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December 2, 2003 03:41 AM
Broken: Thrifty rental, O'Hare
Pete Maher has written this mini-opus on his recent customer experience with Thrifty Rent-A-Car at O'Hare airport in Chicago.
Take it away, Pete.
My Experience with Thrifty Car Rental: A Customer Tragedy in Four Acts.
by Pete Maher
ACT I - THE ARRIVAL
I am glad he hath so much youth and vigor left, of which he hath not been thrifty. --Swift.
Scene I - O'Hare Airport on a cold, wet November morning.
Enter: The Customer.
After de-boarding my flight, I head immediately for the rental car counter.
No one is there.
Just a sign telling me to take the bus to the Thrifty car rental location.
I step outside, just in time for the parade -- Hertz, Hertz, Budget, National [SIGH], Hertz, Budget [SIGH], Avis, Hertz, Hertz [DEEP SIGH], Avis...Thrifty [RELIEF].
Scene II - The Bus.
Enter: The Bus Driver.
One, two, three steps onto the bus.
The Bus Driver grunts, "blue chip!"
Confused, I pause... mutter, "uhhh.. Thrifty?"
The driver scowls.
We continue on to the next terminal.
Enter: The Goth Rocker.
At the next terminal, an outwardly pleasant gentleman -- who just happens to be heavily pierced and mascara'd -- boards the bus.
Again, the driver grunts, "blue chip!"
(At this precise moment, I notice a sign above the windshield that reads something like, "Please inform driver if you are a Blue Chip Member." Ahh, a customer loyalty program... I resist breaking into a loud cackle and regain my composure.)
The man tosses a blank stare at the driver. Awkward silence for all ensues.
The driver repeats [loudly], "Blue Chip!!"
The customer finally chirps, "car... rental.. car?"
Wrong answer, man.. Wrong answer.
ACT II - THE MISSING CHARIOT
When what's lost has been found, what's to come has already been? --Dylan
Scene I - The Car Rental Place.
Enter: The Harvesters of Sorrow.
I finally arrive at the car rental place.
Short line, several people behind the counter.
We do our dealings.
She hands me the car keys, directs me to "Spot 5 in the first row" [gestures].
No description of make, model, or color. Just "Spot 5 in the first row".
I walk in the direction of the first row. Find it with ease.
Find Spot 5, no problem. Well, slight problem.. No car.
Look around. Spot 4, car. Spot 6, car. Spot 1, car..
Just then, a guy in a Thrifty shirt happens to walk by.
"Excuse me," I say.
I explain to him that my car seems to have disappeared; I show him my paperwork.
He yanks the paperwork out of my hand, looks around, and quietly rattles off a six-digit number. He splish-splashes his way through the parking lot, trying to match paperwork to dashboard. Now it's raining harder than it has all morning.
After five minutes or so, the man returns with my paperwork, which is now wet and ink-stained. No, "wet and ink-stained" doesn't begin to describe the state of my paperwork. It's barely holding its form at this point. It bleeds ink. Picture the way Pat Benatar's make-up might have looked in 1982 after playing a 3-hour concert... in New Orleans... in August. That is how my paperwork looks.
I return to the rental counter and explain to the four people behind the counter that my Thrifty car is nowhere to be found. The closest employee -- who has been slouched over the counter since I arrived and whose chin is seemingly glued to his right palm, and whose right elbow is seemingly glued to the countertop -- lazily motions toward Spot 4, and says, "that's the one."
"Not according to the guy who works in the parking lot," I fire back.
Scene II - The Car.
Eventually, we find the car.
I toss my laptop bag into the backseat and climb in. No... Please tell me this isn't happening. It appears as though Phillip Morris himself was the last person to rent this car. I look skyward and give thanks that the car is not equipped with a smoke alarm. At least it has wheels and a CD Pla-, err.. at least it has wheels.
An hour-and-a-half later, I'm almost to my client site on the South Side of Chicago. The rain is starting to become a problem.
The final stretch of road leading to my destination has nearly 2 feet of standing water on it. There's no turning back at this point. I hug the center of the road and white-knuckle my way to higher ground.
ACT III - AFTER THE FLOOD
After high floods come low ebbs. --Dutch Proverb
Scene I - Parking Lot at the Client Site, After My Meetings Have Ended.
Enter: Polite Lady.
"Sir.. Excuse me, sir?"
"Yes," I say.
"I just spoke with a few of our couriers.. They say the road out is completely flooded. The water is waist high."
She points me to another exit and gives me directions to the interstate.
Scene II - Back in the Car.
I glance at my watch.
Looks like my meetings ended sooner than expected. Ooh, I might even make an earlier flight home. Getting close now.
Ok, where do I exit?
There it is: "Rental Car Returns, Next Exit"
[miniature logos of Hertz, Budget, Avis, National -- but no Thrifty]...
It's now or never... I better- It's too late.. I missed the exit.
It must be up ahead. Why wouldn't the Thrifty logo be on that sign?
"Welcome to O'Hare International." "Long-term parking... Short-term parking... Arrivals stay right."
It's got to be here somewhere? Where are you,
"Departures ahead." "Terminal 1." "Terminal 2." "Airport exit - City."
I exit the complex, just in time for some traffic. Forget that earlier flight.
After more driving, I see a sign for Car Rental Return.
Same exit sign as the one on the way in, except this one has the Thrifty logo added to the end of the list. Deep breath.
Two redlight-lined miles later, I see the Thrifty place approaching me on the left.
Unfortunately, this is one of those roads you find in congested areas around airports that has an island separating the lanes of traffic.
It's elevated about four inches higher than the rest of the road, but it might as well be four feet high -- I'm crossing it, and I'm returning this car if it kills me.
I sneak up onto the elevated divider, wait for my chance... It's Frogger-time.
I punch the accelerator and swerve across the road into the Thrifty parking lot. I pull into the designated return area, get out, and silently vow never to rent from Thrifty again.
Scene II - The Car Rental Place.
Enter: The People from Act II, Scene I.
I walk to the counter and hand the man my now-crunchy paperwork and keys.
I say to the guy, "you know.. When you're coming from I-294, there's no sign for Thrifty... There's a sign with all the other rental car companies, but not Thrifty."
He mutters, "you should have followed our directions." "Your directions," I ask?
He reaches down behind the counter and pulls out a Bazooka gum wrapper-sized sheet of paper with a faded set of directions on it.
"No one gave me these," I say.
He replies, "Yeah we did. We put them in the envelope with your rental contract."
I dig my way through the paperwork, hurriedly trying to prove my nemesis wrong.
Sure enough, I find the directions.
"Guess I should have somehow known that, huh... You know, no customer is ever going to know you've given him directions unless you tell him so."
He shrugs his shoulders and walks away. I steam.
ACT IV - SUNDOWN
The end crowneth the work. --Elizabeth I
Scene I - The Bus.
Enter: A Different Bus Driver.
I step onto the bus that's supposed to take me back to the airport terminal.
The driver asks me which airline I'm flying.
I reply, "US Airways."
We quickly arrive at the first terminal. People get off. No word from the driver.
I ask him, "is this the exit for US Airways?" He hesitates for a moment and says, "Yes, it is."
I exit the bus.
Scene II - The Ticketing Area.
Enter: The Information Lady.
"Excuse me.. Can you please tell me where I can find the ticket counter for US Airways?"
"Yes, sir. That would be in the Next Terminal [points off in the distance]... You just need to go out this door, turn right, and walk until you reach the next terminal.."
"But it's raining and the Thrifty guy told me-.. OK, thanks."
I step back outside and walk in the rain until I reach my destination.
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