In the middle of April I took a trip by myself to visit some friends who were staying in Olympia, Washington, for a few days. At the same time I decided to visit another friend who lives just outside of Elma, Washington, an unpleasant little town between Olympia and Aberdeen—a really crappy town. One might wonder why my friend lives where he does, but if you knew him, you would understand. He is a solitary sort of fellow who rarely leaves his house other than to drive to a store for cheap beer.
I flew from Missoula to Seattle where I’d reserved a car at the Dollar agency through the Expedia website, and it was a pretty good deal. For something like $40 a day I would have a small little compact that would hold at least two pieces of luggage plus a passenger. I could drive it to Olympia, Elma and then to Portland where I would pick up my daughter Erika. We would go to the Oregon beach for a couple of days, and then I could leave the car off at the Portland airport. From there I would fly back to Missoula.
The friendly clerk at Dollar, who spoke excellent English with an exotic Latin accent, had something else in mind. He completely ignored my reservation and told me that I could have a car similar to what I’d rented a year ago when another guy talked me into renting a Toyota Highlander. He seemed not to understand me when I said that I wanted the car that I’d reserved through Expedia. He merely frowned and asked me where I was going.
I reminded him that I was leaving the car at the Dollar agency at the Portland airport.
“Portland!?” he exploded. “Well, you need something comfortable to take on the Interstate. We have a nice Lincoln available. You can drive all over with that and never get tired.” He showed me a picture of a huge sedan on his computer. “It’s new,” he said, looking around as if he were engaging me in a conspiracy. “Only 20 thousand miles.”
His mustachioed smile turned into bushy eyebrowed frown, and he seemed worried for me when I said that I wanted the compact that I’d reserved (hadn’t I reserved one?). He seemed to suggest that someone of my age might perish in something as small as a compact. He appeared to be completely unaware of the line behind me where people began to glare at me.
I sensed that they were impatient with the old guy with the white beard who probably didn’t understand the rental procedure and most likely shouldn’t be driving anyway.
The agent showed me three more vehicles before I finally caved and agreed to rent a style of Subaru that had a sporty name something like Crossbow or Superdog.
But that wasn’t enough for Ronaldo (the name on his airport ID) as then we had to discuss insurance, several varieties going from the simplest where I wouldn’t be liable for scratches to the premium where I could total my rental by smashing into a police vehicle and walk away free and clear.
Then there was the issue of whether to bring the car back with a full tank or let the company fill the tank for you. The price that the agency would charge was exorbitant, but the guy explained that I would not be able to bring the car back full as there were no gas stations near the airport.
Again I surrendered. I was ready to sign anything just to get out of there, and as I walked away with the keys I am almost sure I heard applause from those who were waiting to be served.