Insert tab A into slot B

Well, I guess it’s time for what’s getting to be my monthly posting about trips to Wisconsin – or as I like to call it, Chez Cheese. I know, I know, I haven’t posted in two months. I actually wrote this one last month, but I never got around to finishing it. I didn’t have anything to say about the month before because, frankly, it was uneventful (well, from a travel standpoint, anyway).

I did have the multiple gate-change, 4-hour layover fiasco in Chicago’s O’Hare. (I was going to call the post, “O’Harried” or “O’Harrowing.” Perhaps fortunately the post never happened.) While I was walking to my gate at one end of the terminal – the end of the terminal – they changed my gate to one in a completely different terminal. Let me say it again – changed while I was walking there. I lugged my 40 lb. shoulder bag (because who needs wheels?) and my backpack with laptop and accouterments (is that were luggage comes from, or is it the other way?) around the football stadium that is O’Hare for 4 hours. I had time to kill, and what was I supposed to do, buy a book and sit and read it?

They changed my gate 3 more times while I waited. Others told me that it was par for “No’Fare.” So, while arduous, I didn’t feel it particularly interesting enough to write about. Except that, well, I just did.

I knew what my topic was going to be last month, however, very soon after I landed. There is the unsung villain, perhaps villainous sidekick, rather, to air travel – car rental.

First off, there is the possibly illegal, though certainly unethical practice of tricking you into an upgrade. You reserve a small to midsize car, and when you show up to collect your reservation they say, “I have a monster SUV, or a fancy, high-end sport sedan available…?” Oh, they have plenty of smaller cars, too. But they’re making you say, “OK” to the bigger car by presenting them, and only them, as options, usually without telling you they’ll cost more.

Last month I switched to Avis from Enterprise, because I didn’t like the later’s practice of being a mere $10 cheaper, but offering a car so stripped down I was lucky to have automatic windows. (Does anyone have manual, roll-down windows anymore? But then what motion do you use when you want to talk to the person in the car next to you?) They (Enterprise) told me that for a “modest upgrade” I could get things like a stereo radio, cruise control (essential to keeping to the speed limit in a foreign state) and a key fob, so I don’t have to fumble with gloves on in the snow and rain to get a key in and unlock one door then reach over and manually unlock the others to let in my passengers who’re still standing outside. You know, the stuff we never had when we were kids. I know the corporate bean counters back home would balk at the word “upgrade” on my receipt, so I opted for the one who gave you all that stuff in the base rate.

If only they would give you the base rate. Booking the car through my corporate travel site, there’s a price quoted for a midsize sedan of $48/day. Last month, when I got to the counter, the helpful woman at the counter said, “I have a Saturn Vue…?” Knowing as much about cars as I do economic foreign policy, I say, “m’OK,” and am surprised to see a sporty little SUV waiting for me. And here I am thinking, wow, how nice of Avis to have such nice cars – worth the extra $10. There was some monster snow that weekend, so it turned out to be fortuitous.

So this time at the counter I’m told, “I have a [some brand I forget], which is a midsize SUV.” Then, as I pause for a moment to consider what could be “midsize” for a monster truck that’s far too huge for most people to get around in, and how it still qualifies as one, “it’s $89 on your corporate rate.” It’s late at night and I’m tired, so my mental gears aren’t completely greased.

“No,” I say, “I certainly don’t need anything that big,” remembering the seats-6-with-all-their-luggage-and-a-kiddie-pool Vue.

“I have a Dodge Magnum…?”

“m’OK,” I relent. She could have said, “I have Gursis Baba Friggle Bibby…?” and I would have said the same thing, because the only thing I can picture with the word “magnum” is condoms.


I’m not sure how I would classify the Dodge Magnum. It’s got the look of a car for people who like to collect speeding tickets, but it’s got a cargo area in the back. It’s too short to be a van, but can you really call it a hatch-back? My van technically has a hatch on the back, but “hatch-back” brings other cars to mind. The Ford Pinto is a hatch-back. So is the AMC Gremlin. Back in my day, the name we used for cars that had a cargo area connected to the cab instead of a trunk was “Station Wagon.” So, yeah, the Magnum is a fancy, sporty station wagon, albeit one in which you might actually be able to pick up a date.

Now the gears in my mind catch. Is this car, also $89 “on my corporate rate?” They didn’t quote me a price, but is that what I paid last time? It’s still bigger than I need, certainly not “blah,” and I don’t recall explicitly saying, “no, I want something cheaper.” “No, not that big,” should mean, to most people, “don’t try to upsale me, just give me what I asked for.”

This is decidedly dishonest for their use of the words, “on your corporate rate.” They know I made the reservation trough a corporate travel agency. “Your corporate rate” is meant to imply that your company has agreed to the price. They haven’t. That’s the price Avis is offering to charge your company, and not necessarily discounted.

They handed me the barely discernible, used-up ink ribboned, dot matrix printout with, “initial here, here, here and here and sign here,” but I didn’t notice anything about a rate. It certainly wasn’t told to me. I assumed, perhaps naively, that when my travel preferences explicitly state, “small to midsize” and quote a specific price when I make a reservation, that’s what I’ll get. No one at the airport asks me, “I have a first class seat available…?” when I get my boarding pass.

Yes, yes, caveat emptor, and I should check what I’m paying before I sign, but I already agreed to one price, so unless someone specifically says, “this is more,” then that’s all I should pay. They did say (this time) a particular car was more, but to that option I said, no. Without being told, upfront, before I say, OK, what the price of the other option is, I have to assume it’s what I agreed to.

Not that I’m paying for it. I’m expensing the car. I just don’t want the people whose corporate pockets the cost is coming out of coming by my office, jabbing their finger at my credit card statement, going, “explain this!” I’m sure I can manage a good, “b’wah…?” and reiterate the above. They’ve been letting me slide on my two beers with dinner (expensing alcohol is verboten) so I’m hoping they’ll let this go, too.

Now we come to the little exercise I like to call, “Insert tab A into slot B.” When was the last time you got into a car that came with instructions? OK, technically they all come with instructions, but when have you ever felt it necessary to read them? These are the keys that were in the car (broken ring hole, tape and all):

First, why do car rental agencies feel it necessary to give you two keys, then insist on bolting them together? What am I supposed to do with the second key? Use it when some distempered valet snaps the other one off in the lock?

Turns out, I don’t know what to do with either key. They slide into the ignition, but that appears to be all they do. They slide so far into the ignition, with the head of the key so small, that I can just barely get my fingers in there to try to turn them. I don’t try to twist too hard for fear of snapping them off or lacerating my fingers on the edges.

To that point, I’ve seen keys like this before – small, hideaway ones that slide into the remote fob. I’ve assumed they were there in case the remote battery died, so you could still open the door. These slide into the ignition, but so far that you can’t turn them, so now I’m looking all over the interior for a start button, something other than the familiar turning key that’s so much a given they’re on my son’s baby toys.

I shine a light into the ignition socket, and then I take another look at the key fob. That’s when I remember that the point of most technological “innovation” is to be capricious and unnecessary. (Technology for its own sake, adding complication to simplicity because it’s kewl.) And it dawns on me – the plug-shaped fob is the key. I jam it into the socket and twist and voilá, it starts up.

If two keys is mockingly unnecessary, then two keys that don’t work, bolted onto something that doesn’t look like a key but is, is just fucking with me.

For this I paid extra.

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Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 8:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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