Kacey Edenfield shows up to work every day with the understanding he may be forced to shake strangers’ hands, a direct violation of the federal social distancing guidelines. But auto sales are personal business, and some customers demand they shake before deals are finalized. Even in the coronavirus pandemic, some insist on the literal human touch, especially if they believe the whole crisis is overblown.

Auto sales are essential in the U.S., according to new federal guidelines released last week. But that has always been the case in Tennessee, where auto dealerships are permitted to operate without limitation. Edenfield, whose journey from high school baseball stardom to gay pornography we profiled last month, works full-time at a Ford Lincoln dealership in Knoxville, Tenn. While he says business has been down significantly since the pandemic, his dealership performs repairs on commercial vehicles such as busses and tractor-trailers, so the shop remains busy.

And, once in a while, somebody does come in and want to buy a new car. Ford, like many auto manufacturing companies, is currently offering generous incentives to lure customers into new vehicles. During these moments, Edenfield says his first step is to feel customers out, and determine which side of the truth they are on.

“I kind of ask feeder questions like, ‘Man, everything that’s been going on has been really crazy, huh?,’ and if they’re like, ‘No, it’s just all a big hoax. I wish they would just open everything up. This is killing me and my business,’ then I kind of know, alright, well, they’re not really worried,” Edenfield said. “It depends on the customer, because you have to play everybody to their beliefs, and especially with how politicized this whole thing has been, and living in the South, a lot of people will still look you in the eye and be like, ‘Na-ah, we’re going to shake on this.’ And it’s like, ‘OK, I can’t really say no if I want to sell a car.’”

Though Edenfield comes in close contact with the public every day, he says he’s not particularly concerned about contracting COVID-19, because he washes his hands regularly and sanitizes his work station after every customer. His dealership is abiding by social distancing guidelines, placing each desk at least six-feet apart.

The biggest logistical obstacle when it comes to selling cars in the midst of a pandemic is the test drive, which Edenfield says he’s been opting out of. Some customers insist the car gets delivered to their homes for the test drive, and the dealership abides.

Like some Southern states, Tennessee is intent on relaxing its social distancing guidelines. Gov. Bill Lee (R) says he will let his stay-at-home order expire April 30, with some business even being allowed to open April 27. Tennessee has over 7,200 confirmed coronavirus cases with 152 deaths so far.

For Edenfield, who’s been receiving his coronavirus information from researchers and scientists, it can be jarring to come into contact with people who live in an alternate reality.

“I’m in the minority in terms of my beliefs down here,” he said. “I do a good job when I’m at work of suppressing that, not so much when I’m outside of work. We had some protesters out in front of the mall the other day when I was driving by, and I just couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I didn’t say anything. I kept my mouth shut and drove by, but it just made me a little hopeless. It’s basic science at this point.”

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