For several years after the 2008 Financial Meltdown I immersed myself in every book I could find that covered the events leading up to it. And, while the two topics may not seem related, I also read two biographies of Paul Volcker; our former Federal Reserve Chairman who was willing to make the tough, unpopular decisions that cleared the way for real and substantial economic growth in the two decades that followed. But in reading I discovered something truly surprising about his career choice: During Volcker's tenure at the Fed, I was earning almost twice as much selling Hondas in Fort Worth as he was, charting the troubled waters of the American economy.Seeing that statement alone, you might think people would have been rushing into local dealerships looking for a new career in automotive retailing. In fact, almost the exact opposite was true. Selling cars in America has never been a particularly easy occupation.40-hour Work Weeks -- NotMaybe worse than any other factor, anyone who truly wanted to excel at auto sales had to throw the dream of the 40-hour work week out the window. For two decades I kept myself going by remembering one statement that the famed American motivational speaker, Earl Nightingale, made: "American CEOs earn their pay, but they don't do it working 40 hours a week." That would be my mantra and justification for working 70 - 75 hours each week, year in and year out for decades. Sometimes it was even more, because years ago it was not unusual for a dealer, unhappy with the month's new car volume so far, to hold a weekend Midnight Sale. That might entail getting to work at 8 in the morning and leaving for home 16 hours later.The fact is that the job of selling cars goes on regardless of the national economic scene, no matter what the weather, and even when your particular manufacturer doesn't have any "hot" automotive products. It can even be more frustrating when your manufacturer does bring an incredibly popular vehicle to market; you have to wait on customers who truly want to purchase that vehicle, then and there - but, because that particular vehicle is in such high demand, no dealer has enough of that vehicle to satisfy all the customers demanding it. You lose the sale for lack of a car, not lack of a ready customer.Weather or NotSometimes our local TV weather people remind us that in the summer of 1980 Texas suffered nearly two weeks of temperatures over 110 degrees. Yes, Dallas Fort Worth's automotive salespeople were pounding the near-bubbling asphalt, walking customers through their inventories to find the right car for their needs. And then the salesperson would climb into the chosen car's back seat, broiling in the built-up heat while explaining that car's features. At times like that, the air-conditioning vents were a long, long way away.It's not unusual for a salesperson to spend two or three hours with a customer on their first visit and only a little less time on their third or fourth. In extremely rare cases, the salesperson may deal with one customer for months before they reach a decision. That's not a complaint, it's just the job - and it's understood when you sign up for a career in the car business.However, just as peak performance is demanded during the long hot summer days, customers also show up in driving rainstorms and on the coldest winter days. Assuming they show up at all.Where Is Everybody?One of the most surprising aspects of automotive retailing is that one never knows when the customers will arrive. A salesperson may be scheduled for an early morning shift with the evening off, but while they are on the showroom no potential customer arrives. So maybe they decide to stay for the second shift - but still no customers that day. It happens. Worse yet, they may go ahead and take the afternoon off, only to find out next day that the dealership made 10 - 15 sales on that second shift; anyone who left when their morning shift was over missed all the action.Or maybe they took time off and two customers they had been working with came back and purchased cars in their absence. That means their compensation for all of their previous work may be cut in half, because they have to share it with the salesperson who completed the sale. And that's assuming your customer even asked for you. If they didn't, and someone else finished up the transaction, you don't get paid anything.That's right, you walk through the wind, the rain, the heat and the cold, often with someone who's a fundamentally decent person looking to replace the family automobile, but who inherently distrusts you because that's all they've ever heard about the auto industry from the media. And not only do you have to win that customer over. You then have to facilitate a transaction for them that will run into the tens of thousands of dollars - in such a manner that (you hope) they are impressed enough with you and how you handled their car purchase that they may buy from you again.New RealitiesThese days car salespersons face a reality that didn't exist decades ago: You may have a strong relationship with the person or family you have sold to, but people aren't nearly as loyal to car brands as they were in the past. After all, GM once sold almost half of all of the cars in America, and GM buyers would buy only GM products; but the automotive market is far more fragmented today. There's no guarantee that the car your new customer absolutely loves today is going to be the same make or model they want to own four to six years in the future. And so on the first day of every month you start with zero sales on a clean slate, and you do it all over again.Here's why they do it: Because the best absolutely love it. For in spite of all of the hardships involved in succeeding, a car salesperson will meet some of the nicest people imaginable, and will fulfill their automotive needs. And the most dedicated automotive professionals understand that this country's economy would roll up and crater if car salespeople didn't keep the American public mobile.I've stood with salespeople at many dealerships across the Metroplex and had them look at the traffic on the freeway in front of their dealership, helping them to visualize what they are most responsible for. As the mass of freeway motorists passes by, I tell these kids that in the worst years in the auto industry, one out of five cars passing in front of their stores was sold by some salesperson to someone who wanted to improve their family's vehicle. And in the best years one out of four motorists passing by purchased that car that year from a salesperson.That's how critical a car salesperson is to America's mobility - not to mention all those they keep employed: The factory workers, mechanics, the truck drivers that deliver the vehicles, those who create the parts and refine raw materials to build the cars, right down to those millions in the oil industry worldwide, who do everything from finding oil to refining it. Last but not least, auto retailers are responsible for bringing in huge amounts of the tax revenues that keep our states functioning.America's is the world's best economy because we are the most mobile people in the world. Whether you want to believe it or not, that happens because of those who choose a hard career selling cars. I may be the most empathetic person around for the life of a car salesperson, because I've done it. I know what these people go through to be the best that they can be in one really tough career choice. That's why I admire those who truly excel in the business.No Day of Rest?Now people are asking again why car dealerships aren't open seven days a week. Really? The one thing that every salesperson can look forward to is the one day a week they can collapse from the week's grind and not worry about missing a previous customer's return or what the weather is like. It's the sole 24-hour period they get to recharge their internal batteries to go out and put in another 50- or 60-hour week, trying to be the best they can be - and yet some are saying that dealers aren't doing enough to make it convenient to purchase a new car?Tell that to the car salesperson who deals with the customer that walks into a store at five minutes to nine at night, but stays with them until 10:30 or 11, long past closing time. Then is back in the dealership at 7:30 to finish the paperwork on the cars he or she sold the day before. Most dealerships are open nearly 80 hours a week, and someone thinks that's not enough hours of operation? Give me a break.We're never going to have a Car Salesperson Appreciation Day in America, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have some respect for the work that the best in the business do.© Ed Wallace 2013Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, and is a member of the American Historical Association. He hosts the top-rated talk show, Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF AM. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, and read all of Ed's work at www.insideautomotive.com.