It took a lot of willpower, but after we went on the orphan list in Birmingham three weeks ago we didn't call and bother them once until last Friday. Oh, we'd thought about bringing them pastries or beer, Tide tickets, puppies - anything - but we didn't. I'm proud of that. Delayed gratification is a sign of maturity, right?

In the previous weeks, we'd heard the 'call of the orphan' from the Atlanta dealer (where we'd registered as prospective 'parents') twice. But both times the cars were filled like a Krispy Kreme donut with stuff that will stop your heart - or at least your wallet. Chrome, LoJack - tinting... Please. It wasn't easy to refuse, but we did.

It all paid off on Friday. After the second call from Atlanta I'd reached the limit of my maturity - so I asked my wife if she'd poke the Birmingham dealer with a stick to see where we were in the list (we'd been number 31 three weeks ago). When she called, she got the voice mail for the guy keeping the orphan list, Brad - and she politely asked for a status. A while later she got a return call - he had been about to call us - they had a car! A red Cabrio with a black tridion. My wife and I planned to be there the next day.

Slightly later than planned (ahem, my wife's fault) we got to the dealership. As we pulled up we saw two red Cabs. We circled them like sharks discovering a school of tuna. I bit first. Wow! "A red interior!", I said. Let me re-phrase that... "a RED interior.". "And a convertible!", said my wife. "Um, could you live with that much red?", I asked my still Smart-struck wife. Slowly, we felt less and less like sharks - we stopped circling. To be a good shark - you have to keep moving - we stood still behind the car - still ready to bite if we had to. Being only slightly shark-like now, we slowly came to an agreement - too much red. Ironic. Red. Blood. We should have been in a frenzy! We were awful sharks.

I perked up - "Well, at least test drive one!". She hadn't driven one before and although I was getting the orphan for my business, I wanted her to have one eventually. So knowing we were going home hungry, I asked Brad for a test drive for my wife and off they went with my wife showing a toothy grin. "Good luck!" I shouted. "Thanks!", my wife said. "Oh - not you! - I'm talking to Brad!". Got a laugh out of the girls behind the desk - my wife frowned at me. Brad looked at me, looked at my wife and bravely got in to start the test-drive anyway.

Apparently sensing that I was once a sea creature, one of the girls offered me some water which I gladly took. I gathered some promotional materials and an accessories catalog to pass the time while I waited. "Do you go to the bottom of the list if we refuse the orphan?". 'No' - I was assured. I took a sip of the water and felt a little better. Just then, Mark - the General Manager of the Smart group walked by, "would you be interested in a silver one?" he asked. "A silver what?" (I was thinking 'tuna' - it was lunch-time after all). "That silver Cabrio over there", he pointed three cars over from the original chum. "Um - yeah!", almost doing a spit-take. "but I thought...", he stopped me, "It just came through - the guy doesn't want it - we're just waiting for official confirmation from Smart!.". I got up and circled it - "wow! yes! - wow! Well - let me talk to my wife about it, she's on a test drive.". I was stunned. It was silver with a black fin - um - tridion. Inside - the comfort package - leather seats, rain sensor, premium sound system - in short - the car we'd reserved that wasn't due until February - except it was a cabriolet. I could live with that.

I bit off a chunk... "O.K. - hit me with the add-ons. Undercoating? You'll tint the windows first? Install fog lights and a chrome package? What's the damage?". "Well..." he said. "It was ordered with the chrome package, we just haven't put it on yet...". Aha! I thought. "...but if you don't want it - we'll leave it off.". "So no chrome if I don't want it?". "Nope!" - "no tinting?" - "Nope!" - "no undercoating?" - "Nope! Just pay for what's on it - the standard comfort package". He quoted the price. I sat down, took a drink and waited.

My wife came back smiling. "Did you have any trouble? - How'd you like it?". She loved it. "Too bad the red one is so... Red". She agreed. "I just can't do it.", she said. "Um - would you like a silver one?", "a silver what?", she said. I think she was thinking tuna - it was lunch-time after all. "That silver Cabrio!", I pointed my snout. "No! Really? No! When?", "Just now!", I said - and recounted the conversation with Mark. "Let's make a good decision over lunch.". So we left the dealership - making them promise to hold on to it. So long story long - we did the paperwork and bought it. No add-ons - no chrome - no rip-offs. These guys did it right and didn't do to this orphan buyer what I've heard so many times on this board.
The only catch was, we couldn't drive it off the lot since the official Smart release hadn't come in. On Saturday they called. Smart had released the car and it was ready for pickup!

So we drove around town - alternating - just about all day on Saturday and Sunday - burning up half a tank of gas (not easy to do). Too cool. I applied my little Apple sticker to the back (I'm an Apple consultant). It was complete. My appetite for well designed, customer aligned products is sated for now.

I'm using this car for my new Apple consulting business MacSmarts, (think street-smarts - just with Apple products). The Smart car is coincidently, but conveniently, named. It fits so well!

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Comment by AB on September 2, 2008 at 6:44pm
GREAT and well-written story, Ron. Are you in love with your smart already? I have had mine for almost four months and have 8.000 miles on it ... all pleasure driving!!!!! And it IS a pleasure to drive.

BTW, I live in Pompano (as in the fish) Beach, FL., so please don't bite me, shark-man.

Check out the pictures of my license plate on my page here. I think you may like it!

Comment by Shaun on September 1, 2008 at 8:18pm
Love the story. I just formed a parrotheads group and with al the talk about sharks, I thought you might be a Buffett fan if so join the parrothead smarts group. I too picked up an orphan and we love it too.
Comment by Nancy & Gary on September 1, 2008 at 3:03pm
How great to finally hear a good story about a dealer. You were really brave to resist as long as you did. I don't know if I could.
Enjoy your new smart. Still waiting in Vegas. Nancy & Gary
Comment by toes on September 1, 2008 at 2:03pm
Very entertaining story Ron. Congrats on your new car.

I have actually heard similarly positive stories about other dealers and I think that (as always) the negative stories tend to "surface" the most, so it is good to hear an account of a positive encounter.

Have a whale of fun with your new hammerhead!

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