Last year I bought a 2008 BMW Z4. I’ve desired one of these cars ever since the last time I lived in California, in 2001. I was working for an early web software company called ArsDigita, and their Berkeley office had a Z3 which I borrowed a couple times and drove around California in. Boy was that fun! :)
So I dreamt of one day owning a car like that, but in Denmark it’s economically quite unfeasable (we pay 180% tax + 25% VAT on top of that on new cars). But when I went for my E-2 investment visa for the US, and I couldn’t come up with enough meaningful things to invest in to meet the threshold and a friend had gotten his E-2 in part by investing in a company car, I figured this was my chance, and I bought one.
I was in Denmark at the time, so I went to the local BMW dealer to try one out. It turned out the guy working there was someone I went to school with, and he was more than helpful. I told him about the situation, and he said it was perfectly safe to buy a certified preowned BMW from a dealer, sight unseen, and he went on to help me pick the right one on the market to buy. That was this one.
Our visa got rejected, but we went ahead and traveled to the US as tourists anyway, and ended up spending most of the first half of 2012 in the US enjoying our new wonderful car. It was quite a trip. It’s an awesome car, beautiful lines, fun to drive. And for exactly two weeks I felt absolutely on top of the world. I’d park it on a parking lot and look around and say to myself “there’s not a single car on this entire lot I’d rather own”, and feel proud. One day as we drove into Santa Barbara, my wife and I, top down (of course), we passed a couple of skaters. One of them yelled “nice car!”. The other one followed with “nice bitch!” :)
But after two weeks, it became just a car. I still found it beautiful, it was still loads of fun to drive, I still loved it, I’d still get the looks. But it failed to make me feel special in the way it did for the first two weeks.
So that was a pretty effective lesson in how material things cannot make us whole. Yeah, I know. Big surprise!
It was a very powerful experience for me, because this was such a relatively big and expensive object, compared to anything I normally go around buying, and because I had lusted for this car for a whole frickin’ decade. And now I had it, and it was just, you know, pretty great! By the way, we named her Deb, and yes, it’s a she.
And now she’s gone. I sold it to Carmax, with the help of my yoga teacher Andrew and his wonderful wife Jessica. After we left California in July, we entrusted Andrew and Jessica with Deb, and I believe they enjoyed riding her quite a bit, even though they couldn’t fit both their children in the 2-seater.
The process of selling the car while I was in India was quite an experience, too. First, it looked like we might have to go to Chennai – a six hour train ride from Mysore where we live – in order to get a document authorizing Jessica to sell the car on my behalf notarized at the US embassy. Then it turned out that because the car was owned by my company, a document on company letterhead with original signature would do. Great, so I FedEx’d that over.
Then when Jessica took the car in, they refused, because the company name didn’t match the name on the title. Originally, the company was named Fearless Entrepreneurs LLC, but someone had that trademark, so I changed the name to zenbilling LLC, also reflecting a change in business plan.
Carmax said I needed to get a new title first. So I got up one morning at 3 am and called the DMV over in California. We’re 12 and a half hours ahead here, so calling the US west coast can be tricky. The voice said the wait would be an hour and a half to two hours. Shit.
I waited and waited. Showered while on hold. Sat and did some work, waiting. Then after an hour and fifteen minutes, I just had to go to the bathroom. I went with the computer at my side. And of course right there, on the can, pants down, halfway through my business, was the exact moment that I get connected. “Hi, yeah, uhm, can you hold for like 30 seconds, please?” Yes. Great. Mute. Hurry up and finish.
The DMV lady told me there was something called a “rush title” for a small additional fee. I looked it up online while we talked. Didn’t look applicable to this particular case. I asked her to double-check. And then we got disconnected. I called up again, but I was of course back at the end of the line. I didn’t feel like waiting another 90 minutes, so I got dressed and went to the yoga shala to practice.
Once there, I waited 30 minutes till it was my turn. When my teacher saw me he said “why you are late? your time is 4.30.” I explained the situation. “You waited 2 hours on phone. Now you will have to wait another 2 hours here. 4 hours wait. Punishment for being late for class.” He was half joking. Five minutes later he called me in.
Phoebe suggested I call Carmax, which I did, and it turned out there was another way, when you got to talk to the right people. We worked it out, I FedEx’d another set of documents over, and we were finally able to complete the transaction.
But then, unfortunately, the draft was made in the old Fearless Entrepreneurs name instead of the new zenbilling name. I called up the bank. Yes, that was a problem. They wouldn’t let me cash the check. Back to Carmax. Can you cut a new one? Yes, send the old one in, we’ll make a new one. Great. They did, and FedEx’d it to my virtual mailbox address in San Diego. The letter arrived and was signed for on December 20th, but two days letter, there was still no sign of the letter in my web-based user interface where mail shows up for me.
I started to get nervous. I researched “drafts” vs “checks” online, because I’ve never dealt with a draft before. The difference is that a draft cannot bounce, the amount is guaranteed when the draft is issued. One web site said it was “like cash”. That worried me. Does that mean someone could’ve taken it and run away with my money? That would really suck. I emailed customer support for Traveling Mailbox. Turns out mail is collected in San Diego, then put into some big box or envelope, and sent to North Carolina, where the actual processing center is. Only when it shows up there will it be scanned and show up in my online interface.
Problem was that we were so close to Christmas, and now there was a snow storm in the US, so the mail got delayed further. It wasn’t until yesterday, December 29th, that I finally heard back that the draft had arrived, and they were so helpful they even took it upon themselves to drive the 4 miles to the nearest Wells Fargo and deposit the check by hand. Thank you!
Meanwhile, I’d learned that the proper processing center for these kinds of deposits is in Portland Oregon. It could’ve been loads of fun for this draft to travel from Carmax in San Diego on the west coast, to my mailbox address also in San Diego, to the Traveling Mailbox processing center in North Carolina on the east coast, then back to Portland on the west coast to be processed by Wells Fargo.
Had I know what I know now, I’d have called Wells Fargo and asked them if Carmax could just mail the draft directly to them. Would’ve saved us all a bunch of hassle, and me a lot of worry. Now I know.
But it was an interesting exercise in worrying. Normally I’m not the worrying type. Or perhaps I am, I just have really good defense mechanisms against it, like planning. But in this case, worry took me over. I tried to tell myself that there was nothing I could do, and that everything was probably in perfect order. But the fear that someone had snatched the draft in San Diego several days ago, and I wouldn’t know for sure until some unknown later date, had me quite worried. Not fully understanding how a draft works obviously provided fertile soil for my worry grow in.
A lesson from the process of selling the car is that it helps to make some calls and ask and find out the best way to do things, rather than just assume and hope and go forward. In the end, everything worked out, but I could have saved everyone some hassle.