Tag Archives: chauffeur

Car Auctions: “She’s got the Mercedes-Benz. Uhhh…”

30 Mar

Yes, I know that in The Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ , the line is written “…She’s got the Mercedes Bends…” and that Don Henley had to explain to eagle-eyed fans (see what I did there?)  that this was not a spelling mistake and was in fact a play on words.

So, I am now taking Don’s lyrics and I am making a play on his words. In years to come, I will be asked tirelessly about the exact meaning of the title and whether I was making a dry social comment about the collapse of western civilization, using the metaphor of car auctions as a symbol of the capitalist system devouring itself by over-producing cars which in turn leads to the collapse of their value and subsequent discounting to below the gross cost of their manufacture.

I shall smile back through unfocused eyes as my bodyguard refreshes my single malt and, with the slightest tilt of my head, I shall indicate that I wish for the interview to be terminated and for the pink doves to be released over the city.

My nucleus of faithful blog subscribers – those who followed me prior to February 9th 2013 and who remained loyal despite experiencing great emotional and intellectual suffering – will be carried ahead of me on gilded chairs while school children dressed in the flags of the world’s nations perform “Next” by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band using only mime and natural yogurt.

I cannot stand Mercedes Benz products.

They make my flesh crawl. They symbolize a value system that I am deeply uncomfortable with. The signals they send out are not the ones that I want to transmit. Every Mercedes that I have ever driven has been well-built and outstandingly reliable. But I sometimes couldn’t wait to get out of them and simply drive something else – anything else – as if to confirm who I really was.

Mercedes Benz have built up a formidable brand value over the years. However, they are trading on their glorious past far too much. It simply is no longer true to say that a Mercedes never rusts and it will last forever; they rust pretty badly since Mercedes changed their steel supplier in the mid-nineties and their long-term reliability is wobbly, to say the least. Sure, their trucks and vans are still good but when did you last follow a Mercedes Sprinter van which had both tail lights working, eh…?

Then, there was the infamous A-Series “Moose-test” fiasco where Mercedes made two outrageous errors of technical judgement.

1) They released the original A-Series cars knowing full well that they could tip over if thrown sharply from left to right and back, as if avoiding a moose at speed.

2) Mercedes solved this technical problem in a shoddy way by reducing the ability of the car to steer quite so sharply in the first place, by increasing the ‘toe-out’ of the front wheels.

For many motoring enthusiasts, that disgracefully lazy ‘remedy’ marked the end of ‘old’ Mercedes (top-notch engineering) and the beginning of ‘new’ Mercedes (top-notch marketing).

They now offer so many car models  that there is at least one Mercedes for each of us on this planet to take a personal dislike to. Tell me that your pulse doesn’t quicken  to at least one of the following:

1) You are driving alone through an unfamiliar county on the back-roads at dusk after visiting an old friend. A soft rain begins to fall and you switch your windscreen wipers on and change from marker lights to dipped headlights. As you do so, you become aware that a silver 2006 Mercedes S500 with tinted glass is following you, always keeping just far enough back so that you cannot read it’s license plate.

2) Wanting to show your devotion and deep love for your partner after having both been through a hellish month, you drive out to a small but expensive restaurant that you both always promised you’d visit when you had the money, which you still don’t. As you turn in to the street which is a clearway and does not permit parking, the restaurant has a black 2012 Mercedes E Class Executive SE  stopped outside. The suited driver is standing by the rear passenger door and he is looking directly towards you as you drive by.

3) Having driven a company Mercedes C-Class for three years, it is now at the end of its lease and due for renewal. For a change of scenery, you select a cash-equivalent Audi from the list you are given to choose from. For the next month, all your acquaintances greet you with: “Hi…! Hey…what happened to the Mercedes?”

Am I getting anywhere here? Is it just me? Is there something specifically ‘Mercedes’ about those situations that simply wouldn’t happen if one swapped out all those cars in the stories for Lincolns or BMWs or a Lexus?

I mean, try reading through those stories again and instead of the Mercedes, insert  “1959 red and cream Chevrolet Corvette” and see how you feel now.

A Mercedes makes a statement far beyond its shape and composition. It announces one’s political and social outlook like no other cars does. It doesn’t wait for you to speak, it speaks for you without your permission and over the top of your own voice. It is as if Mercedes is becoming the victim of its own advertising campaigns. By offering humorless elitism and superiority (“Unlike Any Other.” “The Future of The Automobile.”) they attract many humorless people who wish to purchase admiration.

