Car Wars

‘T was a dull but dry morning and we had errands to run. First on the post-coffee agenda was refuelling and returning our rental car. Carol drove Bets’s technologically rich Toyota Camry Hybrid while I drove our technologically dull and utterly uninspiring Chevy Malibu which, in its defence, at least has reasonable luggage carrying capacity courtesy of not filling itself with batteries.

I pulled in to a convenient filling station. They all now seem to be automated for credit card payment at the pump, the alternative being prepayment with cash at the cashier. Having started a credit card transaction, this particular station’s pumps insisted that I enter a zip code. Shades of France where their automated machines dislike foreign cards. I cancelled the transaction and approached the cashier but he was, he declared, unable to take manual payment using my credit card. At least the french cashiers are happy with foreign cards. Frustrated and being unwilling to use cash, I drove on to a filling station that was not picky about zip codes and where I had previously experienced success.

The rental being finally refuelled, Carol was waiting patiently for me at the Avis office. The Avis agent was not. The office was unlocked with the keys dangling in the door but deserted. It would remain so, according to the sign on the window, for the next two hours. Wonderful! Being unable to return the car we elected to fill in time by doing the food shopping that we needed.

There was another food shop that we were yet to try called Trader Joe’s. It seemed quite popular locally so we tried that. The meat looked decidedly average and its idea of fish seemed to extend to salmon and no further. It did, however, have some more favourably priced wine so we purchased half a dozen bottles together with some coffee beans before returning to our favoured Whole Foods for a more interesting food selection.

Returning to the still unattended Avis office, we discovered a lady sitting outside (on two milk crates, there being no seats) patiently waiting to collect a car. After some time and a second phone call by the patient lady, the Avis rep. returned “from an emergency trip to the airport for another client”. The lady finally got her car, though the booking seemed to have been screwed up.

Our turn: the Avis agent seemed a little challenged to understand that his three hour absence might have caused other members of the travelling public to miss transfers to the airport for international flights – somewhat vacant stares resulted. It was apparently too difficult a concept for him to grasp that, in fixing one client problem, he could have caused multiple other clients problems, too.

To cap it all, we were hit with a charge that I was not expecting. The air miles booking apparently covered a fixed amount which was somewhat less than the total charge. I still don’t believe this but was unable to prove otherwise. He did deduct $20 “for our inconvenience”. By my calculation, that makes our time worth about $6.66 an hour.

I have always hated renting cars. Today’s experiences did nothing to make me view it more positively.

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