Car Rental Confusion: Adventures of the Rentally-Challenged

The bane of every traveler’s journey awaits him at the end of his or her flight, not unlike the bar bill that awaits the father of the bride after his daughter’s wedding, or the extra seven pounds that greets you in the mirror at the end of a vacation cruise. It’s called renting a car. It is the one bump in the road on the otherwise smooth and sunny highway to vacationland. It is the dark rain cloud that looms between you and your vacation destination. It is the thorn in the foot of the happy camper. It is the DMV of where happiness usually lives.

Without the routine car rental experience, vacations would be as rote and predictable as a celebrity murder trial verdict.

My husband is a savvy traveler, spending hours on the Internet planning each trip’s final detail down to what brand of mint will be placed on the hotel pillow at night. But when it comes to renting a vehicle to use for the duration of our trip, he is suddenly struck with a mysterious syndrome that travel experts refer to as Car Rental Confusion, or CRC for short. It begins as soon as the last piece of luggage is plucked from the luggage carousel at the airport.

“Where the hell is the car rental?” he begins to mutter to no one in particular and starts to pace about the airport like a caged bobcat.

It’s not that he needs to rent a car. Being the consummate prepared traveler that he is, he has already rented one over the Internet. He just never inquired where to pick it up. It usually takes up to a half hour of exploring the airport before the realization sinks in that the rental agency is not actually physically located at the airport like they used to be in the old days.

After we find the courtesy shuttle that take us to the car rental lot, we locate our vehicle and my husband grunts his way into the small economy car and the conversation always goes exactly like this: “Jesus, who drove this car last, one of the Munchkins?” Then, fiddling with the console, “Where the heck are the headlights on this thing?” “Oops, that’s the windshield washer!”

It wouldn’t be that bad if we could just spend our entire vacation within the safety of the fenced-in rental agency grounds. But here is a man who still uses a rotary dial phone in his office about to head out into a strange city with a high-tech car he’s never driven. The fun is just beginning.

First stop, the rental lot exit gate. My husband pulls up to the booth. The man inside reaches out for the rental agreement while my husband, fumbling with the controls, rolls down the back windows and locks and unlocks the doors while the annoyed attendant waits for my husband to finally locate the button to roll down the driver’s window. I waste no time in admonishing him after we have finally pulled away from the booth.

“Well, we were supposed to get an upgrade!” he blurts just after we drive over the tire spikes that you can’t back up over. Too late to go back and renegotiate, as if a bigger car would alleviate his CRC anyway.

And on and on it goes. When we pull up to the hotel valet, my husband reaches down and pops open the hood.

“Did you want me to check the oil?” the valet sarcastically remarks.

When we pull into a gas station, my husband gets out, then a moment later, gets back in and starts the car up and turns it around and pulls up to the pump from the passenger side.

“Damn tank is on the other side,” he grumbles.

When he approaches the restaurant valet to collect our car, more often than not he returns without it, saying sheepishly,”Wrong one.”

As I write this, we are attending a conference in Philadelphia. We flew in late last night and took a taxi to the hotel.

“Good thing we aren’t renting a car,” I commented during the long, dark, and unfamiliar ride to the hotel.

My husband didn’t respond, but I know we were both thinking that we’d probably still be in the rental lot looking for the trunk latch.