Tag Archives: car troubles

The joy of car hire

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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!”

“Oops!”

“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… 

Swamped

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So there I sat, in the middle of a sweet green meadow separating the off-ramp I wasn’t supposed to take from the road I wanted to be on, hubcap deep in swamp.

I did get out of my car and squish around a bit and take pictures with my cell phone, but this one from Fotolia looks more dramatic.

I did get out of my car and squish around a bit and take pictures with my cell phone, but this one from Fotolia looks more interesting. In the interests of accuracy, I should mention that I don’t drive a 4×4. Also, I had the good common sense not to get the mud quite this churned up.

If this had happened in my hometown, within minutes pickups would have clustered like flies, disgorging big-bellied guys with beards and NRA caps (or, possibly, their equally capable wimmin), and they’d have guffawed a bit and called me ma’am and hooked up chains and popped me out of there in no time. Of course, in my hometown on the dry east side of Washington State, we don’t have swamps lying around sneakily concealed under a layer of green. Here, if you need to pop across a highway median, you glance quickly around to check for inconvenient Highway Patrol officers and then you bebop across with a quick swing of the steering wheel, no problem.

I was not in my hometown. I was in Seattle. Well, Bellevue, if you can tell the difference. There are no pickups there, and nobody belongs to the NRA, and they don’t interrupt their commute to engage with beswamped and baffled strangers. I know this with no shadow of doubt because I sat in that field for nearly an hour, surrounded on all sides by rush hour traffic, so I had ample opportunity to ponder the differences between there and here.

Someone must eventually have called 911 – which it hadn’t occurred to me to do, because I was busy calling my few west-side friends in hopes of finding just one with a truck and/or manly man readily at hand, or at least a useful suggestion as regards a towing company. (These calls took a while because of all the laughing.) At any rate, a state patrol car pulled up and a sweet boy wearing a strangely flat, broad-brimmed hat ambled squishily across the swamp to ask me if I was okay. He seemed to be under the impression that I had collided with something and sailed violently off the road. (Folk in Seattle don’t have enough to occupy their imaginations during rush hour, apparently.) I had to explain that no, I had merely been attempting unobtrusively to sidestep an inconvenient traffic rule having to do with staying on the road.

“So you’re not hurt?” he said.

“Only my dignity,” I replied glumly. He thanked me for my honesty, took my license and registration, and squished back to his car.

I wondered whether telling the cop I was on an errand of mercy would make him more sympathetic. (There was a hound puppy in my back seat. The puppy had a broken leg. His owners had opted to have him euthanized rather than pay for surgery. The vet, who objects to killing healthy young dogs, had called me to ask if I knew who might help her find an alternative, and I’d found a rescue willing and able to save both the puppy and his leg … on the liberal, moneyed side of the state. Of course, it followed naturally that I got to drive the puppy to safety…)

The pathetic yodeler, whose relentless wailing was a big reason why I absolutely could not consider going back and around and in any way prolonging the trip.

The pathetic yodeler who was the cause of all the trouble.

I wondered whether it would be more effective to engage the patrolman’s sympathies for me, a woman old enough to be his beloved mother, lost and bewildered in foreign climes. (At the end of a long drive, heading straight into the setting sun, I’d had to go through all four loops of a cloverleaf interchange. Over and over again, my GPS told me to “take the right ramp”, and I obeyed until dizzy right up to the point that she told me to keep straight and I didn’t and I found myself headed back toward Spokane, and I just couldn’t stand the thought of driving back to the next interchange and turning round and returning along the packed highway and through the loops of the interchange and probably missing my turnoff all over again.)

The puppy, who had been singing his hound dog lament on and off since about the time we crossed the Cascades, started another aria. I wondered what the cop would do if I leaped from the car, tore off all my clothes, and ripped off the puppy’s head with my teeth, before plunging into the swamp and disappearing in a swirl of greasy bubbles. While I was still considering this option, he returned.

“I’ve called a tow truck,” he informed me.

“Are you going to fine me?” I asked, with a demeaningly pathetic quaver in my little-old-lady-puppy-saver voice. (Heck, yeah, I’ll demean myself to avoid another black mark on my car insurance!)

He chuckled kindly. “I think the cost of the tow will be penalty enough,” he said.

He was right.

