Monday, July 14, 2014

Well. . Morroco Mole Would Fit in It - The Joys of Rental Cars.

 Economy Car - a small pellet shaped object that can carry you to the scene of the accident.

I've had some small "sub compact" cars in my day but this one was about the smallest I've had yet.  I fortunately asked for the bright red one, so at least I'd be visible even if I was no bigger than the red dot on a 7-Up can.  I couldn't help but utter "it's so small" and the young man processing my rental got that look that is often reserved for that phrase and countered with a cheery "it has NINE air bags".  I looked at him and said "honey, you could put the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in this vehicle with me and I still wouldn't feel safe".  But I did thank him for getting the red one.

It looked brand new and was sparkling clean.  Legroom was more than required for a hamster; the cockpit ergonomics weren't bad and the a.c. had the car cooled before I even left the parking garage.  But then I went to accelerate. The only way I can describe the sound is this:  picture the Cast of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" suddenly miniaturized by some magic shrink ray until they were all six inches tall.  Now picture Leatherface firing up his little chainsaw.  That's the sound the engine made.
It's a Toyota. something. Yanni? Yetti?  Something like that and it's my wheels for a few days.  I had arrived at my hotel. I'm amazed, not only that a human being can cover hundreds of miles in a couple of hours but that I did some of that in a car that was about the size of a 9 mm cartridge.

I have rented a LOT Of vehicles over the years. Over the last ten years I had to rent when I went to see Dad as his driving skills weren't good enough where I felt he was safe on the the freeway which is occupied by "Crazy Oregon Drivers" until you cross the Oregon state line wherein it's occupied by "Crazy Washington Drivers".  Plus he's a far distance from the international airport. Up until this last year when the keys were taken away, he did really good around town and always offered to come get me..
But I did not want him trying to merge with giant semi's and teenagers. There wasn't any other option. All of his friends were gone and none of the other family lived close enough to fetch me. The rental is an expense, but a necessary one, no matter how often I go there. But I went for a big vehicle, as there is nothing more unsettling then looking up at the undercarriage of a log truck, some of the logs secured by what looks like dental floss, on a rain slicked highway.

The rental place I go to out West always has some chipper person who asks "what brings you here?"  I know they're just trying to be friendly, most people getting to them worn out after flying long distances. That would render anyone cranky, especially a particular redhead, whose suitcase went MIA, who now envisions buying something to wear at the only store by Dad's, a Big Box Mart with a ladies department full of outfits the size of tank parachutes.
So I wasn't in a particularly good mood, and besides, they just saw me two weeks ago, and weeks before that, one of dozens of trips. They know me by name, they know where my Dad lives and that I don't need a map to the house or the cemetery.  And still they ask what brings me here.

The next time they asked, even though I was just there a couple weeks ago,  I gave them a little smile which can be either friendly or scary depending on if you're the good guy or the bad guy and responded with-

"Contract hitI'll be needing something with a large trunk."

The agent, as usual, didn't miss a beat, saying "that's nice, you want to upgrade to a full size then?"
I've had some interesting car experiences over the years, from the time I got a free upgrade to a full size pickup truck to an assortment of cars the size of gym lockers that accelerated at the speed of rust. There was one "loaner" car that had likely traveled with Lewis and Clark and was given to my copilot and I to drive to our lodging. The next morning, there was a hard frost. There was also no ice scraper. Fortunately that side trim that was flapping in the breeze was easy to remove, and made a dandy scraper (honestly, it just fell off!). And we won't mention certain third world places where you want to check the car's interior for things that sting, spit or bite (Ack! Windshield Viper!)

There's no telling what city will give you what car.  I've rented a car from airports that you that were so new and shiny you could practically eat off the tarmac and got an asthmatic clunker that smelled like an ashtray and I've been into some fairly outdated  terminals where I have expected to get run over by goats as I went to baggage claim and get a bright shiny full size sedan, actually made in America.
This last squirrel trip, I fared a little better, the car at least being brand new and spotlessly clean. But I'd hoped for an upgrade. Sometimes the compact is actually a normal sized car, depending on what the rental car company has on hand by the time I roll in.

But not on my return to this city where I am convinced the car rental agencies there have a special little "Brigid" wing of the garage where they keep the gutless wonders. I am also certain they keep them parked nose down on a ramp so that my special Brigid edition rental car can simply roll down to the check out area and appear to have an engine in it, until it is past those spikes in the pavement that prevent me from bringing it back.
I remember the first time I rented on other than my own dime, and as directed, got the "economy" car. It was clean, bright, all four doors open as if the clowns had to get out in a hurry. I gulped and asked the rental agent "what kind of car IS that?". I swear the agent said it was a "Hyundai Accident". Perhaps that was "Accent". On second thought, I think the first was correct. But Dad's second car (his first being a 1984 Chevy Truck) was a larger Hyundai and he loved it for zipping around town on errands. So with a blue sky, a tailwind and a gathering where all I had to do all week is stand up in front of people and sound intelligent, I was determined to enjoy the drive.