If you are unlucky enough to be living in one of the world’s many refugee camps right now, you gain respect from most people but you neither seek nor receive admiration. What matters most to you is this: If your food is delivered off the back of a 2010 Chevrolet or a Toyota, then you and your children are probably going to survive. If your food is delivered off the back of a 2010 Rolls Royce then almost anything could happen in the next 24 hours so you keep awake. But if your food is delivered off the back of a 2010 Mercedes Benz, you and your children have probably already been acquired by a warlord so you practise real quick how to smile and mix concrete at the same time.

Photograph at top of page, taken three days ago. Mercedes Benz E200 Avantgarde CGI Blue efficiency, Tip Auto, 1.8, petrol, Calcite White. Full black cow (sorry – full leather interior) and parking sensors. 14,500 warranted miles. First registered May 2010. One owner. Guaranteed as having no major mechanical faults by the auction house and vendor. Sold this Monday for £29, 100 ($46,269) at auction.

If you want one right now with U.K. specification, Mercedes Benz do have just one, a 2011 model for sale up in Scotland, yours for £34,999 ($55,648). The only other white one available is this one pictured above. White ones are scarce. Black or silver ones are everywhere you look, being the weapon of choice of the airport transfer brigade. You don’t want to spend all that money and be mistaken for a chauffeur, do you? Of course not.

The dealer who bought this Merc was possibly tracking it for the last few weeks as it neared the end of its lease.  He probably had it advertised as  “for sale – awaiting picture” for the last month  so that he could line up a buyer for the car in advance.

The leasing company who still owned it and the car’s actual keeper and driver would have been blissfully unaware of his audacity. Then, the dealer followed it down to the auction house on Monday and made £5,000 ($7,950) profit for a day’s work. It is not an easy way to make a living but two cars a month like that and you are earning $190,000 a year.

As you walk around a car auction, you may be surprised at just how many people are continually jabbering on their phones as they walk the lines of cars. Now you know why. All you need is a credit card and the telephone number of somebody who wants a white Mercedes because they hate getting mistaken for a chauffeur all the time.

After all, one doesn’t have to like a product personally in order to sell it. More on crystal-meth dealers in a future Roadwax post…

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The importance of serving toast correctly

7 Feb

156toastprius

It is 06.47 on a Tuesday morning in Autumn. The timing is important to me. It means that I have two minutes to pull my car over to the side of the long driveway that leads to the hotel. Then, out of public view, I can make sure that the side doors where the passengers will get in are still clean.

The rest of the car can wait. This Toyota Prius was hand washed only fifty miles ago but it already has a fine mist of damp cow dung and clay stuck to it from the last three miles of country road. Sometimes, this damned Prius gets washed twice a day. This is England. England is green and pleasant because it rains a lot.

There  is a finger mark on the back door handle so I polish it away with a tissue, get back in and select ‘Drive’. Six minutes to seven. I have been on the hotel’s CCTV since I turned in from the main road so now the receptionist will be telling the doorman that I am approaching. She likes the chauffeurs who pull over and check their car before advancing into her domain.

As I glide out from beneath the blue misty gloom of the trees that line the drive, the great house appears, lit silver and brass by the dawn sun. Its solid  lines dominate the cow draped pastures before it and one knows without doubt that this is how it was intended to be first seen by its visitors. The finest stone and brick faces outwards, protecting the whitest bedsheets and towels from those who have no business within.

The digital clock on my dash changes to 06.55 as I coast the last fifty metres on electric power towards the giant front door where a valet stands, staring intently towards me. On the raked circle of gravel ahead of me, a silver Mercedes S-Class is loading. Its passengers wait while the driver rushes to open the rear doors and let them inside. I brake to a halt early and flash my dipped headlights at the doorman. He raises one finger in acknowledgement from his white gloved hand to bid me to stop and wait. He brushes his electric blue waistcoat and turns to look to the valet who stands at the top of the great stone steps at the front of the house.

I recognise the driver of the Mercedes. His name is Eric. Eric used to be in business with my boss. Now, he is not. I can guess why. Eric is snatching the cases from the pea-shingle drive and stacking them in the back. He shuts the tailgate and strides round to get in behind the wheel. I can see his passengers settling in the back seat and then Eric is rolling, hard right lock, his headlights reflecting off the low stone wall that make his turn so tight.

