The joy of car hire

Who do you see? A maiden or a crone?
Who do you see? A maiden or a crone?

One aspect of being both a mother and a daughter is, sometimes you hear your mother’s voice coming out of your mouth, and sometimes you hear your voice coming out of your daughter’s mouth. Your life is a channel, and flowing through it are all the rich juices of the savvy young woman slurping at the world’s oyster, the fuck-with-me-and-die queen bitch, and the sweet but bewildered little old lady.

And the great thing about that amorphous period called “middle age” – you know, the age you admit to having reached around the middle of your first century, and refuse to leave until you pass three score and ten – the very best thing about that phase of a woman’s life is, you get to channel all three of these gals at will.

So much for context. Now, background: Himself and I are planning a little trip to California in a few weeks to celebrate his 50th school reunion. Savvy and the Queen have been working on him pretty much nonstop to hire a car rather than adding 4,000 or more miles to our already overburdened odometer. Savvy has nattered on about how much pleasanter the trip will be in a car that’s big enough for him to stretch his legs, and for the two of us to sit side-by-side without constantly rubbing elbows. The Queen has warned of direful consequences if she has to spend any time at all sitting on the side of the road while Himself fixes the car. Even the Li’l Ol’ Lady got involved – she joined AARP to take advantage of their car hire specials, ignoring Himself’s vocal disapproval. (He doesn’t like their politics. We know nothing about their politics and care less, so long as we get a Deal. We’re principled that way.)

Yesterday, after weeks of poking about online comparing options, I decided it was time to put pedal to metal, choose a car, and reserve the bloody thing. I presented Himself with the options I had found on the AARP website. He spent several hours puttering about the interwebs, and presented me with … this.

Yes, folks, this is a detailed comparison of all the cars I found within our price range. It includes details about leg room, hip room and head room; there's a row for
Yes, folks, this is exactly what you suspect it must be: a detailed comparison of all the cars I found within our price range. It includes information about leg room, hip room and head room; there’s a row for “other nice stuff”, and there’s a lot of random technical data having to do with mileage, horsepower, and similarly magical numbers. The ones in red were his preferred picks, which he listed in order of preference, complete with an explanation as to why he preferred each one.

Last night, although tired, I was determined not to go to bed and leave this job unfinished. I plunked myself down at my computer and prepared to book the vehicle of his choice.

It didn’t go well.

So this morning I channeled the Queen Bitch and called Avis to insist, with icily businesslike courtesy, that they cancel a car hire contract that I didn’t want because their fees were excessive and their habit of keeping said fees a dark secret until the last possible minute was unethical. Further, the Queen demanded that they accomplish said cancellation without spanking her with an unreasonable and unwarranted $25 cancellation fee.

The Queen, bless her heart, completely intimidated the young man who took her call, so he referred her to his supervisor. This turned out to be a young woman whose warm, sympathetic voice brought the Li’l Ol’ Lady scurrying to the phone. It can be a little tricky when this happens, because Queen Bitch doesn’t really like giving way to the other two. There was a momentary struggle, during which I merely gibbered a bit, and then the Avis rep gently said, “Why don’t you tell me how I can help you?” Her voice was as potent as an intravenous tea infusion. The Li’l Ol’ Lady whomped the Bitch over the head with her beaded handbag and took control of the conversation.

“Oh, I hope you can, dear – thank you so much!” Li’l Ol’ Lady said gratefully. “My husband and I don’t have a lot of experience with hiring cars but I thought it would be wise this time, because we’re driving an awfully long way and I found such a good deal from Avis. I found it through the AARP, you know.”

“Oh wonderful! Yes, we value our senior customers very much,” the warm voice responded, coaxing her to continue.

The Li’l Ol’ Lady chuckled, allowing just the tiniest hint of a quaver to enter her voice. “Well, I’m not exactly a senior, myself, but my husband’s a lot older than I am, of course.”

“Oh – but of course I didn’t mean to imply you were old!” the warm voice reassured her. “But did you have a problem with your reservation?”

“Well, yes, dear! It turned out to be not a good deal at all! I’ve been researching hire cars online, you know, and I’ve learned that the only way to know for sure how much one will cost is to go all the way to the point of actually ordering it. Because you car hire people are naughty, you know – you don’t tell us all the fees upfront!”

“I know,” she sympathized. “I wish they wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh, well, I know it’s not your fault, dear. But the thing is, the extra charges on this AARP deal were really, really high! I was so shocked I accidentally clicked on the wrong place and suddenly I got a message that I’d made a reservation!”


“Yes! And when I tried to cancel it – which I did right away dear – I got a message saying it would cost $25 to cancel! So I decided to make the best of it, but I had to show it to my husband, of course…” The Li’l Ol’ Lady’s voice became a little tremulous.

“Of course…”

“And he wasn’t very pleased. Especially when he found out that a lot of the fees were because I’d booked to pick it up at the airport – I just thought that would be a convenient place to get it, but there’s an extra $50 in fees for airport cars!”

“Oh dear! Yes, our airport locations do have extra costs, I’m afraid.”

