Monday, April 26, 2010

The Rental Car

Now, I consider myself a world traveler. I’ve been to London…Rome…Houston…Safford… I’ve even had the opportunity to rent cars, so this process is not new to me. Both times, I simply walked over to the Enterprise counter in the airport.

It was a girls’ weekend in San Diego - woo hoo. I was responsible for getting the rental car – I’ve done this before – ok, twice.

The first sign of trouble was when Mary Anne’s husband asked me on the way to the airport what kind of car I rented, a Corvette?

Haven’t rented the car yet – will do it at the San Diego airport after we arrive.


We landed around 7:45 pm, all giddy with anticipation of the girls’ weekend away. The second sign of trouble was when I discovered there is no Enterprise counter at the San Diego airport. In order to rent a car, we have to go up the escalator, outside, across the bridge, through a crosswalk, and into a holding area for the local rental car vans. The Enterprise van swept us away on a 10-minute ride away from the airport and civilization as we know it, to a remotely located little office. I stand in line with lots of other travelers, snaking our way through the ropes. When I get up to the counter, I hand over my driver’s license and credit card – just like I observed everyone else do – and announced, “I’ll take a full-sized car, please.”

The sweet young thing, with long platinum hair, punched a few numbers, then asked me if I had a reservation.

Reservation? No, did I need one?

Yes. We don’t have any cars available.

What? You have a whole lot full of them. (I noticed that when the van drove into the parking lot.)

After observing my look of shock, the sweet young thing said she could probably see if another rental place would have a car.

Full sized? Yes, that would be fine. (People are so helpful in San Diego)

Now it is past 8:30 pm, and she comes back to me waiting at the counter and snickered that she found a full-sized car for me, at Airport Rent-A-Car. They will send someone over for us.

That should have been the third sign of trouble “Airport Rent-A-Car.” Not Hertz, not Avis – Airport Rent-A-Car – a red flag should have wrapped itself around my neck and strangled me.

I walked outside to wait for the van from Airport Rent-A-Car to come pick us up – and waited – and waited. It is now going on 9:00 pm.

I looked for the sweet young thing with platinum hair and asked her to check on the van coming to pick us up. She called and said they were turning into the lot. That’s when we met Arab Jay – driving the Ford Taurus. We loaded ourselves and our luggage into the car so he could take us to Airport Rent-A-Car’s office – a 15-minute drive. He was very nice – showing us the sights and offering suggestions on where we could eat – almost too nice – hmm…kind of like giving cheese to a mouse before you snap its head off.

The fourth sign of trouble was when we turned into a dirt lot with a singlewide trailer: Airport Rent-A-Car’s office.

Now what were we suppose to do? It is 9:15 at night, we are hungry, we need a car.

We stepped up into the trailer and he proceeds to fill out the paperwork, pausing at every little line, writing down numbers, multiplying times 2. I don’t think he’s ever done this before.

“I don’t suppose you would take my AARP card, would you?” Arab Jay looked at me like I was crazy – the single light bulb swaying from the ceiling.

That’s when Sandi noticed the message on the whiteboard behind the counter, “Daily goal, 2 per day.” Below that was “4/21: 1 - 50%” That would be 1 car rental on 4/21 – 50% of their goal.

I wonder if we are # 1 or # 2 for the day. If we are # 2, we would be 100% of their goal – better treat us nicer – or at least accept my AARP card.

Gazing out on to their lot of fixer uppers, we asked which of the 2 would be our car?

The one that brought us to the single-wide, the lovely Ford Taurus, the one with 73,000 miles.

I decided to get the insurance.

Arab Jay asked us when we were going to return it.

Sunday – our plane leaves Sunday evening, we chanted.

We aren’t open on Sunday - the niceness leaving Arab Jay’s voice.

Now, that is a problem. After staring at each other for a few minutes, Jay told us we could park it outside the locked gate, leave the keys under the seat, and lock the doors. They would get the car Monday morning. Do it all the time. (for all the cars they rent, no doubt)

I decided to get more insurance.

Now, I am used to driving Fords – had a Ford Escort one time. I am familiar with Mazdas, Buicks, and Toyotas. Mary Anne and Sandi, on the other hand, drive a BMW and Mercedes respectively. Mary Anne was going to be one of the drivers because she is familiar with driving around San Diego. I could tell by her body language that driving a Ford Taurus was definitely going to be a big adjustment for her.

Finally, at 9:30 pm we drove off the lot and headed for P.F. Chang’s for dinner. It was in the parking lot when we discovered the remote did not work, and we had to manually lock and unlock the doors. More body language from Mary Anne – could have heard an expletive or two also. Once we were seated, I excused myself to go to the restroom – more to throw up than to pee. When I got back, the girls had ordered me a vodka – figured I needed it – that is not the last vodka I would need this weekend.

After dinner, we found our way to the condo at 10:30, without incident – too late for a movie – so we went to bed.

The Ford drove us downtown the next night to the Art Walk near Little Italy. We found a “pay first” parking lot and parked the car. I was reading the instructions when a young woman handed me her parking pass and told me to take hers – it was an all day pass – good until midnight. I offered to pay her, but she declined. We had fun walking around looking at the art and had dinner at an Italian restaurant – remember – Little Italy. Then we decided to drive to the Gas lamp District a few blocks away because we did not want to disturb the transients spreading their cardboard boxes in the doorways for the night.

Found another “pay first” lot, and that’s when Mary Anne noticed it. The Ford Taurus had expired plates – yep, 2009 was the last sticker. I looked in the glove compartment for some paperwork on the car – dust bunnies - empty. Oh my God, Arab Jay rented us a stolen car!! Blood pressures started to rise, I had another vodka, and we decided to take our chances driving back to the condo.

This is when the back and whites all seem to be driving down the streets at the same time – cruising - looking for expired plates – stolen cars - drugs. One turned on his flashing lights – more expletives escaped from Mary Anne’s mouth – stay calm – don’t draw attention to ourselves - but then he drove down another street – safe – hurry home.

Sunday – the last day of our girls’ fun weekend escape – and one more leg of our journey with the Ford Taurus, whom we have now named Big Bertha. We called Yellow Cab to pick us up at Airport Rent-A-Car.

Can’t pick you up on car rental property.

Ok, how about at our drop-off point - outside the locked gate?

See you at 5:30.

After almost hitting a light pole, a few wrong turns, and driving down a dead-end street, Big Bertha was parked safe and sound in front of the locked gate of Airport Rent-A-Car. We locked the keys in the car, and scurried into the Yellow Cab – the meter already at $10 - driven by Ali.

I hope I am invited back to San Diego. IF I am invited back…I will not be in charge of the car rental. I’ll buy the airline tickets instead.

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