I looked across at that face you see when someone clearly thinks you’ve lost your mind and can barely stop the flood of reasons why this is a crazy idea bursting out of their mouths. Instead, they’re doing their best to wait for you to suddenly realize your “life error,” and repent. They’ll give you a hug, but you’re still an idiot.
I’m not surprised, it’s just one of those things that sounds wrong when you say it, just like “I just put the baby in the washing machine with some woolite because he’s got sensitive skin,” or “I finished washing out the car Dad. How long will it take to dry?” Tell someone you just bought your 16-year-old a Mercedes Benz E350 because it’s a good car to learn to drive in, and you’d better be braced for the same kind of storm. However, that’s exactly what we’ve done, and we’re pleading extenuating circumstances.
You see, your Honor, it happened like this:
We have two sons who do not yet drive. One, because he’s only just reached licensable age and the other because he has almost no interest in driving, or leaving the house for that matter. However, unlike his older brother there is a huge amount of interest from my youngest son. The kind that brings up the subject each and every morning, noon and night. So, when my awesome but “Way too much car for you guys,” died a horrible, unfair and expensive death last fall we determined that the next vehicle would be “son drivable,” so we could remedy this situation.
My wife and I assigned three criteria for the new vehicle, it must have an automatic transmission to make driving simpler, four or all-wheel drive because we live on a steep hill in the northeast where it often freezes and snows and both boys have to be able to drive it. The one unsaid stipulation was that it wasn’t going to be a Delorean, so everyone could stop looking them up on the Internet, printing out the specs and putting them under my pillow. With this, very much like the all best laid plans, our doom was sealed. The hidden wrinkle here is that my youngest son is about 5’10” and his older brother is 6’7”. As we soon found out, not many cars are constructed for humans of the 6’7” variety.
It was a long 3 months. Dealership after dealership tried to cajole, jockey and force fit my older son behind the wheel of about 50 different car models. One salesman accused him loudly of “Not trying hard enough,” another helped him behind the wheel by placing a foot on his chest, and one shoved him in face-first, slammed the door behind him and asked me if we shouldn’t “get down to business” at his desk.
It was not a fruitful search. As a last resort we determined that a visit to the local used car dealer was in order. As much as I hate dealing with used car dealers, they had a wide variety of vehicles, the prices were mostly right and just maybe that might improve our chances. It wasn’t easy but I got my giant son away from his computer on a Saturday and down to the used car lot.
It took exactly 10 minutes. The sports-jacketed salesman looked my looming son over, pulled on his chin for a moment and then slipped him into a Saab crossover. He fit, just barely, but his mile long legs actually went under the steering wheel instead of poking up over the top on either side. His head was in the correct position to see out the front window instead of curled against the roof of the car looking down into his own lap. “Wow” I thought, “done!” However, hand to chin once again the salesman was nonplussed. “That’s too tight, no good. I have another idea.” Smoothly, he slid us over next to a white Mercedes Benz that managed to gleam even in the grey light of an dark overcast day. “German’s are tall,” he said with a wink. “I’ll go get the key.”
The Saab had been quite reasonable in price and I had little hope that this magnificent vehicle would feature the same benefit. As we stood beside the driver’s door it spoke to us in a smoothly efficient, light german accent, “Ya, price is always a question, but vhat is the cost of dreams, liebschien?” Somehow the car managed a matronly kind prussian smile and a definite feeling of sensible shoes.
Our salesman returned and opened the door from afar, deftly demonstrating the odd keys these royal carriages come with. That’s the first clue of just how different these machines are, there is no metal key only an proximity token with an infrared sender like the remote control for a TV. The door swept wide beckoning my son into it’s luxurious leather depths. Somehow this boy, who began the mission reluctantly was now eagerly slipping himself into the engineered pleasure of this impossible dream.
He fit. Not only did he fit he swam in the spacious interior. He even had to move the seat up to embrace the interior controls of this white Viking princess. The door regally closed, locking him solidly into to the car’s golden embrace. Through the sparkling window I thought I saw his hair being smoothed and arranged neatly by unseen winds.
There was no bargaining that day, we took our leave with a promise to return. I was elated, the great search was complete and with each member of the family I informed I was greeted with further elation. It seemed everyone thought this ridiculous prospect was the perfect solution. The price was not as exorbitant as I feared, just at the upper end of my wife’s more reasonable expectations. Still, it was a far cry from the $500 I once hoped to spend on a “kids car.”
I hate buying cars, used or otherwise. Anything bought with bargaining, no matter the cost, always makes me feel as if I have lost the battle for price and my dignity as well. Throw in the incessant trips to “talk to the manager,” and in minutes I just want someone to put me out of my misery. That’s not how my wife feels. I’ve watched her grind car salesmen to near tears, close their hands in desk drawers when she feels they are not considering her feelings, and mostly felt bad enough for them to offer an extra hundred, on the side, out of pity. We didn’t get that first car we looked at, she simply won’t pay what they ask no matter how reasonable, how well supported, or how long it takes to get there. She sets the final price, they meet it or it’s sayonara and “…Sorry about your hand.”
Instead, we found ourselves in the glistening halls of the local Mercedes dealer considering the finer points of the ‘Certified Pre-Owned.’ The stunning grand spectacle of the dealership made me want to go home and change into a suit, or at the very least go out on the sidewalk and lick my shoes clean. I settled for putting on my sunglasses to save my eyes from the intense and deadly glare of unshielded riches. Ever sit in a hundred and fifty thousand dollar car? You should, it’s something else. But I warn you you may never wash those pants again and when you climb back into the booger you drive, you’ll be on your way to a life of dissatisfaction and secret envy.