“Well, I can’t imagine what they are, dear,” the Li’l Ol’ Lady said, with an edge to her tone that suggested the Queen Bitch might be leaning over her shoulder. “Anyway, while my husband was looking at all these extra fees and working out what they were for, he accidentally clicked on something and suddenly we got a notification that our reservation had been modified, and the cost had gone up nearly $100! I changed what he’d done but I didn’t get any notification that it had been modified back so … Anyway, I just need this whole thing to go away. I need to not hire this car, and I really don’t think it’s reasonable to make me pay $25, do you?”

There was a pause, and then she spoke. “Well, this isn’t a prepaid reservation. You can just cancel it.”

The Li’l Ol’ Lady was bewildered. “Really? And the $25?”

“Nope, there’s no penalty. I’ll cancel it for you right now.” Some keyboard noises followed, and a cancellation notice popped up in the inbox.

“Well … my goodness … that was a lot easier than I expected! Thank you very much, dear! I do feel rather foolish!”

The voice was warmer than ever. “Not at all ma’am. I understand – things can be very confusing these days!” She hung up.

‘These days.’ Holy cow … ‘These days’??? That young snippety … Argh! I wonder what century she thought I was born in? Well, the last one, obviously – but it was during the second half, okay?

Huffing to myself, I dived back into Google and quickly, efficiently found my way to Enterprise, where I booked the exact same car for a substantially lower price with no help at all from AARP.

‘These days’. Hmph!

Now it’s your turn! Tell me what you think of alternate personas, car hire companies, and growing old… 

Author: Belladonna Took

Well into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, perpetually at risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic.

39 thoughts on “The joy of car hire”

  1. Your husband has the art of comparison down to a fine science. Was he a researcher in a former life? It’s very impressive. I couldn’t do it – not even with an object of desire, never mind a car rental.

    I find my persona invaded by my late father (GRHS) when I put my topcoat on. And when I move in front of the bathroom mirror in a certain way.

    For negotiating, I guess like you I have my antennae dialed up to max, listening for age, educational background, conviviality, overwork quotient, and all the other signs that will guide me like a ship leaving a fjord for open water. And I modulate my voice to match – being careful never to make transitions too adroit less I get caught as a manipulator of outcomes.

    Best of all, I find it pays to have a strong hand, haha.

    I read once that Howard Hughes would negotiate hard, reach agreement and then just as it came time to sign up to the deal, start negotiating again. It takes chutzpah to do that, don’t you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heheh… No, David, not a researcher, but rather a nuclear engineer. At nuclear power plants, one learns to not make a decision until all relevant factors have been examined.

      One of the things I learned whilst performing the comparison was about ‘hidden fees’. Unlike airfares, for which airlines now have to disclose taxes and fees up front, car-rental companies can still bury extra costs in the fine print, leaving you with serious sticker shock at the checkout desk.

      The advertised ‘base rental rates’ in the tables that Belladonna showed you were only about 60% of the total cost (for Avis/Budget/Hertz)… There were unstated “Fees” of additional 40-50% which were tacked on at the time of contract signing.

      The ‘other major car rental agency’ (Enterprise) not only had lower rental rates, but was upfront about the fees, informing one beforehand what they are. And, the fees were minimal in comparison to the Big Three rental agencies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you 🙂 Nuclear engineering seems a good place to make informed decisions.

        I sympathise about car rentals. I understand that from their position they are renting out an expensive piece of equipment, but not displaying actual cost is sneaky.

        I usually rent from Enterprise here in the UK. They just increased their ‘normal’ excess (I think you call it a deductible in the US) from £700 to £1,000 and you have to pay extra to reduce that to a more sane level. It used to be that you could reduce it to £100. Now the minimum is £200. And online they do not mention the fact that you can reduce the excess at all except a note there are ‘extra options’ available when you actually go in to pick up the car.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hah – I’m like you, David. Not that I’m incapable of doing the research – unlike Himself I do in fact have something of a research background – but my style is more along the lines of dither and jump impulsively. We make a good combination, actually … when we’re not driving each other crazy!

      I don’t often consciously choose which “persona” to lead with. But yes, I guess like you I’m sensitive to clues that trigger how I communicate. Of course, when I realize that what I’m doing is working I’ll happily run with it! But I don’t intentionally manipulate – in fact I detest manipulators (I would have hated Howard Hughes!). As for that strong hand – yeah, that works for men more reliably than women, I think. Sometimes a finger wave and smile is better … It camouflages the Queen until she needs to come out, you know… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I see Jims engineering thing coming out LOL. My oh so special friend do you remember the voluminous kaftans you always wore this side of the globe and a certain appointment we have for an investment special edition for the Star I think. Me the researcher was there all power dressed to the nines and in you exploded in your flowing kaftan, hair in a birds nest and your”Brick” cellphone attached to your ear. Everyone assumed I was the journalist and you some strange attachment and when they welcomed me by your name I gently pointed out that that was the explosion that had just walked in through the door and all heads snapped in your direction. This story made me think of that. I so use my various persona. By 60 u get very good at it. Have perfected the art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember well! That was the introductory meeting for the first job we did together – the one that led to us starting our business partnership. What I remember is how we all sat down at the long boardroom table – you at one end and me at the other with the suits arrayed on each side – and you confidently started in on outlining how the project was going to go, while they continued to pretend I wasn’t real. And then you got confused over remembering which markets were bulls and which were bears, and you asked me. I said, “It’s easy to remember – a bull tosses you up in the air, a bear gets you down on the ground and rips out your guts.” Those poor men … the looks of dismay that zinged across that boardroom! And slowly they all swiveled to face me… Ha ha ha! We did a good job on that project, though! Fun times… 🙂


