Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rental Cars And Me

Me at Crater Lake in Oregon with my rental car
   
I travel a lot to beautiful places to take photos and, of course I rent a lot of cars. Since I generally use mine as a blind, I am only going to put one photo of a car in this story and that is only because I feel obligated to do so. The rest of the shots will be those taken FROM the car so that you won’t be bored to tears by anything other than the text.

American Bittern - Sacramento NWR - California
 
I’ve had a few bad experiences with rentals. Most notably was a brand new Toyota a number of years ago. We were stopped in traffic on the highway when a guy in an 18 wheeler fell asleep and plowed through our lane bouncing cars like ping pong balls. The only thing unbroken on our car was the rear view mirror. Even the “new car smell” was knocked off and left by the side of the road.

Roseate Spoonbill - Merritt Island NWR in Florida
 
The motorcycle cop asked if we would try to drive it about a mile to a hotel where there was a rental place. We limped along the shoulder at about 5 miles an hour with the cop following behind, kicking everything that fell off the car into the ditch (including what was left of the rear hatch). As I turned onto the exit ramp, the car sort of twisted and the driver’s door flew open. We asked for a bigger car.

White Pelican at Vierra Wetlands in Florida
   
Anyway, I miss the old days when you could rent a car with a stick shift. I went for years without driving a car with an automatic transmission and wasn’t going to tell the man at the rental counter that I wasn’t sure that I actually knew how to drive an automatic when they told me that’s all they had. Not a problem. I got out of the lot OK, unless you count the wall I hit right off the bat. In MY world, cars don’t move just because you put them in gear – they wait for you to step on the gas. Nobody saw, so it didn’t count.

Bison in Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming
   
Off I went and did pretty well for the first couple of hundred yards when the traffic light turned red. Instinctively, I mashed the clutch all the way to the floor to begin to slow up. Unfortunately, some idiot installed a really wide break pedal in this car and left the clutch pedal back in Japan. Instead of slowing up, it felt more like hitting the Berlin Wall. I promised myself that I wouldn’t make that mistake again. Apparently, promises are made to be broken early and often.

Lucifer Hummingbird - Ash Canyon B & B in Arizona
   
Anyway, on a trip to Arizona a couple of years ago, they told me that if I took the car out of the state, there would be a huge surcharge and that the car had GPS so that they would know. I needed to get to a town that required me to take a road called “Stateline,” where the side of the road I would be on was in New Mexico. I could either; drive on the wrong side of the road, pay the surcharge, or take a 10 mile detour on the crappiest dirt road on earth. Hello Dirt!

Western Meadowlark - Klamath Basin NWR, California
   
When I returned the car, the agent, Tony, told me that it was absolutely the dirtiest car that he had ever seen – ever! I know I should have felt proud or something, but I had actually tried to clean it up a bit with some old towels that I borrowed from the hotel where I stayed. I apologized, but Tony told me that he didn’t care because he wasn’t the one that had to clean it.

Bald Eagle - Klamath Basin NWR, California
   
Fast forward one year and another trip to Arizona. I met a guy that told me he would take me to see a Common Poorwill, so off we drove into the night. At one point, I couldn’t see to back up the car (too dark and too much dirt on the windows). My new friend jumped out to guide me. “Come on back. More. More. Mo..” BAM!!!

Common Poorwil - not from the car, but part of the story
   
I just crashed into Arizona. The damage wasn’t nearly as bad as three or five other cars I had previously rented, but it was still going to cost me. I took the car to a car wash before returning it, but I managed to dirty it up pretty good on the last day anyway.

I pulled into the rental lot and who is standing there with a clipboard but Tony.

Me: “Hey Tony! Sorry about the car.”

Tony: “Don’t worry, I’ve seen dirtier, although I’m not sure when.”

Me: “Oh, maybe last October?”

Tony: “Was that YOU? Man, the guys in the shop said it looked like you used the car to haul dirt in the back seat.”

Me: “Sorry.”

Tony: “Everything looks good. Sign here.”

Me: “Really?”

Tony: “It doesn’t look too bad. Besides, you’re a good customer.”

Me: “Define ‘good.’”

Mt. McLaughlin in Oregon
   
For some reason, they keep renting cars to me, even though I had a stretch of four cars in a row that required that tow trucks be sent, often to remote locations. I will say that none of those were for reasons that were in any way my fault, but I still think that they might be just a little more understanding about it. Besides, apparently I am a good customer.

Yosemite Valley in California
   
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