I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for the Mercedes Benz “car investment experience.” My brain quickly glazed over and refused to accept all further input. There wasn’t just coffee available for the customers, there were seven kinds of cappuccino, with six different machines to make it for you. Standing in for the regular basket of pawed-over, raggedy “good business sense” donuts, were box upon box of fresh pastries, a selection of delicate finger sandwiches, a variety of savory rolls and a fresh, warm from the oven, quiche, if the mood took us. However, suddenly I’d lost my appetite. Instead I found a feeling of dread had arrived dragging a vision of long winters pushing rusty supermarket carts full of aluminum cans behind it.
However, it took all of 45 minutes for my wife to have her way with the salesman and the always invisible manager. She would not be denied. She’d sat in couple of the more glorious examples of aryan craftsmanship that loitered the polished floors of the cathedral-like dealership. This was a place of worship and even she was not immune. She was leaving with a Mercedes, no matter what the human toll. That was pretty much how our 16-year-old felt as well. Delorien be dammed, the seas had parted and this was the promised land.
During the bargaining phase, I tend to avert my eyes. Torture should be a private thing, and I prefer not add to the victim’s suffering. However, this time it was all so pleasant that I couldn’t help at least listening. The gentile give and take, the smiles of points won and the firm-lipped losses all happened under an over-arching atmosphere of great and charming civility. There would be no crushed hands today. My wife fired her final blow with all of her deft sweetness and steely cunning, a price crafted to inflict mass casualties among all the accountants of Europe. The salesman took her hand and said warmly, as a knight bested, “Of course.”
That was it. We owned a Benz, one considerably better than we first saw and certified by Mercedes himself. Additionally, the salesman was free to return to his home this evening on two good legs.
Two days later I sat in the driver’s seat and listened to 45 minutes of vehicle explanation. This was a complex machine. While a driver might just get in and go, they would be deeply remiss in attempting it. It would very like walking along a street strewn with hundred dollar bills without noticing. I wont bore you with a long discussion of the 10 airbags, the seven automagical systems that keep the car going in the intended direction at a reasonable speed, or even the fiber optic network that makes the various entertainment options available throughout the car. To present the flavor of the 45 minute “information session,” I will merely relate the functions of the three buttons.
A Mercedes-Benz vehicle will call the Mercedes Benz emergency center, on it’s own, should anything catastrophic happen to the car. “Catastrophic” in Benz-ian includes anything from accidents to component failures (including the stereo) and driving in a shameful un-Mercedes-like manner. Presumably this is to insure the immediate deployment of stormtroopers to punish the wicked and prevent undue owner embarrassment. The car has complete control of these notifications without involvement or cost to the driver or passengers, for the life of the car. However, in addition to this system, there are three buttons for the owner to use. Pushing any of the three immediately brings concerned soothing voices that fill car with confidence and salvation. Not to mention potential air to surface missiles for miscreants with spray paint or sharp objects.
First is the “SOS” button, located in the center upper console over the windshield in a covered compartment. One presses on the cover, which snaps smartly away, and the lighted red button of doom is revealed. It appears like an ominous cold war hold-over, and may well have the much same effect. Our salesman explained that this first button is for situations such as finding oneself teetering on a cliff in danger of falling to a sudden and grim death below, being under attack by zombies in a particularly unsavory part of Newark New Jersey, or the creepy guy from the bar is outside leering intensely, threatening to mar the finish. Life threatening situations are soon remedied by the dread red button. Zombies and creepy guys beware.
Button number two, in the center console, is marked with a picture of a wrench. Although it lacks the dramatic quality of the first it is none the less a very serious button indeed. Even the suggestion of mechanical failure brings grim looks to the employees of Mercedes. Our salesman explained this can be pressed in the event of a flat tire, or to bring a helpful mechanic with a few gallons of gasoline, and possibly a technician to get the home-made CD that’s stuck, out of any of the car’s three players. We were assured that in the unlikely event the car should suffer a breakdown in even the smallest of components a significantly better Benz would arrive for our use while our ride was “re-educated.” Button number two is for technical faults and also is available without charge for the life of the car.
The third button, also in the center console, is marked with an “I.” Button number three is for those situations that are sometimes the most confounding and desperate for Mercedes owners. For example these situations could include avoiding having to look out the window to actually determine the weather, ending the interminable wait for the financial news to announce the current price of Apple stock, finding out during a heated discussion who actually was the 36th President, or most disagreeable of all, determining the location of the closest Brooks Brothers when it turns out, that in the light of this particular afternoon, this shirt almost clashes with these slacks and you look quite the fool. Button number 3 is for information, some charges may apply (especially if you want your new emergency ensemble delivered).
With these and about a thousand other reasons I shall slay the doubters of our decision. It is a used car, but the word is these are not even broken in till they pass 100,000 miles. From the closest examination, I can tell that owners who pay the full price for a new Mercedes, take maintenance very seriously. If I have any suspicions I can just ask the car itself, we call her “Angela M,” and hear details of even the lightest fingerprint. If she happens to be out with another driver, I can find her on my phone which will be handy when locating either of our sons. If all else fails to sway the most doubtful and unconvinced, I’ll call my wife and slyly open a drawer. Don’t worry, I won’t watch your Honor.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2012