Friday, August 10, 2012

The power of being impolite.

Disclaimer: Mother, if you happen to make the extremely rare visit to my blog and stumble upon this post, you may want to skip it. Really. Don't read it... you'll just call me right after saying I do nothing more than write embarrassing things about you. 

The thing about being in charge of vacation planning is that all 'pay-in-advance' costs are billed on the agent's credit card and reimbursed by the other party at a later date. Since I played the roll of travel agent to Romania and Serbia, I booked all flights, hotels and other items on my card. That is, everything except the rental car. (I place a cap on my credit card, as the card is paid off in one lump sum each month. And, having charges I had made earlier in the month already on my card as well, I hadn't enough credit to rent a car.) So I left that task up to my mother. But not before giving her information such as the rental company, car, and website details.   

Many days later I'm informed that all the cars from the rental company I requested my mother to rent from was booked solid. Instead, due to her delay, she had to rent from another company which would cost much more. I sighed to myself, but made no comment.

Our flights into Bucharest were around 90 minutes apart. We designated the car rental company's airport counter as the meeting point. When I turned the corner to the car rental area, I saw my mother standing on the customer side of the counter with a rental car representative.

"Hi Claire," my mom greeted me, "he's going to give us a better deal than what I booked with Budget."
"Um, OK." I replied, confused.
"They were going to give us a BMW, but since we're dropping it off at another location we had to stick with a Volkswagen," she explained.
"Uh, huh..." I murmured, unaware of what was happening.
"It's going to cost us a bit more than the car I booked, but it's bigger and is a diesel so we'll get much better gas mileage which will save us money in the long run," she continued.

Even amid her discombobulation of thoughts I was starting to piece together what was happening.

"Shall I show you to your car?," the representative asked.
We began walking towards the airport entrance.
"So, you're not with Budget?," I ask.
"No, I'm from Europcar," the representative responds. 

We stepped outside, the heat blasting us with full force. In the parking lot, a few feet from the curb sat our rental car. Our dirty rental car. Near the car was yet another representative, ready to complete a transaction using the trunk door as his desk. The representative that led us outside stepped back a few paces, allowing the new guy to take over. Naturally, I was wary of the situation.

After being quoted the price, my mother handed over a wad of Euros. My eyes widened. It was like a drug trade in a back alley, except the drug was a car and the back alley was a parking lot full of people. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, especially since the woman giving away her money to a man performing a transaction on the trunk of a car was the same woman who couldn't trust the driver of the unmarked taxi in Jordan.

Then a credit card was needed for the refundable insurance deposit.
"Go ahead Claire, give him your credit card," my mom stated.
"What?," came my immediate response. I wanted nothing to do with the seemingly illegal situation.
"I only have a debit card, so you'll need to give him your credit card," she explained.

Grudgingly I handed over my card. I gave a look of distain as he swiped the card on the manual imprinter, a look he must have seen while handing the card back to me.

"We need a GPS," I told him flatly, since the one my mother brought didn't have a map of Romania configured in it.

He explained it would cost 50 euros. He knocked it down to 35 after my mom asked if he could lower the price.

As the paperwork was finalized, I moved to the front seat of the car for shade.

A few minutes later he was seated in the drivers seat, showing me how to work the GPS, which was in fact a small tablet with a GPS application in it. I punched in our first destination. It wasn't recognized.

"Great," I murmured, "how are we supposed to get anywhere with a GPS that doesn't work."
"Maybe that's not what the city is actually called," he questioned.
"It is what it's called!," came my retort.  "Don't you have an actual GPS?"
The response was negative.
"Then we're getting this for free, right?," I semi-demanded in question form.
"Or how about for 20 Euros?," my mom quipped from behind.
"No, I can't do that... I've already given you a discount," he apologized.
"Fine, let's see if it will get us to the village we really need this for," I resigned.

The GPS did recognize the village, and I was placated for the moment. And only for that moment. Because the moment immediately after my moment of consolation, I heard the representative say "uh, oh" in the back seat.

Turning around I watched as he fumbled with the apparatus used to hold the GPS on the windshield. "I think I just broke it."  Those were the next words that escaped his mouth.

"Then we're definitely getting it for free!," I fully demanded this time.
"I'm sorry, I really can't...," he returned.
"What, and I'm supposed to hold it in my hand the entire time my mom drives?," I snidely asked.

A few seconds passed.

"OK, you can have it for free. But," he pleaded, "please, be careful with it."

The deal was sealed. We were on the road.

"I was pretty rude to that guy," I acknowledged out loud while opening the glove compartment filled with a pair of sunglasses and other such items.

It's a good thing I was, though. A few days later, while driving to the village we actually needed the GPS for, I would have said a lot more childish things than "seriously, the next time I see him I'm going to punch him in the face!," had it not been for free.  Because the 'GPS' more than doubled our 5 hour journey.

* While handing off the car to two new representatives in the parking lot of a different airport, we were informed that the car was not personal property. The rental location is in the center of Bucharest, and the previous renters dropped the car off half an hour before we took it over. 

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