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Birmingham Parent magazine

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Thing About Rental Cars - Part 2


By John Graham, guest blogger

A new car is exciting and there is something about the new car experience that only a new car provides. The smell of new leather (or leatherette?). The thunk sound of a solid shutting door. The smell of the engine, heater, air conditioner as they reach maximum
operating temperatures for the first time produces a magical experience. The issue for most is that the experience comes once every 4 or 5 years. More frequently for those with 6 or 7 digits in their savings account balance. Even then for most it is a rare event.

In enters the rental car. If you travel a lot you get to experience a new car each and every week, sometimes two or three in a single week. While all of the cars are not brand new, most of them have fewer miles than the one back home. Last week we discussed they types of cars to rent. This week let’s focus on the excitement, or, the lack thereof, of the actual car you get when you arrive at your destination.

My company uses Hertz as our primary rental company. I generally rent a mid-size, or standard car. Remember, this is a 4-door compact with five seat belts. Go with a full-size and you are looking at the general family/co-worker hauler. Regardless of category some cars are almost fun and some coma inducing. A Maxima or Kia Optima turbo or a high end Hyundai for a couple of days can be fun as they have enough horsepower and gadgets to make the driving at least entertaining. You also may be punished with an Impala or an Altima that lack gadgets and horsepower and essentially represent cars where the engineers are told:
‘This year, make the car 10% more boring and if you can hit 12%, bonuses all around!’ 

Let’s not focus on the actual brand of car but instead on the feelings you experience as you get off the plane. You may be picturing yourself in a Mercedes SLS roadster driving down the highway with the top down, sun shining and the wind blowing through your hair (hey, it’s my imagination and I am allowed to visualize myself with hair!). Since I generally rent in the same category, I generally get the same cars. A Ford Fusion (which is nice), the Toyota Camr…(oh, sorry, fell asleep there), most often the Chevrolet Impala. 

After I land I get an e-mail from Hertz telling me what my rental will be. Often I won’t even open the message. I like to wait until I get to the rental agency itself so the surprise lasts longer. I look at the Gold Club board to see what slot my car sits in. As I stroll to my space I look at all the cool cars I pass getting to mine. I dream that maybe, this time, I will I get a Mustang or Camaro or maybe something from across the ocean like a Volvo or maybe a Mercedes.

As I continue down the aisle I anxiously peek over the top of the of the other vehicles looking for my car. Being honest, I also hope I won’t actually see my car because, like birthday and Christmas presents, once I know what the gift, or the car in this case, is, the anticipation and surprise is over.My car may be four or five aisles over and as I pass fun little Fiats or Kia Souls or some other model that I have never driven I assume they will be more fun than my rental. 

As I near slot 761 and still my car remains unseen between the two ginormous SUVs, my anticipation grows. If it is between two expensive to rent Super-size Me’s it must be nice, right? I see my name on the board above the car. This baby will definitely be mine, and what do I find, blazing forth in its full glory? A, wait for it, the car I have been anxiously wondering about since the reservation was made two weeks ago. It is, it is…

A tan Camry.

Yep, that’s right, tan and Camry. Two of the most unexciting words in our language and when put together multiply the dullness  by 263 -- Yes, I have calculated the boringness factor of those words combined and 263 is correct.


Maybe not all is lost? Maybe the car is top of the line! Yes,that’s it, definitely top of the line. I look for the telltale signs that spell ‘F-A-N-C-Y’. Aluminum wheels? No. Extra chrome? No. Body colored bumpers? No. Still not hopeless, maybe the money was spent on interior features. I open the door looking for tan leather, moon roof, built-in GPS, and a digital dash. No, no, no and no again. The tan cloth interior, analog gauges, manual AC/heater controls, and radio with 6 whole buttons to push face me with almost the same gloom that I feel. Sigh again…I look back across the garage and there, just 4 stalls over, a Hemi Charger. 

A Cadillac SRX and a bright orange Challenger just two rows over and all, so close, yet so far. Maybe there is something better in the Gold Choice area? Maybe I should go back and see what else they have available? But my spirit is broken, I have opened a black belt and socks as my Christmas gift. With depression at 110 percent, I give up and load my luggage into the trunk, climb into the driver’s seat, and drive away. 
Even the Camry seems sad to be a Camry.
I pull out of the lot, popping Benzadrine to remain conscious and I realize that at least I don’t own this car and it is only for a couple days. Besides, I am traveling to Dallas on Thursday. I fondly remember the Camaro SS convertible with only 6 miles on the odometer that once awaited my arrival. Imagining my Camry is a Ferrari I smile -- almost.

That’s the thing about rental cars, getting the one you really want is like dessert at a church pot luck, sometimes it is Sinful Chocolate Decadence and sometimes it is red jello with beets.

Blog followers this month are entered into a giveaway for four tickets to Vulcan Park!  Deadline to follow the blog and "enter" is Aug. 15, when the tickets will be given away to one follower!

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