I did think about a few other things while I was sitting there, in the blazing late afternoon sun, breathing swamp gas and traffic fumes and waiting for a tow truck while a hurting hound puppy made music behind my head. For example, I wondered what it said about my claims to feminism that the first thought to come to mind, after my car oozed to a stop, was, “Oh bugger … Himself is too far to call. Who’s going to rescue me now?”

And later, after sun and swamp gas had softened my brain a bit, I got to wondering how different my situation might be if, say, I’d been a buff young black man, instead of a fat useta-be-middle-aged white woman. If I’d been a muscular young man engaged in hauling that car out of the swamp by sheer brute force and testosterone at the time the state patrolman pulled up, I might have reacted a little differently to questioning by a slightly-built youth in a cute hat. And if, in addition to being muscular, young and male, I’d also been black, would that sweet boy in his hat have felt sufficiently threatened to shoot me?

Mostly, though, I thought about how completely screwed I will be in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Really, I’ll be meat in no time at all.

Probably not me.

Probably not me.

Is it just me, or do you also ponder strange and random things when sitting in the middle of a swamp? Have you ever been embarrassed by a sloppy failure to break the law?

Gracefully gliding to a new position

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There was no good reason for it to happen. I wasn’t driving especially fast, we don’t currently have ice or snow and the road surface wasn’t seriously wet, and no I was not talking on my cell phone. (Or texting. I’m not suicidal.) But there’s this curve in the road just before you turn off onto the gravel road leading to our house and, well, I didn’t quite make it.

So there I was, after a quite graceful slide, nose down in a ditch. We’ve had a lot of rain lately, so the tires promptly settled snugly into mud.

It looked nothing like this. (Picture from Car Talk)

It looked nothing like this. (Picture from Car Talk)

The whole situation was more embarrassing than anything else. I called Himself to bring the truck, and phoned a friend to keep myself occupied while I waited.

After a while a car drove by, slowed, then drove on. “Well phooey to you too,” I thought. But a few minutes later a car came along from the opposite direction and pulled up, and out popped one of our neighbors.

I should mention that some of our neighbors are … unsavory. We live on the outskirts of a medium-sized town, in an area where the properties range from around three to 10 acres. Some of the folk here are farmers, mostly raising cattle or hay. And then there are the others, who have lived out here since before anyone cared. One family in particular – the ones who live right where we turn off onto our private road and drive off the map – includes several felons and their wimmin and their brood, all clustered in a falling-down house, and they spend a fair amount of time (when they’re not in prison) making huge fires in their back yard and sitting around them and just being creepy. Sometimes they shoot things.

When I drive past I’ll flick a wave, just to be friendly (and by way of insurance), but what I’m actually thinking is this…

What our neighbors' house makes me think. (Pic from Dollar Photo Club)

What my brain tells me about our neighbors. (Pic from Dollar Photo Club)

So, okay, the only time I’ve ever actually seen any of them looking like that was a few years ago when I drove past just as they opened up a freshly killed steer carcass that they had strung up in their back yard. But memories like that tend to stay with you.

Anyway, the neighbor who got out of the car that pulled up next to where I was waiting, trapped in the ditch? He wasn’t one of the farmers. He came from that house.

On the other hand, he actually looked rather a lot like this…

This could be my neighbor (only this evening he didn't have a fish).

This could be my neighbor. (Only this evening he didn’t have a fish.) (Not that I saw, anyway.) (Pic from “A River Runs Through It“).

Maybe a little blonder, but that’s him, right down to the smile. And once he’d ascertained that I was okay, and didn’t need him to fetch his pickup or call an ambulance, and had verified that I was too stuck to drive out of the ditch, he just hung on out there and kept me company until Himself arrived. He told me that the person who had driven past was his wife, but she was too scared to stop so she sent him out to me instead. “She finds it pretty scary, living out here,” he commented. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I like it, being out of town.”

Then one of his buddies showed up – and ja, he was pretty stoned, but friendly and wanting to help. Soon after that Himself arrived, and the two young guys hooked the chain up to our pickup, and a few minutes later I popped out of that ditch as easy as a champagne cork coming out of a bottle.

I’ll swing by tomorrow with some steaks (I haven’t seen them butchering anything for a while) and a malva pudding. Because when you choose to live out in the boondocks, usually that’s partly because you don’t want people in your pocket all the time – but good neighbors are still worth nurturing.