As I accelerated onto the ramp for the freeway, trying to edge in front of this semi that looked JUST like the one in Dual. I remembered all the talk about how the human body can actually FEEL acceleration. I've pulled some G's in a swept wing jet.  I know what it's like. And this car, well this car could do that. Right? As I floored it, watching the semi truck come up rapidly on my car, the entire body of which would fit UNDER his bumper, I realized that I could actually feel a physical force, that of my body aging as the car slooooowly went from 35 to 60.

After watching everyone blow past me with the look, I wanted to get a sign for the back window that said I own a 4 wheel drive TRUCK, THIS is a rental. I got it up to 72 on a long stretch though. But at that point, the transmission started moaning like a disinterested hooker and the whole frame started shaking like one of those paint mixers at Home Depot.
But I made it, only checking once to see if the floorboards rolled up so I could put my feet down, yell Yabba Dabba Doo! and pass someone.  Just like today, another trip, another spot of safety and rest along this life's journey.

On the blog I talk of perspective. Being thankful for all we have. And I am. I arrived here in one piece. I have gainful employment that challenges me and sends me out in the world to perhaps educate others, to meet with like minds. It's getting to meet friends in the cities I travel to, putting faces to the names of folks I've talked to for years, fellow women bloggers and their families.

It's freedom, of the road, of the mind, of the spirit. It's a 100 degrees and I am looking up at the bumper of a Volkswagen Beetle. But there is also Keebler fudge striped cookies melting on the seat next to me and a rough hewn landscape out my window, the blur of trees as old as God, where sometimes above, a bird sings a plaintive and tremulous song that rises above the sound of the traffic. And if the brakes give out, I can simply turn on the air conditioner and coast to a stop.

Life is good. Wherever your road leads you.


  1. Brigid,
    You exaggerate, you should have something REALLY slow. In 1972, just before the first gas crunch, I bought a Honda 600 Sedan. The engine was basically an oversized Honda 350cc motorcycle engine, developing 30-some horsepower. It topped out at about 70, taking 2 miles to get there, and I'm fairly certain that a Great Dane would beat it through a quarter-mile. However, it got an honest 40 MPG, and pretty much nothing else did in that era. We're talking a constant-velocity carburetor, no computer, and air cooling. The thing was so light in the rear that I could actually lift the wheels off the ground by backing up to it, grabbing the bumper guards, and lifting with my legs. Yeah, I was a lot younger then, but wasn't necessarily a weight lifter, either.

    I loved that car, drove it for over 60,000 miles.

  2. Finally someone who has seen duel, I keep meeting people who have never heard of it, I must be hanging with the wrong crowd. That movie caused me to always be nice to truck drivers.
    Now I will start being nice to all Red Heads! LOL

  3. Yaris stands for "your ass really isn't safe"!

  4. Vindshield Viper - aren't they indigenous to Scandihoovia?

  5. A true rolls can hardy, rolls down one hill and can hardy make it up the next.

    You step on the accelerator, and the car openly laughs at you, and says "You want me to do what??"

  6. Thing is, it's all relative.

    Even :compact" "economy" cars of today out accelerate the heavy 6 cylinder cars of the 70'.

    We just got used to having zippier cars.

  7. As someone who used to travel on the government dime, I too have played rental car roulette.

    When a group of us on orders showed up at the car rental counter, it was just dumb luck. Some folks walked out of there with the appropriate sized Yaris, or Suzuki Aerio, some would get a Jetta or a Mustang, and some would get the free truck upgrade when they were trying to equalize their mileage. Heck, I had them try to talk me into taking the free upgrade to a mini-van once, but that was a trip to San Diego, and for parking reasons, I preferred a smaller car.

    Best I ever got was when I was in Upstate New York. As a supervisor, I was allowed to upgrade to a 4X4 so I could make sure my team could get around in the snow...I got a Chevy Equinox with SEVEN miles on it...and heated leather seats.

  8. Indeed. I never thought I would say this but "home is where you park". I need to do more of that. Most rewarding.

  9. Not trying to "out story" you, but.....spend thirty years in the retail car biz and you have a story for every occasion. Like Suzuki Somersaults, er, Samurais. Scariest car was a Yugo. Took it in sight unseen for $200, but the customer insisted I come to his house and pick it up. That was an interesting fourty five minutes.

  10. Sunnybrook Farm said... "Finally someone who has seen Duel"

    Ah, nightmares. Of course, even a Slant Six Valiant should've been able to walk away from that old rustbucket Pete, but it's hard to outrun a metaphor...

    Saw it again a few months ago on one of the high channels during a bout of insomnia, which it did not help.

  11. I remember Dennis Weaver in Duel...

    And remind me to tell you about rental roulette on vacation in the UK, sometime!

