Thursday, September 16, 2010

Piece of Mind

For our recent vacation to New York, we had planned a visit to Mystic, CT. And because everyone from the East coast is always raving about how you can take a train here or there, take a train down to Philly, to DC, up to Boston, I looked into the cost of taking Amtrak. Soon thereafter I found myself reserving a rental car online. The price for the train was going to be a wash, but when it came down to the nitty-gritty of schlepping luggage and two kids and a stroller, we opted for the car.

I shopped around for the best rental price, and Hertz was it. Plus it was the closest walking distance to where we were staying in Park Slope in Brooklyn. So I hoofed it over there, and it was a fairly no-nonsense experience. Those New Yorkers know how to take care of business. The guy was talking so fast that he talked me into buying the infamous "Loss Damage Waiver" (aka LDW) which I NEVER opt in on.

If you're unfamiliar with renting cars from the major players, the LDW is basically coverage so that if anything happens to the vehicle - car stolen, wrecked, whatever - you don't worry about it. Your insurance doesn't even come into play. The Hertz man said (in New Yorker accent) "It's an extra 9 bucks a day, so it's like uh... 36 bucks for the rental. You want it?" Hmm. 36 bucks so I don't have to worry about anything that happens to this car and I don't have to deal with my insurance company? Done. Bye bye 36 bucks.

And soon I was driving out of their garage with a brand new Chevy HHR (or whatever it's called) which looks like a PT Cruiser but less flashy. 19 miles on the odometer. New car smell. All I cared about was getting the hell out of the city before traffic started piling up on the Friday before Labor Day weekend.

After pulling into a miracle of a parking spot right next to our friend's brownstone, I loaded up the car with luggage and family and away we went. A few hours later we were well on our way and driving directly into the remnants of Hurricane Earl, which had morphed into some nasty rain that made it difficult to see 50 feet ahead even with the wipers on full blast. Glad I bought that LDW.

The rain didn't last long, and we were able to enjoy plenty of sun and warm weather in Mystic. We even drove the HHR onto the ferry from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson in Long Island to see a friend from my high school days. And when that leg of the journey was done, yet another miracle of a parking spot appeared right next to our friend's brownstone, and I unloaded up the car with luggage and family and left it for the night.

Street cleaning was scheduled for the next morning, so I had to get the HHR on the road earlier than my rental return time. Lily was meeting a friend for breakfast, so she took Blaise with her and I took Judah with me to return the car. We were making great time, but as we were literally driving the last block to the Hertz rental location, traffic stopped. Gridlock like none I've seen even in Los Angeles. Nothing was moving. People were laying on their horns. Lights changed from green to red to green and back again. And we didn't move an inch.

I watched the minutes tick by, and I wondered if I was going to miss my return time. I couldn't really put the car in park and walk up to the place. And I sure as hell wasn't going to try my luck by driving around from the opposite direction. But if I was late on the return would they charge for an extra day on the car? And then I remembered the LDW. I already paid the 36 bucks, so why should I pay for another day of rental? I briefly considered parking the car nearby and telling Hertz it was stolen. I'd be in their office pointing at the LDW on my paperwork and walking out of there backwards saying "LDW, yo. Nahmean?"

Then traffic started moving again. And I discovered what the cause of the gridlock was: All the weekenders returning their Labor Day rental rides back to the motherland: The very same Hertz location I was trying to return the HHR to. The car in front of me was stopped in the driveway behind the last car that could fit into their crammed garage. A Hertz employee rushed out to greet me and told me to parallel park my car in front of the driveway. "You're the last car we're accepting right now" he said as he helped guide me into the spot.

I went in and finished up my paperwork and got the hell out of there. Cars lined up down the street. As I left, a renter was asking a Hertz employee "Where should I park the car?" and the Hertz employee replied "We're not accepting any cars right now". The renter shook his head then said "What exactly does that mean?" his voice turning to anger toward the end of his sentence. I wasn't about to stick around to find how that one turned out. It was hot. And humid. And I needed an iced coffee. I lifted Judah onto my shoulders and away we went.

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