Sunday, January 25, 2009

Welcome to Kelly’s Life, Episode 14

Lesson #1 in car rentals: do not wait until the day of travel to make your car rental reservation. There are a number of reasons why this is an important lesson. Firstly, renting a car the day of your arrival will cost you, at a minimum, eight billion dollars. Secondly, the eight billion dollars will buy a Suzuki Swift at some shady no-name dealership in the dark part of town, located in a little shack with bars on the windows, presumably to keep people from stealing the Suzuki swifts and Dae Woo’s. Although, realistically, you can easily pick these little cars up and put them in the back of your pick-up truck. For those of you unfamiliar with Suzuki Swifts, let me assure you, they most certainly are the pride of Japan. They are the approximate size of a tuna fish can, only smaller. They run by hamster power. The engine has a curious whirring sound at high speeds, that’s how I know its hamsters – running on a little wheel. So let me tell you my Swift San Diego Story…

I was utterly convinced, being the travel bargain genius that I am, that I would find the travel bargain to beat all travel bargains if I waited until the very end, before renting a car for my trip. The logical theory being that people would desperately be trying to get my business and provide last minute deals on rentals. However, it had not occurred to me that there would be other people attending the very same conference I was. Eight hundred and ninety-seven people, to be exact. So that may have put a glitch in my theory. So, for the very economical price of $39.99 a day, I rented a Suzuki Swift from Fox Rent-A-Car. Don’t ever go there. Ever.

I landed at San Diego airport in the evening, struck funny by the palm trees (as I always am), and proceeded to the rental car shuttle peninsula. I looked around casually for a shuttle with “Fox” plastered boldly on the side, but to no avail. I watched Hertz shuttle after Hertz shuttle pass by, with all the lucky (smart) people leisurely getting to their shiny cars, well ahead of me. Such convenience. So I called the Fox place, and they said there would be a shuttle there momentarily. And so I waited. There goes Hertz. And I waited. And there goes another Hertz. And waited. So I called again, only to be informed, truthfully, they only had ONE shuttle. But it would be there real soon. There goes another Hertz.

Oh, believe me. I was tempted to just hop on one those other shuttles, but I knew, deep down, Fox-Rent-A-Car, don’t ever go there, would make me pay for the last minute bailout. Call it travel instinct. And there went another Hertz. So after about 45 minutes, a lovely white van comes careening around the corner, with the “Fox” emblem emblazed on the side. I cautiously approached, as did an older couple, to flag down the driver. He leaps out of the van, which he’d left parked in the middle of traffic, and starts tossing our bags in the back. We all settled in, as the driver wandered around the platform looking for other gullible people to take with him. The other passengers, a scruffy economical looking bearded man and his wife, asked me if I’d ever used Fox before. I said “No, You?” They had not either. But they did inform me they were only paying $12.99 a day. For a Chevy Cavalier. An actual car. A Suzuki Swift is to a Chihuahua Dog as a Chevy Cavalier is to a Labrador Retriever. Just to give you a comparison. And I was paying big bucks for my Chihuahua.

At any rate, after the driver got back in without a word, and we catapulted out of the block, going about 500 yards in two seconds flat, while we all desperately reached for our seat belts, our eyes wide with fear for our well being. The non-English speaking driver weaved in and out of traffic, simultaneously riding the brakes, while the other foot slammed to the baseboards on the gas pedal, cutting off anyone and everyone within three blocks. It really is a wonder it took him so long to get to the airport in the first place. In what seemed like an eternity of watching the world go by at an all too alarming rate, passing all of the shiny well lit Hertz type places, we arrived at a little shack, really a house on wheels, with bars on the windows, and a flimsy sign out front that said “Fox”. That little voice that we all have, was screaming inside my head “RUN. Get out. Don’t do it.” But the rational person in me compelled me to follow through, thinking it would simply be less hassle. I grabbed my bag, and went in to sign my credit card away. Omar was none too friendly. And he was clearly peeved that I was un-willing to spend the extra $9.99 a day for insurance. Gullible that I am, I always buy the extra insurance, but have never used it. This day, I refused to give them any more of my money, so opted out. I told Omar that I was already unhappy with the whole thing – which was my feeble attempt at getting a discount, which prompted him to shove the rental forms towards me and say, “sign here.” And so I read the whole damn thing, fine print and all, only to find out that Fox, don’t ever go there, would own me and my first born, outright, if I didn’t agree to all the contingencies. I hesitated, and signed my name, hoping they may name my first-born child something noble, like Joe.

Omar gave me the little form with the plan view of the picture of the car on it, which notes any body damage. I asked if I needed to check, and he just said to let him know if there were any noticeable damages. So out I go into the unlit, nighttime parking lot, found the tiny car in the shadows, and see a dent about the size of small street performer, or possibly a wallaby, in the front panel. And a number of other things, which I meticulously wrote down, sketched, described, and would have photographed, had I brought a camera. Omar was angry when I went back in and proudly showed him the damage report. He sent out Crazy Driver Man to check, and after much disgruntled conversation amongst themselves, they handed over the keys.

So after that confirmation, I was finally off, in the Suzuki Swift, propelled down the six-lane highway by hamsters in the tuna fish can resembling a small dog. California highways are gigantic when your car is only four feet wide. The speedometer maxed out at 85, so I decided to test that. Engine whirring away. At high speeds, (relatively speaking obviously) the tuna can bounced all over the highway at the slightest bump in the pavement. But at low speeds, it became all too apparent that there was no power steering. One has to use one’s whole body to turn that damn car.

All else went well and warm and fuzzy, until I found myself in a parking lot, behind an SUV. The SUV started backing up. Surely, they’ll see me, I thought. Then suddenly realized, who am I kidding? They couldn’t possibly see me! And I started pounding on the steering wheel. But there was no honk. No noise whatsoever. Until the SUV made contact with Chihuahua’s front bumper, and I looked down only to realize the horn was on the side of the wheel…so I pressed my thumbs down, and it went,

“meep.”

My only thought was, “me without the goddamn insurance for the first goddamn time and I’m going to have to give Joe to Omar”. The SUV pulled forward, and a woman jumped out, clearly believing she had run over a person on a bicycle, a squirrel, or the concrete curb. As I got out, and she saw that I was ok, not furry, and not horribly flattened by her SUV, she says, “I didn’t even see you!” I replied, “Really. The hell you say. How could you possibly have!? Look at that thing” as I pointed to the clown car. But lo and behold, the car rental gods were smiling down upon me this day. There was no damage. I’d get to keep Joe after all.

The remainder of the weekend was fine and dandy, meeping about town in the dolphin-safe-mobile. Upon return to Fox-Rent-A-Car, don’t ever go there, Omar comes stomping up to the Chihuahua, pointing at the small street performer dent (or wallaby), that had been previously noted by yours truly, and says, “You put that dent there!” I grinned, in the mischievous way that I do, as I considered the options of adding Omar to the dent himself, when my polite little voice says, “I noted it on the paperwork and told you about it when I rented it.” Damn that little voice. Omar was miffed. Bastards. So that’s how they make their money. Unsuspecting tourists renting their cars in the dark.

So free from the insanity of Fox, don’t ever go there, I got on the shuttle back to the airport. The shuttle, I noted this time, was a different one. They lied. They have more than one shuttle.

So the moral of the story?

1. Yup, that’s right folks, Fox-Rent-A-Car, don’t ever go there.
2. I am not the travel bargain genius that I thought I was when it comes to car rentals.
3. Joe is a noble name, isn’t it?