Thursday, November 06, 2008

Highway and Ravens

I hang out in the Regina airport for a bit, before I go through security. I buy postcards. And then some bizarre female hormonal fluctuation requires me to buy cute things. It must be some chemical mechanism designed to protect babies or something, but it is seriously miswired. I bought a fuzzy little Canada Goose stuffed toy and a girlie purse, neither of which I have any use for, especially in Grande Cache. But they are cute. And they were even on sale. At least they both fit in my carry on.

Did I mention I'm having a bad technology day? The lifting handle broke off my main suitcase, and the extendable handle snapped on one side. That's checked now, so I don't have to worry about it until lately, but it turns out that I still have my car key in my pants pocket and my coin purse too. I have a routine of where I put everything, and I never carry these things in my pockets, which is why I forget to take them out of my pocket before going through security. So I get beeped by the scanning machine. I apologize, go back, empty my pockets into a tray, go through again without beeping, and then try to recapture my interrupted routine. I do. Right down to not picking up the key and coins that I never have in my pockets and therefore aren't part of my reclaiming from the bins at airport security routine. Fortunately I remember them before the flight is called (because I'm playing with my cute new purse) and when I go back, security has kept them safe for me. Yay for CATSA.

My carry-on fits in the overhead bin, of both the Rj and the connecting Dash-8, although I have to convnce the flight attendant that it will. Flights are both quick and uneventful. The landing on the second flight is good enough that the flight attendant actually looks up in surprise and mentions it to me. I'm sitting in 1C, right in front of her jumpseat. Someone else is starting a good landing streak. I was going to tease the pilots that they should land harder so people can tell we're down, but I didn't see them. I had to go and rent a car. You cross the street to do that at Edmonton.

The Hertz counter is right in the middle. I give my name and say I have a reservation. As I start the paperwork, I mention that my coworker will be driving the car back. The agent doesn't like that idea. "He has to be here to sign the agreement."

I explain that the car exchange will take place in Grande Cache, where there is not a Hertz office. She is not sympathetic. I ask to take a copy of the form and have the other driver sign it and fax it in before driving the car. This won't do because Hertz has to verify the driving licence. I suggest that a copy of that be faxed, too. She counters that the copy could have been made just before the licence was suspended. Okay, what if I had an RCMP officer notarize the copy? She's not budging. I can tell by now that the Hertz agent wouldn't rent a car to her own deity if He wasn't able to produce the documentation she wanted. I tell her that's not acceptible to me, and I go and try the other counters.

"If I rent a car here, can my coworker drive it also without additional paperwork?"

The answer ranges from "Yes, but we only have a Mustang convertible," to "Yes, but we don't have any cars." Avis is incredulous that Hertz won't rent me the car. So this is policy is not based in any kind of law or Alberta insurance requirement. I call the Hertz nationwide line in hopes of finding someone who is permitted to think. But I get exactly the same answer.

"Why is a driver's licence verification from the RCMP not sufficient?"

"The RCMP doesn't have anything to do with Hertz." Neither will I, if I can help it. I ask to escalate the call to the next level. While I'm on hold for that I wander over to the Avis counter with a business card and ask to be put on a standby list for an available car.

The next level up on the customer service hierarchy is no more help. We do locate the nearest Hertz offices to Grande Cache, a couple of hours drive in each case. I suppose I can drive my coworker there, then both drive back. I imagine most people just ignore whose name is on the contract and Hertz' silly rules. But it's rough country. I don't want to have a car I rented hit an animal or something and not be insured.

I go back to the Avis counter. "You could have a car back any time now, right?"

"We have one right now."

"Thank you!" I beam. "Just a moment while I go and let Hertz know I won't need their car." Pause. "EVER!" I do that, and I'm on my way.

It's about five hours drive to Grande Cache. I skirt Edmonton itself and get onto the northwest-bound Yellowhead Highway. It's an excellent road: divided highway, two lanes each way, good pavement. Alberta has money to spend on infrastructure. Just past Hinton, where I had dinner at a Greek restaurant, I take a left turn onto highway 40. It still has reasonably good pavement, but is a narrower two lane road with almost no shoulder. I can tell before I see the yellow road signs that I need to be very, very careful of wildlife on this road. I'm in a small rental car in a wilderness park, and there are likely moose, elk, deer and bear around here, all itching to cross the road, or just to wander along it.

