So where were we – that’s right, on my way home from Pittsburgh to Birmingham, AL on a cold and rainy day. But no stinkin’ rain can dampen my spirits – I have a 79 Mercedes convertible to bring home. The rest of the trip is what one could call many things. Exciting? Strange? Frustrating? Twilight Zone? You pick the description, each and every one is true at some point along the way.
I return my rental car at a Hertz Local Edition where they normally will give you a ride back home, etc. Notice the word normally in that sentence, that is the key word.
‘Oh, we are so, so, sorry, but we don’t have any drivers but we have called you a cab’. I still call that service.
75 minutes later, now 6:15 the rental place closed, I stand out in the cold and no taxi yet – and I don’t know the name of the cab company. I call the garage and they can pick me up.
Two full, very full and cold, hours later the cab shows up at the same time as the garage owner. I tell the taxi guy to get lost, he is not happy, and I hop in for the ride back to my little, light yellow pot of gold.
Put on the illegal temporary plate (Pennsylvania frowns on those) I get in, start the car, it is running, it is comfortable and while the dashboard lights don’t work, nor the heater, this still will be fun.
All goes great for the first 1.5 miles. Road construction, stopped traffic and the low gas light comes on. I ain’t gonna make it, I will run out of gas. 2 miles, 25 minutes later I get to an exit with a gas station. Whew, dodged that bullet. In my ever optimistic car mind that must be the only difficulty I am going to experience and the rest of the drive is going to be oh, so cool.
As the late John Pinnette used to say ‘Oh, nay, nay’.
183 miles later I am driving past Sutton, West Virginia – don’t know where that is? Neither did I, heading towards Gassaway, West Virginia – again, never heard of it but I know it now. The big Mercedes has a top speed of 15 miles an hour. With 600 plus miles to go, I am thinking that just maybe I might not make it.
Sure enough, 3 miles later, my beauty is dead. Taps play, I look up at the stars in the dark, dark sky and realize ‘I’m stuck’. That AAA Gold Membership is worth every penny so I call.
Because of my Alabama phone number, AAA rings to Alabama first. Actual conversation follows.
‘We can help you honey, where are you?’
‘I am at exit 57 off of I-79 south.’
‘We don’t have an I-79 in Alabama’.
‘That’s because I am in West Virginia’.
‘I am so, so, sorry honey, but I have to transfer you to AAA in West Virginia’.
Not a problem. About 8 minutes later when no one has picked up and I have listened to music, heard the complete history of AAA, all of the advantages of being a member, new special rewards and how to raise my child, in real time, in triplicate, I realize that no one is going to answer.
So I call again.
‘Oh honey, I am so, so sorry, I will patch you through and stay on the line until someone picks up’.
That is very nice and I accept the offer. 10 minutes later AAA picks up making the transfer complete.
‘Where are you located?’
‘I am at exit 57, off of I-79 south, heading south on 19.’
‘We don’t have an I-79 in Virginia?’
‘I am in West Virginia’.
Say it with me now.
‘Oh honey, I am so, so sorry but I am going to have to transfer you to West Virginia.’
Somehow I knew that she was going to say that.
It is now about 12:15 and I haven’t even spoken with a AAA person yet. I start the car with hopes that maybe ‘car heal thyself’ comments have worked – she starts – maybe I can make it - but as soon as I go into gear she begins to bog down. AAA is my only answer. Finally, someone says
‘AAA West Virginia’.
I wanted to say ‘The West Virginia?’ but I kept my mouth shut. I describe where I am, she is going to dispatch a tow truck which will be there within 45 minutes.
Then the 5 minute later call from AAA.
‘Sir, just confirming where you are?’
‘Oh, I am out of West Virginia now, close to Alabama, can you transfer me to them?’
It is not what I say but I think it real hard, probably hard enough to be heard over the phone. I describe my location and am told that a tow truck will be dispatched soon. 10 minutes later I get a call from the towing company. They ask.
‘Can you tell me where you are located?’
Again, I do not say that but I think it, real, real hard. I describe yet again where I am and the owner says
‘I will send someone right away. Where would you like to have the car towed?’
I have no clue and tell him that which seems to satisfy as a response.
45 minutes later, no truck has shown up I call back. A groggy dispatcher says
‘They are coming from Charleston, it will take about 30 to 40 minutes’.
OK, what else can you say? Send a medflight?
I get a call.
‘Where are you? I am at exit 62 and I can’t see your car anywhere.’
