What I’m Riding . . . rental cars

My beautiful blue baby, courtesy of Hertz

My beautiful blue baby, courtesy of Hertz

In the grand world of car renting, I wouldn’t say I’m a frequent renter.  But in the world of renting cars for long distance travel, I’m right up there.  I’ve driven rental cars across the country and back, and I’ve driven a rental up the coast and left it there.  I’ve rented with Alamo, Enterprise, Hertz and Avis.  In the nineties, when I first started renting, I always went with Avis.  The one in King of Prussia was my favorite.  I drove all the way over there from Hatboro just to rent my car, I was that loyal and satisfied. Then Enterprise came along with their cheaper rates. Although I hated their bullying tactics–cramming the insurance down your throat, walking you around the car to get you just nervous enough that you want to take a ruler to the incidental scratch on the bumper because you know they’re going to accuse you it grew longer and deeper when you return–they were the cheapest and most convenient, so I switched. When I moved to Vegas I got a new car that could handle my yearly wanderings, so I didn’t need to rent.  Then someone hit my baby and the insurance company sent me to Enterprise while it was being repaired. Again it was a bullying nightmare, but I wasn’t paying for the thing, XYZ insurance was, so sure, add on what you must, let’s take a stroll around that pristine car.  Yes, I’ll fill the tank myself. I walked away from the transaction still hating their company and vowing never to use them again. I even had a friend at the time who worked for them, who admitted they were a shark of a company and the strong-arming tactics were a part of their training. Duly noted.

Towards the end of my time in Vegas I found myself flying back to the east coast quite a bit and had to rent cars.  I went back to Avis and things were going fine until one particular trip to Tampa. Florida has tolls abundant. Avis asks when you sign your contract if you want their toll counter or if you’ll pay tolls yourself.  I always opt to pay tolls myself. I get receipts. I’m never charged as part of the rental for any tolls. This one time–yes, the saying is true, one time is all it takes–I was fool enough to not get receipts. I was never asked to produce them my last five rentals, why would I need them now, right? Because the suckers at Avis charged me an extra fifteen bucks. Beautiful babies, when I tell you I was on the phone with Avis for an hour and a half trying to get them to reverse that $15 I am not exaggerating.  But they had me.  I had no receipts.  How did they know? How did they know out of all the times I traveled this was the one time I’d failed to get receipts? I told them to look back on all my previous trips with them; I’d never once used their toll counter. I asked them to reverse the $15 because I was a loyal customer. “It’s only fifteen dollars,” I said. “That’s right ma’am,” she said back to me, “it’s only $15.” But for me it was the principle. And double tolls. And I’m the customer–it’s the only time in life I get a guarantee of being right. I told her I’d never rent with her company again.  And I kept my word for five years. Until Arizona.

I was traveling to Los Angeles this past November and decided to fly to Phoenix and drive the rest of the way. I’d have to connect to another flight there and rent a car anyway, so why not just skip that step and drive myself? I rented the car and paid for it online. Picked the cheapest size car, it was just going to be me and Arty Party, two swinging chicks cruising the west coast in our rented hooptie. The description said it had enough room in the trunk for a suitcase and a small bag. So one of our suitcases would have to go in the backseat. Nobody was sitting back there; why pay an extra hundred bucks for more blank space? Done. So we get to Sky Harbor International and go to pick up our car. The woman behind the counter is miserable. No hello, no smile, just raised eyebrows that say “How may I help you?” I tell her we’re there for our car, which is under Arty’s name because she’s with their rewards program. I paid for it with my card online, however, which is a no-no in person.  For some reason I can never understand, the driver of the car has to also pay for it. That’s like the person eating the steak has to pay for it.  Are you going to read that book? Then your mother can’t buy it for you. You want to buy Lady Gaga tickets for four people?  Sorry, only one because everybody has to pay for their own seat. Blows my mind. Anyway–online you can pay for it. So because we paid for it online, this rule goes out the window. Contract goes in Arty’s name, she shows her credit card for incidentals, and all is dandy. Not so fast.  The woman says, “I see you got a compact car. Would you like an upgrade?” I ask if it’s free. She says no. She tells me the price. I said, “Yes, that price was online. If I wanted that car, I would have selected it then.” She then tells me the car we have is too small. I say, “Is it smaller than what was described online?” She has this stank face on, like I’m never going to fit in this car. “Weeelllll . . . it’s really small.” She’s playing this game with me and refusing to answer my question.  Now I’m getting pissed. “Is it the same car described online?” She tells me it’s smaller than a VW Beetle. “What, am I renting a bicycle?” I ask. She says nothing. I tell her I’m on  a budget, I paid for my car, I was an informed consumer who did my research online, was I bait and switched, I even shout out that I hate Avis and I take to tweeting. She gives us our keys, the car is the last car in the last row, but a fine little car, not smaller than a Beetle. Why was she so bent on upsetting me? Why not just ask if I want an upgrade and accept my no thank you? Eventually Avis tweeted me back to ask what they could do for me, but the damage was done.  I’d now been burned twice by their company. So no thank you, Avis, never renting with you again. You’re in the pile with Enterprise. Until a few days ago.

