Hartley: When smart companies do stupid things | AspenTimes.com

Hartley: When smart companies do stupid things

Those of you who know me may be familiar with the saga of the gifted Mercedes, a problem with which I have been beset this summer. You may know of the emotional turmoil it has caused me and the hell my wife, son and I have endured in being just a one-car family these past few months. Well, you will all be happy to know that the ordeal is finally over, and we’ve all survived, thank God.

For those of you who haven’t heard the tale, I’ll start at the beginning. I have a Mercedes. It’s a 1998 E-class station wagon that my parents gave me a few years ago when it had well over 100,000 miles on the odometer, a few patches of rust eating away at the metal and silver paint peeling off the rear bumper.

Like all things Mercedes, my station wagon is filled with over-engineered, fairly pointless but nevertheless expensive technology. That includes the key, which is stubby and plastic instead of metal and key-shaped. Over the years, the plastic wore down, and then one day the key just stopped working entirely and would no longer start the car.

Thankfully, the Mercedes came equipped with something called a wallet key. It was a flat piece of plastic shaped like the real key, and it could start the motor but not operate the locks. So we just started using the wallet key and leaving the doors unlocked all the time and things were fine.

There were only two problems with the wallet key. First, it had no hole in it through which to attach a key chain. Second, it looked nothing like a key. It looked more like a little piece of plastic that had broken off of something else. Thus, when my wife misplaced it in early July at a security checkpoint for an Aspen Ideas Fest event with Vice President Joe Biden, no one thought to turn it in to lost and found. I have no doubt that someone picked it up, thought it was a piece of trash and threw it away.

So now we had no working keys, and the car was stuck in a parking lot near our house. We called the nearest Mercedes dealership, three hours away in Denver, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hi. I need a new key for my Mercedes.”

Mercedes person: “Yes sir. Where is the car now?”

Me: “Stuck in a parking lot. Can you send me a new key?”

Mercedes person: “No sir, I can’t. Mercedes won’t do that. You have to bring the car and yourself to a Mercedes dealership.”

Me: “You did hear the part about the car being stuck in a parking lot, right?”

Mercedes person: “Yes sir. To get a new key, you’ll need to have the car towed to Denver. Oh, and the key is going to cost about $350, just so you know.”

Me: “I’m not very good at math, and I don’t know how much towing costs, but I figure that between the key and the tow, you’re telling me my Mercedes is essentially totaled.”

Mercedes person: “Yes sir.”

We didn’t know what to do until a couple of weeks later when my wife finally called Mercedes USA headquarters in New Jersey and explained our plight. Whoever she spoke to took pity on us, and Mercedes offered to pay to tow the car all the way to Denver instead of just sending us the damn key. I was grateful, obviously, but I couldn’t imagine anything more stubborn.

Anyway, the Mercedes made it down to the dealership OK, and the key arrived from Germany about three weeks later, but throughout July, August and September, we couldn’t come up with the time to go and pick the car up.

Finally, just last weekend, my wife accepted an invitation to spend a night at the brand-new Halcyon hotel in Cherry Creek, and we went down to Denver. We got the car from the dealership, went for a swim in the hotel’s sweet rooftop pool and had an amazing dinner at Departure, an Asian-fusion restaurant so hip it made me feel Amish.

Most importantly, though, we went and test-drove a couple of cars at the Mini dealership. You see, my wife is in the market for a new car to go with our Toyota Highlander. We only have two drivers in our family, so if you’re looking for an old Mercedes station wagon, make me an offer.

Just be sure you don’t misplace the key.

Seriously. Make Todd Hartley an offer. To read more or leave a comment, visit http://zerobudget.net.

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