The gardener stands with his rake and watches in case Eric’s turn requires the grains of pea shingle to be restored. I take my foot off the brake and roll forward to the Portland stone doorway. The doorman now looks to me, pointing downwards with his finger to exactly where he wishes me to position myself  beside his perfect shoes. I catch a glimpse of Eric’s intense and reddened face as he drives by. He glares ahead to the darkness of the beckoning trees.

I push the button and my window glass drops with a whir and the cold air creeps in. The doorman bows towards me and stares into my eyes. I set the parking brake with my foot.

“Having fun…?” I make a cheesy grin up towards him. His mouth is already forming his first words to me but he stops and straightens, looking back to the house. I can hear the valet’s voice. The doorman nods and then bows to me again. He speaks.

“No, I am not. Go round again. We are all out of sequence now…” The frustration in his voice makes me click the handbrake off without delay but his gloved hands still hold on to my door so I keep my foot on the brake.

“Give way to the black BMW that is just arriving, come in back here as soon as he goes, yes…?”

“Yes.” I make to move away but he still keeps his hands on my door. I look back at him. He is staring after Eric’s Merc. He speaks softly.

“That couple…” He struggles for words. “…they got drunk last night and then cancelled Eric’s car. Then, this morning they start screaming at us, asking where he is. They couldn’t remember a thing. Eric only just raced back from Heathrow now. They only had to wait half an hour but…my god…they made sure that everybody knew!”  He stares at me.

“Now…” he continues,  “…I have a gentleman who ordered that BMW for seven fifteen and then changed it to seven…then I do you…”

“What about my seven o’clock…?” I ask.

“She’s just enjoying her toast.” He makes a cheesy grin back to me and he winks. He drops his gloved hands from my door and gives me a dry smile. “Go, go, go…”

A black BMW 740 is approaching fast in my mirror and I glide out of  its path, swinging right lock as it stops on the gravel where I waited a second before. The doorman bows forward to the driver and speaks with him. I drive off and turn again in the staff car park. I wonder how long it takes to eat toast and if I can get a little more door cleaning fitted in.

A warning light in my head tells me not to stop and I swing back into the arrival point for the second time. It is just as well that I do because the black BMW 740 is just pulling away with the  gentleman  inside. The doorman stands, pointing to the ground by his feet, giving me a stiff nod. I coast up and stop a second time.

“Here she comes. One suitcase. Get the door for her and I’ll load you.”

I leap out as he strides to the tailgate. The great hotel facade reflects in the gloss black paintwork of my car. There is a patch of manure and straw stuck on the freshly waxed rear tyre. I scoot around the car and I pull my new passenger’s door open and she gets in without breaking her step or acknowledging me.

The doorman helps the valet who is struggling to fit her huge suitcase in over the lip of the tailgate. I close her door and I pull the boot lid down. A white Range Rover appears behind us and stops short, waiting for me to leave. Two slim businessmen are now standing in the hotel doorway, flanked by the valet and the doorman. They are holding identical carbon fiber briefcases and both wear a small enamel lapel badge, probably identifying their employer or the private society to whom they belong. They are glaring with disapproval towards me. I am in their way.

I pull full right lock and I am facing back to the long avenue of trees that line the drive. The Range Rover pulls up in my vacated space and the parking valet leaps out, holding the door for the two men who get in the front and slip sunglasses on in unison.

I greet my passenger.

“Good morning…!” I try to sound as welcoming as possible. ” Heathrow, terminal five..?”

I haven’t noticed that she has already got her earpieces in and is making calls on her Blackberry. She cradles it in her lap. Her crisp voice cuts across my last words.

“David, its me. Do Vogue America have our proposal on their desk…? Good…I’m in the car going to Heathrow now, so they only have forty minutes to speak to me…”

I curse myself in silence for my failure to spot the white wires that snake up the side of her neck into her blond hair. I push the car hard down the narrow drive. This will make it float better over the bumps and it will also show her that I am not wasting my time. The fallen leaves swirl behind us, sucked up by the car and left to tumble in wait for the Range Rover. I don’t want the two spooks in the Range Rover crowding my rear end at the junction.

Far ahead, a black Chrysler pulls over into the passing bay, flashing me to let me know that I have priority.

“Well…that is their problem, David. Make them sweat and I’ll call you when I am in the air…lousy…book me in somewhere else  next time David…dreadful….the toast was cold again…yes…I had to send it back twice, would you believe…?…I don’t care, David, anywhere that understands how to serve toast…”

I flash my headlights to the Chrysler as I pass him and I begin to brake for the cattle grid at the gate house.

She settles back in her seat and looks out of her window.

© 2012 and 2014 Loop Withers   Roadwax.com

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