Monday, June 28, 2010

Off-Brand Car Rentals

We are on one of our regular trips to LA to see los abuelos. My beloved wife has an obsession with off-brand car rentals. In her quest for a good deal, she bypasses the standards – Avis and Hertz – in favor of places like Crazy Khalil’s All Vehicles Rented (we were offered the choice of a crop duster or a PT Cruiser.)

This trip we tried someplace new. LAX is a big place, with vast regions not known the to casual travelers. The courtesy shuttle was to meet us in a “private section” of the airport that – for an area where planes land – was surprisingly poorly lit.

Although the planes were private, they were not swanky corporate jets. They had peeling paint and graffiti – they were the aeronautical equivalent to Chevy Novas. Tattooed Ukranians were striding around carrying large cardboard boxes with multiple grease stains.

As my wife and I kept looking around nervously for the courtesy shuttle, one of these boxes burst unleashing a cascade of cigarette cartons. My daughter, well educated by the values of our time called out, “You shouldn’t smoke.”

It wasn’t in Ukrainian, so it had no impact. She pulled mom’s sleeve, “Mommy, in Spanish, do I say, ‘No se debe fumar?’”

She’s never shown this much interest in her Latino heritage before. We were saved from the consequences of this query when the courtesy shuttle arrived. It was a converted meat truck.

The rental center was apparently also a junkyard (complete with snarling dog). The driver was also the clerk. For a guarantee, he insisted on our library cards and my Pier One membership discount card. After we signed some papers and handed over some cash, the proprietor waved a veiny arm and said, “Pick a car. Any car.”

I saw a convertible and began heading towards it.

“Not that one,” he barked.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, with visions of the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down buzzing through my head.

“It’s a little hot.”

“I’ll just put the top down…”

Mama Goof gave me a look and pulled me away. The junkyard dog was straining a heavy gauge chain and frothing at the mouth.

The rest of selection looked like the Matchbox car collection of a child who hated all forms of wheeled transportation. An El Camino (one of the most hideous cars ever made), a partially repainted Fedex van, and an Alabama state police cruiser were among the highlights. The proprietor let us know the meat truck was an option (an old school bus with the roof ripped off could apparently substitute on airport runs.)

We ended up leaving with a conventional, albeit aged sedan – which broke down a few days later. When we called, the customer service representative instructed us to walk away from the vehicle and “forget about it.”

We did, happily. But I fear I have lost my Pier One discount card forever.

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