On a recent trip to the airport rental counter I marveled at the ability of the Avis/Budget representative to make me feel like a criminal, a moron, and an irresponsible lout gambling with my life all in the space of about eight minutes. Welcome to modern car rental.
I've had a few decent car rental experiences lately, so it was a bit of a shock to once again get the kind of smiling-yet-shitty treatment so well represented in this NSFW scene from the film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Aren't we done with this?
Rather than list all of the issues I have with the Avis/Budget representative, it's best to portray these feelings in abridged transcript form, complete with subtext.
This is also helpful because the guy behind the desk is probably a nice person and not individually to blame. He's just a short-sleeved cog in a machine designed to underestimate the intelligence of its customers.
AVIS REP: What's your name?
ME: Matt Hardigree
AVIS REP: In town for business or visiting family?
I need to buy time because I have to look you up on a computer slightly less advanced than a Commodore 64.
ME: Family, for a wedding.
Glad you acknowledge that no one could ever come to this small Midwestern town for pleasure.
AVIS REP: Traveling alone or bringing anyone else with you?
I would like to sell you crap you don't need, but first I need more information.
ME: Yes, two other people.
Why is this any of your business? I can do with the car what I wish.
AVIS REP: Looks like you have a mid-size, what kind of car would you like?
If this guy doesn't buy anything from me I'm putting him in a Chrysler Sebring.
ME: What do you have in my class?
Anything but a Chrysler Sebring...
AVIS REP: Oh, we could get you in a Town Car, a lot of room for your other folks and luggage. Maybe a Mustang, a little sportier.
You really don't want a Chrysler Sebring.
ME: A Town Car could be fun.
How is that in my class?
AVIS REP: That'll be just $18 extra a day.
I hope this guy is a moron.
ME: I'd just like a car in my class please.
I'm getting a Sebring.
AVIS REP: Looks like all we have is a Chrysler Sebring.
Despite the 20 other cars in your class you'll see outside.
AVIS REP: Well, we recommend the full coverage insurance package, which covers the car, the people, some of the belongings, and up to $2 million in liability.
Be afraid, be very afraid. Even though this Chrysler is only worth $9,000 and smells like fish you're somehow going to crash it into a bus full of lawyers all carrying antique Ming vases and new Plasma TVs thus needing $2 million in liability coverage. You'll be broke. You'll be destitute. You'll sell your skinny hipster body on the streets just to make up the cost of this one Chrysler Sebring. And all you had to do was spend an extra $7 a day on top of the price we already agreed to.
ME: No thank you.
There's nothing but corn for me to crash into.
AVIS REP: Oh, well, we have a more economical version of this insurance that covers the vehicle. Otherwise you'll have to pay $10,000 towards the replacement of the car.
Maybe you're only 40% moron and not aware that numerous insurance policies and credit cards cover you when you rent a car so you only have to pay your deductible.
ME: No thank you.
Why is this taking so long?
AVIS REP: If you'd like, you can pay to have us fill up your car for you ahead of time. Otherwise if you don't bring it back full we charge you $9 a gallon to fill it up.
I hope you suddenly think there's no open gas stations within 50 miles of this airport.
ME: No, that's ok. I'll just fill it up.
How is it $9? Is it really that expensive to truck gas to the center of the country? What kind of fancy ass gas are you putting in your tractors?
AVIS REP: Well, you're not from around here. So you'll probably want the GPS option.
Everything in this state is oriented along two, maybe three highways. I'm hoping you don't know that.
ME: No thanks.
I am 28 years old. I carry no less than three items equipped with GPS everywhere I go.
AVIS REP: Oh. Well. I'm just going to need you to sign and initial this paper a few times just to acknowledge your liability and everything I told you.
Despite doing all of our booking online now, we're still the only business in the Western world to use dot matrix printers printing on perforated sheets of paper. So please wait a few minutes while this prints out.
It's taken me longer to rent this car than to fly here.
AVIS REP: Have a good day.
Just remember, if you scratch the car. If you crash into anyone. If you don't put gas in it. If you look at it the wrong way it'll cost you ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS!
My God! What have I done?