting,” he purred. His voice was deep and sexy. His accent was indeterminate, but exotic, as if he were from the Country of Love. 


Suffice it to say that the Relationship Counselor got my immediate attention. I was beginning to think we could work on our relationship, and if we met twice a week, we could turn this baby around. He sounded like a combination of Fabio and George Clooney. You know who George Clooney is. If you don’t know who Fabio is, you’re not old enough to read what follows. 

“No problem.” I said. I did not say, “What are you wearing?” 

“Please let me have your account number,” he breathed, which almost killed the mood. 

So, I told him and said that I wanted to cancel my card. 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. He sounded genuinely sad. I wanted to comfort him, and I knew exactly how. 

But I didn’t say that, because it would be inappropriate. 

“I have a suggestion,” he whispered. 

So, do I. Sign me up for 5 more cards. You have my number, all 85 digits. 

“We can switch you to the no-fee card.” 

I came to my senses. “Can you switch me to the no-highway-robbery interest rate?” 

“Pardon me?” he asked, but I didn’t repeat it. 

“Thanks, I just want to cancel the card.” 

“I understand.  And I respect your decision.” 

He actually said that. I made up the 85 digits part, but the rest is absolutely true. 

I knew what I wanted to say before I hung up. That we’d had a good run, but like a love meteor, we burned too hot, for too short a time. 

Instead, I said, “Thanks.” 

Honestly, it’s not me. 

It’s you. 

Copyright Lisa Scottoline