Oh, come on, don’t start with me. How many times have you said “never again” only to go back for thirds? Arty rented with Enterprise a few times on her forays into Pennsylvania and said they were a changed company. I know my beloved Funny Girl rented with them a few times when she would come see me in Tampa, so okay. I’ll give them another try. I reserve my car through Enterprise with pickup scheduled just this past Monday, the 28th. I even have my stepfather with me, who along with my mother graciously accepted the financial burden, Happy New Year to me. So we enter the closet of a rental office and Butzie Boy, the only employee on duty, has his hands full on the phone.  Seems the customer whose day he’s wrecking needs to be picked up but BB is saying they don’t do that at his branch. Hmmm. Isn’t that Enterprise’s whole shtick? “We’ll pick you up.” Haven’t they spent millions on an ad campaign trumpeting that very slogan? Then a woman comes in after me and gets really pissed when BB tells her she’ll have to spend an extra three hundred to re-rent the car she just dropped off. I give him a sympathetic look. I can see he’s about to have a hard time ahead of him. I don’t have the insight to know that I will soon be a 90% chunk of it, a story for him to tell at all Enterprise meetings forever after amen.  But look, it’s my story too, to share with you.  And so it begins . . .

I tell him I’m renting, but the fine gentleman beside me will be picking up the tab. No he won’t, I am told. I’m renting, I pay. I tell him I don’t understand this, what does he care who pays? He has no explanation, I hand over my card, we get BB to agree he will charge my stepfather’s once the car is returned. Fine. Whatever. Then he goes into the many insurance packages available. I say, “No thank you, I don’t want any insurance.” He pauses, stares at me. “Do you have insurance?” Yes, I say. “With who?” State Farm, I say. “Do you have collision?”  Liability, I say. He asks who would pay for the $18000 worth of damages if I total the car. He asks me if I work and who my employer is. He asks me when I last menstruated. Ok, that last one’s a lie, but he might as well have. To answer that first question, I flippantly refer to my stepfather as the answer. BB tells me he’s uncomfortable giving me the car without insurance. Now, I know all about this insurance game on rentals. If I crash the car, my insurance pays for it. If someone else hits me, their insurance pays for it. My extra $17.99 a day won’t pay for squat if I cause $18000 worth of damage. I remind BB that insurance is optional.  If it wasn’t optional, it would be included in the rental price. I explain that optional means you can refuse it. I am exercising my right to refuse that option. Again he tells me he’s uncomfortable releasing the car to me. Again I refuse the insurance. Again he talks about being uncomfortable. So what is it about me that makes Butzie Boy so uncomfortable? Do I just look so wildly vacant with my blonde hair? Do I just have one of those faces that says I’ll drive into a tree? Back into a mailbox? Walk up to the door with the sharp end of the keys sticking out and trip? If I were a different ethnic group or Caitlin Jenner, I could have cried discrimination by now and walked out with a free Escalade with the evening news nipping at my heels, declaring me a local hero. Finally stepdad cuts in and says he’ll pay for the insurance. I’m so pissed and feel totally violated.  I sign the contract like a brat, banging the pen on the dotted lines, and we go outside. Now it’s time to walk around the car. Here we go. “Oh, it looks perfect,” I say sarcastically. Then I open up my fresh mouth and say something to the effect of, “I’ll have a good time scratching it up and getting my $17.99 per day’s worth.” BB says, “You know what; I’m not releasing the car to you.” I roll my eyes and say, “Oh, give me the car and cut it out.” He says no, he’s voiding the contract. My stepfather says no he’s not and follows him back inside the office.  My stepfather, calm as Jesus’ sea when it comes to business matters, has now had enough. I’m just hoping it’s not with me (he took my side, by the way, which was as surprising as it warmed my little heart). Anyway, while he’s doing what he’s doing inside with Butzie Boy, I’m tweeting and on the phone with corporate. I tell the story just like I’ve told it here, beautiful babies. I then called Hertz, just down the road, and got another car reserved, this one even cheaper after they heard I was defecting from Enterprise. So Butzie Boy thought he was going to strand me? That he was the only wheels in town during a holiday and on such short notice? Think again, you misogynistic jerk. I opened the door to Enterprise and said to my stepfather, “Let’s go, they’re waiting for us at Hertz. I got a car,” I looked at Butzie Boy, on the phone with his supervisor (stepdad got the contract reinstated with free insurance, good going!) and drove it in, “for cheaper.” Stepdad looked at BB and shrugged. “She wants to go to Hertz.” Enjoy refusing that $800, Butzie! (FYI, it’s so expensive because it’s close to $500 to leave a car in another state. Drop off fee. Ridiculous, I know)

So we go to Hertz, they let stepdad pay, he gets some perks because he’s a Hertz gold member and I have a beautiful blue car and an easy transaction and feel valued as a customer. Hertz isn’t perfect; I had a complaint with them a few years ago, which they reviewed and corrected. They made me feel valued. I don’t care so much as a consumer that things can get screwed up. Nobody’s perfect, I get it. Especially in this financial climate, where training is as low as the wages and employees are treated as if they should be so lucky just to have a job.  Many of them pass this attitude on to the consumer, and I hate dealing with it. But I understand it. But if you not only don’t try to satisfy me, and further aggravate and insult me in the process, then you should be in a different business. I should never walk away from your counter hating myself more than you.

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About whatimriding

Born and raised in Philly, I spent several years in Las Vegas, working at the House of Blues and writing about the city. I now reside in Tampa, where I continue to work on novels, scripts and short stories and tearfully await former Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier's return to the bay area.
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