Sunday, February 22, 2015

25 Stories About Work - "Don't Run" and Rental Cars

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

The Midwest, late 1990's

Along with air travel, renting a car is part and parcel of the traveling business persons' experience. Over the years I have rented hundreds if not a thousand rental cars at airports across the USA.

In the earliest days we'd always get a map from the rental car agency and then use it to navigate our way around town. Rental cars are typically near the airport and kind of tucked away often with lousy signage so you need to know how to find your way out and how to find your way back. Nowadays most of the airports have a "single system" for rental cars where all the buses drop you off at the same facility but back in the day each one had their own pros and cons.

The big innovation in rental cars came when Hertz implemented "Neverlost". Neverlost was the first in-car navigation system that I was aware of and we started getting it in their cars in the mid to late 1990's. Neverlost spoke to you as a woman in an English accent and she was forever telling me to
Return to the designated route
In her peeved manner whenever I made a wrong turn or disobeyed her orders. Any sort of new directions took a long time to take effect and the system was remarkably clunky compared to whats' available on your smartphone, but back then it seemed like an enormous leap forward. One negative element of this is that I started listening to the machine rather than learning the cities I drove through - in particular Memphis is a city I should have explored with a map but instead sat like a zombie and was told what to do by machine.

Sometimes to save money we were given cars by the companies that we worked for. They usually had the logo of the company (often a utility) in a big decal on the side of the car.  This led to a slight embarrassment when we would drive to certain restaurants or clubs and while leaving thought to myself maybe that wasn't such a good idea to park a car with a company logo in front of that establishment.  Kind of like those old posters where they tell the mailman not to drink in a bar wearing their uniform...

After a while you get to know the agents at the check out kiosks at certain airports. Maybe 20 years ago I asked a nice woman if there were any discounts available and she looked at me for a bit and took pity and just attached my profile to some sort of non-profit group associated with Puerto Rico. Thus for the last 20+ years (literally more than a hundred times) I've rented and received a nice discount based on this affiliation and it cracks me up every single time. Probably it is good for them too because the more rentals that they book, the more likely it is that they will continue to receive this discount (this is how it typically works).

One time I was driving in Memphis and we had a minor fender bender.  The partner on the engagement, who looked like the epitome of a sober executive, took a look at me behind the wheel, and said
"Don't run"
That was just a hilarious comment because at that time I'd been traveling and consulting for over a dozen years and wasn't going anywhere.  That is one line I will never forget.

The act of topping off your gas tank to avoid paying $8 / gallon for gas is always frustrating, too.  Since we billed to clients it was easier to pre-pay for the entire tank and avoid that "top up" fee, even if pre-paying for the whole tank was the worse economic (most expensive) route.  The clients often missed the "big picture" on bills and hunted for minor expense items such as this, and it was better to just avoid the issues entirely.

One line of business I thought would be funny would be to open a gas station near the airport titled "World's Worst Gas" and people could come there and bitterly fill up their rental car tank with a couple of gallons to avoid these fees.  Since gas is supposed to be of uniform quality I guess this wouldn't work but it is a great thought experiment anyways.

Rental car locations used to be on the airport but now they mostly have been moved far off the grid so it can be a grueling process to get on the bus, head to the rental car lot, find your particular vendor, and finally get your car.  It was a lot easier in the old days when you just grabbed your luggage and took it straight to the car but like everything else with travel, it is a lot more tedious and time-consuming nowadays.  In San Francisco you have to go through the whole airport, get your bag, and then take a monorail out to the hinterlands.  On the other hand, once you get there your smartphone maps mean that you can just jump in the car without a hint of knowledge of what you are doing and find your destination.  As someone who used to have to pore over rental car maps at every big city, this is a giant luxury.

Cross Posted at Chicago Boyz

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