Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.



Sure, there are some disconcerting things going on in Washington, DC — but let me tell you about my car.

I drive a hardtop convertible that I like a lot. It’s a BMW 428i, with all sorts of fun and fancy features, including a little button that retracts the hard top into the trunk and lets in all the freshly rain-scrubbed splendor of the Southern California sky. I put this top down frequently because it’s one of the reasons I got the car, and because I can.

I also like how the car accelerates, how it syncs all the music from my phone, how it interacts with my phone, how it helps me find my way around (extremely helpful, because I can get lost from the kitchen to the bathroom), how the seat automatically adjusts for me, and all sorts of other things.

Recently, I’ve been hearing a sloshing sound, the sort that one might hear if one left a half-empty bottle of water on a rear floorboard. When coming to a fast stop, I’d hear this sloshing around. At some point, I pulled over and looked under the seat, but didn’t see a bottle of water, and then opened the trunk but didn’t see a bottle of water in there either, and then looked under the seat again, and then under the passenger seat front and back, and then back in the trunk again, but still found no half-empty bottle of water.

On Friday night, I took my daughter and her boyfriend to the Arclight in Hollywood to see “Split.” I asked my daughter if she could hear that sloshing sound, and she said she could, and so could the boyfriend. When we parked at the theatre, we got out of the car and looked under the seats and inside the trunk and everywhere else we could think to look, but couldn’t find a bottle of water.

On the way back, we all noticed that the sound was gone. Hey, no need to worry about it any more!

On Saturday, I drove down to Corona del Mar to stay over with some friends and although the weather was glorious, I didn’t put down the top. Yesterday, I drove back, unpacked and cleaned up a bit at home, then got back into the car to Moving Arts for the readings of two new plays by friends. I put the top down and reveled in the warm late afternoon sky. I parked in front of the theatre, lifted up  on the button to raise the hardtop — and nothing happened.

I tried again. And nothing happened.

Just as with looking for the elusive bottle of water, I tried it again. And again. With no change in result.

BMWs have warning lights and messages and ding-dongs for any possible thing that might happen. Well do I remember the time in a previous BMW when seemingly the entire dash lit up with alarm to let me know that it was snowing. (Which, you know, I could see by looking through the windshield.) So it’s understandable that I wondered what I was doing wrong because I was getting no such alarm. Finally, I decided to leave the car parked with the top down because it was either that, or just drive back home.

After the readings — and now we’re starting to get to the point of this stem-winding story — I drove home and parked the car in my gated back yard and went online to make a service appointment with the BMW dealer in Glendale, the car being under warranty. The online appointment booking software allowed me to walk through the whole process — but wouldn’t offer any appointments, ever. Not even for weeks again. I tried it on Safari. I tried it on Chrome. I tried it on Google. So I went to Live Chat. No one came on. So I called them. I worked my way through the phone tree to the service department, which asked me to leave a message — but which had a full voicemail box. Finally, I decided to just watch a movie with my family (the remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” which cheapened the meaning of the word “magnificent”).

I got up this morning and, again trying things that previously hadn’t worked, tried to book an appointment via Safari, then Chrome, then Google, then tried Live Chat, then called, and no one picked up, and there was no way to leave a message. (I now think that some surprisingly insecure part of my psyche must suspect that I’m always at fault.) So I just drove over to the BMW dealer, because barring smoke signals, there was no other way to make contact.

I told the service advisor the entire story above and said, “It must be the hydraulic system.” He looked at me and I explained that the sloshing sound was probably a cylinder that controls the top, and the liquid had leaked out, and so there was now no pressure. He duly wrote down what I said, took the car, and got me a “concierge” (a soon-to-be-banned-by-Trump immigrant who told me he’s worked for this dealer for 10 years, and whom I tipped five bucks out of sympathy) to drive me to my office. While they weren’t sure how long they’d have the car — “These convertible hard tops are complicated!” he said — they were out of loaners, and I figured I’d wait to see how long they’d have the car before I figured out what to do. In the meantime, I got to my office, and I arranged for a drop off to a lunch meeting I had, and a pick up after it.

Four hours after I left my car, the service advisor called to say it was ready.

“REALLY?” I asked. After all, “convertible hard tops are complicated!” But he assured me it was ready.

“The window lost its initialization, so we just reset it and it works perfect.” In other words, it’s all computerized and something wasn’t talking to something else.

“You’re sure, right?”

“Oh, yeah. They raised and lowered it five times. Works perfect.”

So I got someone to drop me back off in Glendale, I signed the car out, I shook hands with the service advisor, I got into the car, admired the nice wash and wax they had applied, the music I like got picked up automatically from my phone and started to play, and I buckled my seatbelt and pressed the button to lower the top… and nothing happened.

So, of course, I tried it again. And again.

Then I got out of the car, fuming, and called out “MARCO!!!!” because that’s the service advisor’s name.

I showed him that it didn’t work, and he got in and tested it himself and said again, “They raised and lowered it five times….” which means either he was lying to me, or “they” lied to him.

I said, “This time I get a loaner.” Which he made happen.

And then, as he was filling out new paperwork to reopen the case, I said, “You’ve got a QA problem. Because this is not the first time I’ve been told a car was fixed here, and I’ve picked it up, and it wasn’t.” He agreed. What else was he going to say?

A nice young woman came and got me out of the lounge area, where I was filling the room with smoke coming out of my head from watching some Trump defender getting grilled by Anderson Cooper, and told me that the loaner was ready. It’s a nice, brand-new 2017 black 430i, larger inside than mine. I got in and went to set the navigation — but there isn’t any in this car. And it isn’t synced with my phone. And I can’t field phone calls in it. And it doesn’t know me or my ways at all.

So that’s the really big thing.

Yes, there have been other things going on in the nation today, a day when the president fired the acting attorney general because she had the audacity to uphold the law she had sworn to uphold, but how can any of that compare to our creature comforts? As a friend of mine keeps noting sanguinely on Facebook, he keeps looking out his window and doesn’t see any rubble anywhere.

One Response to “Outrage”

  1. Dan Says:

    At first reading I dismissed this as trivia, but on reflection I think you touched on some brand-new Eternal Truths. In this century, Who among us has not faced the frustration of trying to contact Customer Service? Or lived through the equivalent of the “Dead Parrot Sketch” as a tech assured us something was working when it obviously was not? You evoked some universal angst here that we can all relate to.

    As far as your problems with the loaner car, well that’s just kvetching…,…

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