By Ann Boutcher
OK before we go any further, I know that vehically is not a word…but I contend it should be. You can be socially challenged, vertically challenged, physically challenged…so why not vehically? Its definition would be anyone who encounters difficulty with any aspect of the vehicle form of transportation… driving, buying, renting, owning a vehicle, which at one time or another would be all of us.
I own, lease, which is for a completely different story some other time. Generally, when I vacation, I rent. More often than not, I vacation in a group of four friends who have traveled together for what seems like forever. There are three drivers and one who has a license, so she can cash checks and travel domestically. Individually, all three drivers are competent around a car with one managing a sales territory that encompasses most of two states, another driving clearly across Long Island twice a day to travel from work to home and me, who for over 30 years did the reverse commute on the Long Island Expressway 50 miles each way to the office. Alone we are fine, unfortunately, all levels of competency go out the window when we travel together by car. We thought we had conquered all as we navigated our way (no pun intended) last year from the Trip Tic of AAA days of old through MapQuest and to real time navigation with Siri, but while we may no longer need a map, this trip proved we might need much more.
Car rental should be a fairly straightforward process; pick the rental company, establish what size/kind of vehicle you need, go to desk, get vehicle. Watch any TV commercial and you can see just how easy it is…for most. My travelling companions have not quite mastered the art of packing light and so for even the shortest trip, vehicle size matters. We had 4 checked bags, 4 carry-ons (two did not fit under the seat), 3 purses that rivaled most carry-ons for size and one camera bag…12 pieces for 4 people.
We reserved a mid-sized SUV, Honda Sonata that worked just fine las year; fit us, fit the luggage. Not broken? My motto don’t try and fix it. Unfortunately, the car rental people know how to take a reservation, just not necessarily how to keep one. When we got there, they told us no Sonata’s on the lot, so they hooked us up with another mid-sized rental. Hwever in the year since our last trip, something happened in car rental land that shrunk the mid-sized category to pint-sized but we did not know that yet so at the desk, we laughingly shrugged off the rental agents offer for a free upgrade because the image of us tooling around in a minivan was more than even we could bear. We secured our paperwork and set off dragging the luggage down the ramp to the pick-up area nearly a half mile away. As the automatic doors swung open, we were assaulted by a blast of tropical air….heat, humidity and dew point in the high 90’s… a Tropical Storm was 24 hours away.
We walked for what seemed like a mile before we arrived at the car pick up area, where another smiling attendant directed us to a parking space about ten feet from where we started; not having that, “How about you pull the car up here”, one of the ladies quipped sarcastically….and the odyssey began.
Moments later a brand new Jeep Renegade slid into the pick-up spot. One look told me the luggage would not fit but the attendant insisted it would, flipped us the keys and left us to load the bags. Of course, after 10 minutes of sweating and swearing, half the bags remained on the sidewalk. We hadn’t left the airport and the vacation was already heading downhill. Back to the desk to explain our plight and once again, were told ‘No Sonata’s” we will give you something just as good. Back to the pick-up area where a slightly frustrated attendant pulled up in vehicle number two, a FORD Escape that the he kept calling and Xscape. I was convinced it was too small; we suggested the attendant load the luggage this time. Now he started sweating and swearing; before he was even finished not fitting the luggage in the car, we headed back to the desk and this time the visit was less than pleasant…and after some less than polite conversation….somehow, somewhere they managed to find a Sonata for us to rent.
Got to the pick-up area just as our ride was pulling up. It was about this time that I noticed two older gentlemen apparently down south for a golf holiday. They were on the same plane as we and had gotten their car and loaded their luggage and clubs when we were trying to squeeze into the Jeep; nearly an hour earlier. We made eye contact, they smiled, then laughed and I realized that they had been watching our little fiasco and were apparently not leaving until it was over or until they stopped laughing, whichever happened first.
We loaded the luggage and started to slowly pull out of the space when a glance in the mirror revealed the attendant chasing us…no longer smiling. OK now what? The breathless young man told us that the keys to the Jeep (the second car they tried to squeeze us into) were missing. We could not leave until they found them.
They pulled us over and everyone got out as they requested we empty our pockets. Feeling a little like a caught DWI must feel when they say get out of the car, we lined up on the sweltering sidewalk and one by one we dumped pockets and purses. I began looking for security to arrive and for us to get hauled off to some airport prison. Of course, we were quite entertaining as we railed at the poor attendant, indignant in our denials that we had the stupid keys. Then just as if on cue, 20 minutes later, the keys appeared next to a pile of tissues and some lip gloss that was in one of our pockets. Mortified, we must have apologized a dozen times before we got in the car and attempted to leave again.
The old guys were getting in their car, sure that the show was finally over when the woman who was driving slammed on the brakes just as we got to the little kiosk that is the last stop on the car rental journey. You know the one where you show the papers, drive over the spikes and get the heck out of there. Another also not smiling attendant approached the vehicle as our driver blasted him that there was no gas in the tank and our paperwork clearly stated a full tank, which would mean that we would have to fill up before we returned assuming we every left…costing us an extra tank of gas. In the greater scheme of things, a tank of gas divided by four seemed a small price to pay to get out of the car rental lot…but there was only cool head left in the car and logic did not prevail. The attendant poked his head into the car so he could see the gas gauge, his head nearly resting on the driver’s ample breasts and said ‘Yup. It’s on ‘E’, just pull over there while I adjust the paperwork so you-all can return it empty.
I groaned as we pulled over. We had taken an early flight to get the whole day in at the VRBO we rented. It was now approaching 4PM, with any luck we would get there just before dark as we still had to get groceries, drive 40 minutes OH and yes, get gas. He returned 20 minutes later, and we were finally able to leave. As we tore out of the parking lot, we hit a speed bump at about 40 miles an hour, when we stopped giggling our driver exclaimed “Look, the gas gauge just moved to ‘F’! It must have been stuck!”. We dissolved into hysteria as she turned on to the interstate and what we hoped would be a vacation that ended better than it started.
Ann Boutcher has a knack for finding insights and humor in everyday moments. Until now, her published writing has been limited to work, but now, thanks to this wonderful opportunity as a guest editor, the world will get to witness firsthand her humor, life experiences and the gift of gab she brings to the pages of The Three Tomatoes.