  12. Thanks for the laugh this evening. At 6'2" I could not imagine being in a vehicle like that. Yabba Dabba Doo!

  13. Ah rentals.
    Was a time my expense account wasn't in question.
    I think I owned the company at the time.
    Needed to bookit from Phoenix to 'Vegas right now and it penciled out that driving was best.
    An upgrade Ford was all that was left in the lot.
    Rocket! Made the meet, made the deal, beat the the flight.
    Been stuck in 'economy' before, pain in the bottom line.

  14. Duel, wow it's been forever since I've seen that. I do remember it coming out shortly after I started driving - really made me wonder about trying any long distance road trips LOL. But I preferred Vanishing Point *the movie* as my better inspiration :)

    I laughed out loud at the "special little "Brigid" wing of the garage" - actually all of it was a chuckle. Thank you :)

  15. Looks aside, that Yaris should be safer than any car that's 20 years old.

    I'd rather be in a wreck in a new subcompact from any make sold in the US than e.g. a 1994 S-Class.

    (Though odds are better the S would be driveable afterwards. That doesn't do you much good if you're broken up, though.

    Safety standards are much higher than they used to be.)

    (On performance, what B said. That Yaris has just over 100 horsepower powering 2,300 pounds.

    A BMW 2002 started with 100 *gross* HP in 2000 pounds, so realistically maybe 80 modern HP.

    23:1 pounds per HP vs 25:1; the Yaris is more powerful

    While I suspect the 2002 would be a bit more nimble, and the stick might make it feel "sportier", that might just be bias - the Yaris will also have stability control and antilock brakes.

    All of which is my way of saying that that new cheap-ass econobox is better than one thinks, and that we live in a golden age of automotive performance as well as safety.)

  16. Oh dear! Here's hoping they lubed the hamster wheel under there.


  18. Brigid,
    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. The last time I rented a car was in Nova Scotia. They were running a special and so it was very inexpensive (except for the fuel). The car we got was a brand new black Ford Focus Titanium. It had a big TV style screen between the driver and front passenger seat which communicated with us on a constant basis and was a terrible distraction. If you pulled off the road onto gravel at the side of the road, it would bossily announce, "Get back on the road ! Get back on the road!" It also kept saying to us, "An Adele song is on 94.2" At the time, I didn't really know who that was, but the car alerted me to her soulful singing. The car served us well, and we even took it for "a bath" on the way back from the salty beach. Eventually, because we didn't listen to the car when it told us things, it stopped talking to us.

  19. I just rolled in after a long side trip. I'll be back here tomorrow evening to say hello and respond. :-)

  20. Economy car - When the mortician tells the family, "Hey, with a little work with the car crusher, we can skip the casket".

  21. Marion, Indiana - courtesy car was/is a hearse. No, you will not take it out of town. Yes, everyone in town will ask where you flew in from and what plane you brought.

    Centennial Airport, Denver - got what I swear was a Trabi in drag. Pulled onto the interstate to go pick up my med crew and all I could think of was "maybe the nice Mack behind me will keep pushing until I get to my exit," followed by, "Cool, I can identify the species of bugs on his grill and bumper" while pedaling as fast as those two horses under the hood could go. The med crew were not impressed by the ride.

  22. Rode one of thos little Toyota Yaris around Oklahoma once. Got great mileage, went fast. Did not like the wind. Got mostly blown off the road a time or two. Tailwinds made it feel like it might get blown into a tumble. The best safety feature I like in a vehicle is one that wont get flipped by the wind or crushed by a motorcycle.

  23. Sigivald -- A friend of mine who alas is no longer with us used to rebuild, race, commute in, and generally enthuse about the 2002.

    Objectively, he had to confess that his beloved orange tii could just about beat a good present-day minivan on our mountain roads. But judging from the 2002 that I stored for him for a few months the time his collection overran his storage area, it just isn't the same experience. What a wonderfully honest car -- what my brain, butt, and gut thought it ought to do in response to a certain control input was exactly what I got.

    Must agree, though, that should you come around a curve and suddenly see nothing dead ahead on your side of the road but a Suburban grille and the back of the phone on which the driver is texting, you're better off in something with such newfangled contraptions as crumple zones and air bags.

    Even fairly small and cheap modern cars do a remarkable job of preserving passenger-compartment integrity and cushioning the contents, albeit sometimes at the sacrifice of the rest of the car.

    Using my car insurance is better than using my life insurance...

  24. Crazy Oregon Driver? Crazy Washington Driver? It is to scoff. I drove a cab in Boston. I fear no one.

  25. Back a few years ago when I was commuting into Mordor to work for the tech side of a certain fast food resturant on what felt like a weekly basis (seriously, I could navigate O'Hare blind for a while there)

    I got to play rental car roulette a lot.

    The worst car I ever got? Was the follow on to the PT Cruiser. Honestly don't remember what it was called, but it looked like a modern take on a early 40s delivery van. Very cool styling.

    Not built for tall people. I had the seat as low as it would go and I could only see out the windshield by leaning forward.

    Had a perpetual back ache for two weeks and avoided driving as much as possible.


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