01 Dec. 2010
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The Clown Car


I don't write a lot about my travel experiences.  That's mostly because I don't have a lot of travel experiences, thanks largely to the airlines.  But, occasionally, I take a vacation and am forced to interact with those bizarre hybrids of idiotic regulation, idiotic non-regulation, and a deeply flawed "business model."  In a moment, the results of those interactions.  But first, a question from 1000-millireader Paul, who emailed:

> You failed to report what vehicle you chose for your too-much-driving.
> Something of the hybrid persuasion, I would imagine. Anything
> automotive to report? (If this is future blogfodder, I'll wait.)

As usual I counseled patience, but it turns out that not a lot will have been necessary, since the answer comes in the next few words:  I drove a clown car. 

The Clown Car

Unlike the airlines, rental car companies have it a bit easier.  Instead of having a "wasting asset," the "flight," they have a physical asset, the automobile, which normally doesn't become worthless at a certain date and time.  Thus, unlike the examples from the airlines below, they are not governed by irrationality, but rather as they should beóby greed.  And so I, governed in part by frugality, have far more fun than I can stand in trying to get what I want.  My goal in this case was simple to describe but difficult to achieve:  Rent a car in Albuquerque NM (ABQ) and drop it off at the airport in San Francisco (SFO) a week or so later. 

I was expecting to pay a normal weekly rate plus some reasonable drop-off charge.  "Reasonable" because SFO is a common destination and California needs cars as much as Mars needs women.  The rental car companies see it somewhat differently.  They view renting a car with a destination drop-off as a continuing process, by which they charge not just for the rental and drop-off, but have an extra daily charge to use the car.  In the case of Hertz, this charge exceeded $100 per day!  I asked if the car came with a bed and turn-down service.  By exploring options (how about I rent the car, return it and re-rent it) and various loops from airport to town and back, I was only able to achieve notional and marginal savings, and wasted even them in the value of the time expended.  I gave up, and reserved an Avis car ($1500) instead of a Hertz ($2000), accumulating great angst in the process.  But I also had a strategy:  When I arrived at ABQ, I didn't go to Avis, but rather to one end of rental counter row, and asked each company sequentially:  "Do you have a car yearning to return to California?"  It turns out Thrifty did.  It was an arrest-me-red Kia Soul.  The clown car.  Estimated airport-to-airport price $550.  Bye bye, Avis I'm going home. 

A shocking lacuna in my obsessive photographic habits leaves me with many pictures taken from the car but none of it.  I hope the owner of this picture lifted from the internet will forgive me for usurping it.  As you can see, it's clown-car red, and when you open the door, 22 men with floppy slippers and bulbous noses exit, leaving room for luggage and travelers.

So, Paul, there is your answer.  It's not a hybrid, it has no special features once the clowns exit, and is the usual rental-car-bland in the interior, although I was grateful for its functional cruise control.  Its only notable flaw was a very slow leak in the passenger side front tire, which I don't blame the company for not catching since it took a couple of days to be noticeable.  Despite the western proclivity for charging for air(!), I was able to find a kind mechanic near the Grand Canyon to give me a cup of atmosphere at no charge.  I'm even thrifty with Thrifty's money. 

The Airline Stuff

Just the facts, folks.  No parody hereóthey provide their own without assistance.  No evil-airline-scum softkey.  It mostly worked out in my favor.  I'm almost beyond whining, it's just so stupid.

EWR-DEN-ABQ:  I was stunned at how inexpensive it was to get to Albuquerque.  Under $200!  On a lark I checked how much it would have cost to just fly to Denver on the same flight that connected to the ABQ flight.  I see a number of hands:  You, in the corner.  $550?  YES!  Very good.  You must travel a lot.  Does your airline pay you to fly from DEN to ABQ?  Mine obviously did.

SFO-EWR:  I kept getting prices for my one way return flight in the $550 neighborhood.  A little voice suggested I ask about a "round trip."  Aha!  Now it's $300, but, the travel guy reminded me, be sure to cancel the return segment so someone else can use it.  I dutifully did just that, and the airline agent advised me that I could use the segment within a year, paying only $150 to change the time and date, roughly what the segment cost, and far less than I was paid to fly from DEN to ABQ.  There's actually a certain logic to this.  Since SFO and EWR are so far apart, few people make the drive, and if the airlines didn't encourage people to return to their starting point, eventually one side of the country or other would gain weight, tip, and cause the populace (and the airlines customers!) to slide into the sea.  They prefer that not happen, except in emergencies.

Note that on no segment did they pass out baseball caps with the fare printed on them.  Perhaps they haven't mastered negative numbers yet.  And since the TSA is so much in the news this month, let me add:

  • At no time did we undergo a degrading pat-down or dangerous irradiation from X-rays or terahertz sources.  On the other hand, we did go to Los Alamos. 
  • The bout with "security" leaving EWR was a bit more rigorous than it might have been, but not extraordinary.
  • The bout with "security" leaving SFO made up for it, being somewhat more casual. 

I came up with the ideal way to do airport security, but I don't think it will be adopted, and I don't think it will be taken well by the politically- or religiously-correct, so I'll shut up and end this blogitem with

Two Travel Tips

If you like to have bottles of drinking water with you when travelling, you can buy them at your hotel for $2 each (or more!) or you can get a case of 24 for about $4 total and leave them in the car.  Not, of course, that I recommend doing either.

Don't try to sneak out of DEN when you're changing flights.  I understand that the airlines have people following you from one gate to the other, and if you don't stay on the moving walkways they grab you and put you on your flight by force.

"True Confessions"
Robin Lane




For once I do remember what the shirt is about, where I got it, and what it represents.  Olivia records was a women's record company, and the shirt was given to me at an Audio Engineering Society convention in the early '70s. 

If you read the Wikipedia article you will find that they rejected Melissa Etheridge, a big mistake.  But it won't tell you certain tidbits that I discovered the day I got the shirt.  I won't, either.

© 2010
Richard Factor

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