Car Talk

I originally posted this privately on July 2, because I did not want to tip off anyone to the fact that my house would be empty for a month. We are home from our road trip now, so I am opening up my July posts about the trip for public viewing.

Our chariot awaits.

We leave tomorrow on our Great American Road Trip. But our own car is too little and way too old (17 years) for a trip of this length. So we reserved a car a few weeks ago at one of the national rental car chains, to pick up today at noon. We knew the place was in the Pentagon City Mall area, but when we arrived on the block where the address was supposed to be, it wasn’t there. We drove around a bit, searching. We tried calling — no answer. And we checked the website again.

We decided it must actually be in the mall. So we drove into the parking garage, walked into the mall, and started searching for it. I found a directory. But the directories are all interactive electronic ones now. I don’t see much of an advantage. With the old-style ones — a low-tech map — several people could consult it at once. The new ones require you to type in the store you’re looking for, which means that you have to wait until everyone who reached it before you did finds the stores they want first. In any case, after waiting and then consulting the darn thing, I knew no more than I had before; the directory said it had no entry for the place.

We searched around a bit more. I walked into the hotel and asked at the front desk. The associate there said he knew it was in the mall, but he didn’t know where. At least we knew now that the place really was in the mall somewhere.

It was noon by now, the time we were supposed to get the car. Finally, we saw a mall security guy — and he knew where to find the rental car counter. It was a counter out in the open, right next to one of the less convenient exits to the parking garage. We got there to find a long line at the counter.

Bob is having back problems this week. So he went to find a place to sit while I waited in the line. And we learned that it was taking so long because the company did not have cars for everyone who had reserved one. Every time a customer reached the counter and presented paperwork about what car they had reserved, the staff had to call around the area and see what locations might actually have the car to send over.

We had reserved a mid-sized SUV. The guy said he didn’t have one. He did have an ENORMOUS SUV, a seven-seater that got like zero miles to the gallon — did I mention that gas is about $5 a gallon here right now — and close to $7 in California, where we’re heading? And beyond the high gas prices, I was already worried about driving something as large as a mid-sized SUV. I’m used to my little Prius. As it turned out, the ginormous Ford Expedition was out, anyway. We are renting for the entire month, and that one was not available for so long.

He offered us a Honda Civic. That’s not going to work. We have luggage for a month-long road trip. And there are three of us, two of whom are 6’2″ and 6’3″. The Civic may be even smaller than our Prius. But this nice man whose name I wish I had gotten saw that a car just a little bigger than the one we’d rented was supposed to have been returned more than an hour earlier and was late. He made some calls and learned that it was on its way. So he took Bob’s phone number and told us to hang out in the mall for a while.

We received the call a while later, and came back to find out that he had a Ford Escape for us. YES! It had just returned and had to be cleaned. So we waited a while more, and finally got a car. It was almost two hours later than we’d reserved it for, but we had it.

Thank goodness we’d planned to pick it up the day before we were leaving on our road trip.

Tomorrow, we hit the road.

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