Now, a wild animal encountering a road doesn't have the same thought processes as a human who has to cross a road, or even as a cat. I think a cat gets the concept of the road being a strip of danger that it has to traverse quickly without being caught by the cars. But a deer? A deer does not get the concept of traffic. A deer will bounce onto the road in front of you, then bounce towards you, then stand stock still, then bounce away, and then bounce right back in front of you again. Deer would not score well in Frogger.

It's not dark yet, but it will be twilight soon and I have an hour and a half to drive on this road. Watching the road and the shoulders for wildlife is a bit like doing an instrument scan while flying. Left ditch, road, right ditch, road, left ditch, road, right ditch, road. I turn a corner and spot my first wildlife. It's a raven, much smarter than a deer, and it hops off the road as I approach. My line of vision passes beyond it and lights on a group of several more ravens, all standing on the corpse of what looks like an elk. I wonder whether the animal was struck on the road and scrambled off but didn't quite make it to the trees before dying, or whether it was struck and killed, and either the driver or the highways people just hauled it to the side of the road.

I'll bet this car wasn't tested with the moose crash test dummy that Volvos are. (If you don't read that whole report, you should at least know the best line: "In Australia, tests with kangaroo dummies are hard to generalize due to a very dynamic centre-of-gravity." Boing, boing, boing!

The same scene is repeated about 30 kilometres later, on the other side of the road. Another dead deer or elk, hard to tell, lies in the long grass, with ravens feasting on it. The third dead hulk I encounter by the side of the road is that of a demolished car. I wonder if I'm far enough north now that all carcasses, animal mineral or vegetable, are not hauled away, merely pushed off to the side and left there. You get far enough north and at an airstrip you will find the remains of any airplanes that have ever crashed there, either on the apron or in the bush just past the area that is cleared at the sides of the runway.

I arrive at Grande Cache without having hit any elk, ravens or other vehicles just before dark. Phew.

Aww rats! As I write this up I'm watching a movie, and what was either a flubbed line or a script error just spolied a good laugh. The movie investigators are looking for someone who birthplace they have discovered was in the former Yugoslavia. One agent is telling the others that he has already reached contacts in the relevant agencies in "Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina." A funny jab at the continued balkanization of the Balkans, and would have made the agent look smart, being able to keep up with all that too except that we know Bosnia and Herzegovina to be the name of one country. To emphasize the length of the list, the line should have been "... and Bosnia and Herzogovina." It's a Canadian movie, too, I'm pretty sure, because part of it is set in Iqaluit. A Canadian version of Outbreak with a weird mafia twist. I'm going to assume the writer got it right, the actor didn't know that B&H was one country, and the editor, or whatever you call that job in a movie, missed it.

Appropriately enough, the movie featured an ancient disease being spread by northern birds feasting on a corpse.


Anonymous said...

Having spent countless hours in rental cars you will find one common thread. They want your money and your blood but they don't generally offer anything but a car in return. Here are a couple of great tips.

1: NEVER take the "loss damage waiver" or whatever they try to sell you for $19.99 per day. You can easily add "rental car coverage" to your own car policy for about $19 per YEAR which will protect you better than theirs. (Note the fine print where the LDW they sell you simply will go after your insurance first anyways)

2: Go ENTERPRISE! They don't care who drives the car (As long as they are licensed), will often bend over backwards to get you as a customer and for what it's worth dealing with them never "Hertz".

3: Never "pre-buy" the fuel. They have this game where they will claim their price is cheaper. The catch is you will always pay for the full tank. Regardless of how full it is when you return. They will claim "oh just bring it back empty" but how often do we feel comfortable running on empty? They know this too.

nec Timide said...

Second that. Enterprise is the way to go if you can. They probably would have been very happy to pick you up at the Hertz desk too!

Colin said...

In places where I have rented repeatedly, I have figured out whether to buy the fuel or not. In Las Vegas my tour of projects usually used enough fuel that it was worth buying the tank because it saved me the time (stopping to fuel the car) on my way home. It wasn't more expensive, or only marginally so.

The other two tips I agree with.

Anonymous said...

I also find it's often cheaper to rent a econo box than it is to cab from the airport in many cities. Las Vegas is one, Honolulu HI is another. (Of course renting via hotwire, or travelocity saves even more...)

Recently I rented a car in Kona, HI. The rate quoted for gas at the counter was $3.85/US Gal. "and you'll not find it cheaper anywhere on the island!" she said. I happily declined. The first Aloha gas I passed had gas at $3.60. I ended up filling at Costco for $2.26!!!

