Straight up, I have to apologize to all the car rental companies I’ve rented from. I must confess; I haven’t been the best renter.
In college, renting a car provided freedom. I remember two adventures in particular, both to enjoy the weekend at my dorm mate’s house in suburban Philadelphia, a four-hour drive from Syracuse University. We rented from an independent rental company in Syracuse, one willing to take a chance on the under-25 crowd. Both trips happened in the middle of a typically brutal upstate New York winter.
I had no credit card, and though I was 19, I must’ve looked about 16 to the agent behind the counter. As this was a cash rental, he told me I needed to take the collision damage waiver (CDW). I didn’t quite understand the logic behind the rule and resisted — $6 a day would put a dent in our beer budget. But I took the CDW. Toward the end of our trip, heading up Route 81, we came upon a tollbooth. Beer budget drained, we hadn’t bothered to save enough money to pay the toll. We decided to leave the road and drive the compact rental car over a hill full of snow in an attempt to circumvent the tollbooth. We essentially slid sideways down the hill back to the road — before the tollbooth. We awkwardly went into an office and filled out some forms with a promise to pay the toll.
Later that day, we watched in slow-motion horror as a car skidded toward us across a patch of ice, hitting our rental and severely damaging the car’s front end. We attempted to drive it back to the rental location (it needed to be returned, didn’t it?), but the car ended up conking out on the highway in a snowstorm. We were picked up by a roving flatbed. Many years later, I can only imagine the expression of that same rental agent when we arrived with the car on a flatbed, keys in hand. I still thank my lucky stars for that $6 CDW. You can’t tell me CDW isn’t worth it!
Not more than a month later, we rented from the same location. Surprisingly, they didn’t bar and padlock the door on us. This time, on Route 81 on a Sunday night, the rental car died on us. What followed was a two-and-a half day odyssey of being stranded in Whitney Point, N.Y. (population 964) with no money — again. We took it upon ourselves to have the car towed to a local mechanic. We snuck into and slept in what would be generously described as “a flophouse.” I’m not sure why we didn’t call the rental company, other than chalking it up to the stupidity of youth. But we hung out and waited for the car to be repaired, calling dad for a credit card number. We made it back to the rental company and presented the steep repair bill. I do remember the indignation of the rental agent — who was probably the owner — that we needed to get in touch with him before going ahead and repairing one of his cars. I believe we cut some sort of deal. For how much, I don’t remember.
Post-college, I rented a car in Phoenix with a buddy to tour the Southwest, including the Grand Canyon and my first trip to Las Vegas. It was my first time seeing the stark expanse of the American desert.
Living in New York City, a rental car provided a new means of escape. On more than one occasion, a rental car was a “date facilitator,” and on another delivered me to relationship doom.
Living in Southern California for the last 23 years, I’ve rented on many occasions, in the early days because my junk-bucket wouldn’t go more than 20 miles outside of Los Angeles, and lately, because of business trips and the desire to drag my family across America. On two recent occasions, I was that guy in the rental counter queue dragging a car seat with a crying infant along with a three-year-old ready to melt down. Both times, the rental agents managed us with expeditious grace.
Even today, I’m driving a rental car as I wait for the body shop to repair my car that was recently damaged in an accident.
So I write this not as the editor of Auto Rental News or an advocate for the car rental industry, but rather as a slightly sheepish renter with a lot of memories. I guess this isn’t really an apology; it’s just a thank you to the rental industry for facilitating my mobility for many years, and many years to come.