  3. Laughed like a DRAIN! (Your words, not mine, though they appear to have lodged themselves very firmly in my brain and now I find no other way to express that particular sort of laughter even though I haven’t the slightest idea what it MEANS)

    Have a wonderful trip! Love you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah – so of course I had to ask Google, because you’re right, I say it but have never thought of what it means. Although we’ve lived in places where the drains gurgle long and loud… 🙂 Apparently it’s “coarse army slang” originating in England. I guess I must have inherited it from your great-grandmother, although she’d have channeled her Inner Queen Bitch instantaneously if anyone had dared to call her coarse!


  4. Oh, I did enjoy reading that. And I sympathise – both with the experience and the exasperation. The Husband, a former stock farmer, rather than a nuclear engineer, is as thorough. For our recent trip, he drew up a timetable of distance, time, stops (aka food- and p-breaks) and contingencies that had me aghast! I flew; he drove. My comparison of cars to hire before we connected, consisted of using a travel website that gave me all the options. I didn’t consult. And as for the different personae, I also have an entire cast on which I draw, one of which is far too much like the mother-who-was-not-my-friend than I’d like!


    1. You flew and he drove??? Oh man, Fiona, your Queen is way more powerful than mine! LOL! Although after several hideous annual trips to Sacramento – 900 miles of almost nonstop driving – I put my foot down and began to insist on finding someplace interesting – or at least restful and equipped with a shower – for an overnight stop en route.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m watching! Also, PLEASE could you post (or email me) your koeksister recipe? (Or is it already up and I’ve forgotten?) A South African neighbor and I have plans to enliven a chilly day by making a huge batch!


          1. I found it. I’m such a ditz! I also found where I’d copied your recipe and tips. Note to self: Next time you remember having asked someone for something, check and see whether they already gave it to you before you ask again!

            Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG Thank you for the laugh! I laughed out loud over and over – the savvy young woman, the queen bitch, the li’l ol’ lady – I know and use them all. Hilarious. I read the first couple of paragraphs to Don – he laughed too, though having been on the receiving end of the queen bitch from time to time not as hard as I did.


    1. I was pondering your comment, and realized that one similar ploy that I hate more is mail-in rebates. They make me SO mad! I’ll walk past a “deal” to buy from someone who knows what their product is worth and prices it accordingly.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Haha, I don’t think I’ve ever thought to take advantage of different age mes before. I’ll have to give it a try. I also didn’t know there was a discount for rental cars for AARP. I’m not there yet, but it’s nice to know since I just paid an arm and a leg for an AVIS rental myself recently. Argh. I should’ve tried my little old lady voice. Next time…


    1. Carrie, consider the following example for a nine day rental of a 2015 Ford Fusion (Standard Size Automobile)

      Base Rate $244.59
      Protections/Coverages: $38.25
      Surcharges/Fees: $78.78
      Concession Recovery Fee (10%) : $26.13
      Customer Facility Charge 3.00/day: $27.00
      Energy Recovery Fee .60/day: $5.40
      Rental Tax (6.9%) : $17.19
      Vehicle License Fee .34/day: $3.06
      TOTAL: $353.05

      Base Rate $246.39
      Flat Rate Fees $40.26
      TOTAL: $286.65

      Also, Enterprise states their Fees up-front… there is no sticker shock at the time of signing the rental agreement.


  7. “These days…” Oh, dear. That wasn’t the most tactful thing she could have said. Not like in my day. People used to know how to speak to one another. You’d never catch some young whipper-snapper passing a remark like that. Oh, when I was young, the sky was bluer, the sea was wetter…

    (Continues in the same vein for another forty minutes.)


  8. What I think of alternate personae? They can be a very handy way of navigating the world…provided they play well with one another. And maintain a certain allegiance to whoever the authentic self truly is.

    Glad your team of alternates got the whole situation resolved!


    1. Hey, Alice – thanks for stopping by, and for adding your pinch of wisdom! Yes, I agree, authenticity is crucial. It’s one thing to allow the different personae that inhabit your skin to come out and play … but it’s entirely another – and completely lacking in integrity – to pretend to be something you aren’t.


  9. Oh, yes, Mom’s voice. I was grateful to it a few weeks back, when a phone call needed to be made and I couldn’t make it because the number wasn’t on my phone (a visiting kid was having an allergic reaction to we still don’t know what). The person who had the number wasn’t taking the situation seriously yet, and my mother took over, saying, “Make the call. Make the call now.”

    I tell you, when Mom used that tone of voice, you didn’t argue. And people still don’t.

    Thanks, Mom. For that and much more.


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