Caveat emptor they say...

Buzzoff said...

I TOLD you to get a Pathfinder! ;)

Anonymous said...

As you probably figured out, it's not about the legality of the other driver, it's about charging you the "additional Driver" charge.

That's where the rental agencies make a bunch of thier money, extra charges and upgrades. I've had counter people tell me after I'd declined the Collision Damage Waiver that it was required by state law. I knew that it wasn't, but anyone whit a brain would see that it wouldn't be offered as an option if it was required by law.

The most comical attempt(in a pateetic way) was the kid in Portland Oregon, in late October, who as he was clutching his hooded sweatshirt around himself and visibly shivering telling us that we were really going to regret not upgrading to a model with air conditioning.

Anonymous said...

In the States, a Hertz gold membership allows you to have other drivers without paying or notifying them (at least that's what they told me).

Also, very few personal insurance policies will cover "loss of use". If you wreck a rental car, even if your insurance covers the repair, you're still responsible for the rental car agency's loss of use of the car for the entire time of repair. That's at full, 100% non-discounted rates. And they can take as long as they want to repair the car. (Been there, done that, had the LDW to save me).

All the rental agencies' LDW policies cover loss of use (the L in LDW).

On the other hand, Amex is currently offering a promotion that includes an LDW policy for a $20 flat rate (not daily rate) for each rental.

If you do have an issue, and have purchased the LDW, when they ask you for your personal insurance information, you can (and should) refuse. That's why you paid for the LDW in the first place. (Been there, done that - twice.)

dpierce said...

I've spent countless hours in rentals, too, and I have to agree with Jack on the LDW thing. I returned a rental car a few years back (ironically, from Enterprise) and the agent found a microscopic scratch roughly the width of a human hair on the lower part of the front bumper. Miraculously, he managed to walk directly to this scratch and found it within seconds.

I won't bore you with the details, but this ended up costing me a lot in exactly the scheme Jack describes, despite my excellent auto insurance coverage. My insurance guy (who is a personal friend) told me to start getting the LDW (especially since my customers ultimately pay for my rentals).

Since I used to rent from Enterprise so much, I would've thought they wouldn't have pulled such a stunt with me and wouldn't have risked losing my business. Yet it happened. The $600 they made on "downtime" was nothing compared to the thousands they lost in my future business. I now go out of my way to avoid Enterprise.

In another incident, I had to return a car for a co-worker who was unexpectedly put in the hospital. The agent was peeved that the person returning the car was not on the contract. Alas.

I do recommend with or without the LDW that you walk around the car and meticulously note even the most trivial flaws on the car, walk back inside, and get someone to sign the form with your findings, and make sure you keep a copy. On the occasion that they tell you the little damage slip doesn't matter, or that you don't need to get it signed, or that you don't get to keep a copy, do not fall for their BS. If they roll their eyes because you insist on getting the slip signed, tell them it wouldn't be necessary if they didn't pull the kind of stunts described above.

Anonymous said...

A family of four visited us the other day, at our country house. Neither of us own a car but they got a ride to us. Our country house pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but there's a bus just half an hour's walk away.

When it was time for them to leave, I called Avis and asked to rent a car. I asked if there office were anywhere near the bus station, but it wasn't. But they offered to pick me up and drive me to their office, so I could rent a car. We agreed on a price, and I asked if I could get a baby seat and a cushion for the boy.

"Of course", they said. The baby seat and the cushion is even free of charge, included in the rent.

Arriving to bus station a few hours later I was met by a very confused girl having a baby seat in one hand and a cushion in the other. Not a car in sight.

"Uhm", she says, very much not sure of herself. "Were you the one who would like to rent a baby seat?"

"Absolutely", I respond. "But I acctually expected them to be surrounded by a car."


But it worked out fine. As it turns out, she was driving one of the spotlessly clean rental cars. She apologized for a while that it hadn't been cleaned properly, allowed me to give her a ride back to the office and promised me that I could leave to carkeys to the café that opens "early, around five at least" next morning.

Of course, when we came to the station at 5.30 am, catching a train at 5.45, the café was closed.

And I prefer them to Hertz every day.

Aviatrix said...

I think I will remember Avis. The name always makes me smile, because it's French for "Warning" but I'll think of it as "Warning, do not rent from Hertz!"