Hmmm, tough one, it might be because I am at exit 57. I am nice on the outside but something tells me Satan is rubbing his hands as I speak. I know it is not this guy’s fault. 20 minutes later he is there and loads up my retirement fund. She actually looks good on the flatbed truck, I honestly think that. 20 minutes later we arrive at the Microtel in Gassaway.
Nice woman behind the counter sees me with the tow truck driver and asks
‘You need a room with two beds?’
‘I don’t care, whatever you have.’
And she looks at and I realize she thinks the tow truck driver is sharing my room. He quickly comments that it is just me as he is the one towing the car. He stays to make sure I have a room, tells me where he is towing the car and heads out.
I get my first key to a room on the first floor. First key you are thinking? Yes, actually the first of 4 room keys. My first room opens into a dirty room. The former residents looked like they kept it neat so maybe I will just stay (NO I would not do that, but the thought did cross my mind at 2:00 AM). The second key to a new room didn’t work at all. I get a third key to my second room – yep, it doesn’t work either. A third key to my second room, you guessed it, it doesn’t work either. Finally, on the fourth trip to the lobby she gives me a new room and a new key and I can go settle in.
Before sleep can happen I have to see how I can get to an airport and then get home. The Charleston Airport is about 60 miles away and they have a reasonably priced flight that leaves at 2:00 in the afternoon. Perfect, I book the flight.
Find a car service. I try three different websites, enter all of the information and all three say ‘No taxi or shuttle service available, will a horse and buggy do? Have you considered hitchhiking?’ Alas, it is true, no taxi, shuttle service, limousine or anything where one can pay a driver to take one somewhere.
A one way rental is the only option. I look for the nearest Hertz – the site laughs out loud at me. The nearest Hertz is 60 miles away. So I would need a car to get the car that I need, that doesn’t sound like a plan. Panic sets in. About 3 miles away is an Enterprise rental agency – I log onto the site, book my car, get my reservation confirmation and I am now all set. I can actually get home and worry about the Mercedes when I get home.
I wake up and plan my day. First call to Enterprise to get a ride from the hotel. They don’t open until 9:00. That’s OK, I have plenty of time. So a nice shower, downstairs to grab some breakfast, do a bit of work and watch some TV. All of that should be possible, except, the internet is down and the ceiling mounted TV that I cannot reach has no remote. Oh well, just bad news anyway.
I call Enterprise. I ask about my car. I am so nervous my voice sounds like a teenager asking out last year’s Homecoming Queen to a dance.
‘Hi, I have a one-way rental scheduled for this morning and I wonder if you can come get me at the hotel just down the road’ (I honestly think I said 3.1 miles so she would know).
‘Sir, I am so, so sorry (she calls me sir, she sounds young) but we don’t have a car for you. In fact, we won’t have one until tomorrow at the earliest.’
‘But I am flying out today. I also have a reservation confirmation. I am getting a Chevy Spark, a green one, like in the picture on the website.’
‘I am sorry but we do not have any cars. I have to get management approval for the one way rental. I will work on it but I don’t think I can get one today.’
I hang up and two thoughts cross my mind:
The Jerry Seinfeld Show – ‘It is great that you can take the reservation, but you also must keep the reservation.’
Gassaway is the town that the Eagles wrote about in “Hotel California’
As I write out my last will and testament, a note for my wife and three children telling them how much I love them, wish I was a better dad, and wish them a wonderful life, I think that maybe the garage where the car is located might know how to get me to the airport.
Skeeter answers the phone. Yes, Skeeter. I tell him I am just going to leave the car and have it shipped home and is that an issue?
‘Nope, s’pose we can find a spot for it til’ you can get it.’
‘Oh, thank you, thank you. Is there a car service, taxi, shuttle, anyone that can drive me to Charleston to catch my flight.’
‘Well, I got a friend who might can do that. Let me call ‘im and see if he can.’
I get a call a few minutes later from my co-worker, who was supposed to go home the day before, asking me how the trip is going. I tell him everything and he happens to be driving right past Gassaway and can bring me to the airport. If that isn’t divine intervention I don’t know what is. And a good thing too, Skeeter calls me back and tells me.
‘My friend can drive ya’, but he wants ya’ to come down to the garage, he doesn’t want to pick you up at the hotel.’
The hotel that is 1.5 miles away? That one? Fortunately I tell Skeeter that I actually have a ride and thank him for his help.
An hour later I am with my co-worker, in a brand new rental, heading to Charleston airport for a flight home.
Maybe Stephen King can write a book about this? Oh, he did, it is titled ‘Misery’.
So that is the thing about chasing after cars, what they do on TV, ain’t, I mean, isn’t, anything like it is in real life.