Last week, the Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Calgary gave me a free upgrade to a luxury SUV. If I were traveling with friends, this would have been welcome news. There are few cars that shout “Here comes the party!” quite as loudly as an electric blue 2017 Jeep Wrangler with a moon roof. But since I was traveling alone on my 10-day road trip through the Canadian Rockies, driving such a car would be more like announcing, “Here comes a huge a-hole!” – and in my case, an a-hole who doesn’t drive very well.
A quick lap around the garage proved as much. Actually, I didn’t even intend to take a test drive. I just missed the turn for the exit and then continued down the row of parked cars, looking for a way to turn around without shifting into reverse. I took the first left, which forced me into an Avis rental return lane.
“Returning?” the man asked as I pulled up.
“No,” I answered. “I’m just tying to get out of the garage.”
“This isn’t even our car,” he noted, his tone implying that I had likely broken several basic driving rules during my short trip from one end of the lot to the other.
“Can you just let me out?” I asked.
He sighed, and began moving several large traffic cones. “Next LEFT!” he shouted as I inched by.
But I did not take the next left. In fact, I wasn’t trusting myself to make any more lefts. Instead, I drove back to the Enterprise office where, by the grace of God, I successfully parked between two other cars and then stuck my head out the window while I fanned myself with a rental agreement.
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When I walked back into the office, the staff seemed surprised to see me. Apparently they hadn’t noticed me circling the garage at a slow rate of speed and harassing the Avis attendant for the past five minutes.
“I appreciate the upgrade,” I said by way of explanation. “But I can’t drive anything that big.”
“No problem,” the guy behind the counter said. “We’ll change it out.” And with that, he walked out the door and disappeared into a row of cars. He returned several minutes later, unnecessarily revving the engine of a shiny white SUV. I was disappointed to see that it was exactly the same size as the Jeep.
“That’s not any smaller,” I pointed out. “It’s just rounder.”
“We don’t have anything smaller,” he answered. “Even our cars are about this big.”
“But I rented a compact SUV,” I insisted, showing him the reservation on my phone. “That’s what I’d like. Something compact.”
“We don’t have those,” he answered. “They don’t handle well in the snow. But don’t worry – our roads are bigger.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” I muttered. Besides, what good would a wide road be to me when I’m trying to parallel park something the size of my first apartment on it?
“OK let’s try this,” I said. “Do you have anything older?”
The man looked pretty annoyed – unjustifiably so, if you ask me, considering that all I was asking for was the very thing that I paid for. Short of handing me a contract that let me off the hook for totaling a brand new Jeep Wrangler when I accidentally drove it into a glacier, I don’t think he was in any position to fault me for being picky.
“How about a Crossover?” he asked.
“A Crossover from what?” I countered.
“I’ll just get it,” he answered. He came back several minutes later with a blissfully nondescript, reasonably-sized silver Mitsubishi RVR. It was exactly the sort of manageable, practical, unremarkable car I wanted to drive 800 miles over the next 10 days.
“I like it,” I said, climbing into the driver’s seat where I smoothly flipped on the windshield wipers and shifted into neutral. “Oops!” I said, catching my mistake. “That’s not Drive!”
Not like it mattered. The engine wasn’t even running at the time.
Approximately 30 seconds later, I decided that I actually hated the RVR and, by extension, all crossovers. When I accelerated even slightly, the engine revved like a lawn mower. Not only that, but a few minutes later I started to smell smoke. I pulled off the highway, recalculated the GPS and headed back to the Enterprise office. When the customer service team saw me coming this time, I swear, they tried not to laugh.
“I don’t know if there’s something wrong with this car or not,” I said. “But it’s really loud and I don’t like it.”
The clerk looked over my shoulder at the car, while his colleague wrote, “Engine making noise,” on the window with a grease pencil.
“In any case,” I added. “I just want whatever it is I rented… unless I rented that, in which case I’d like something else.”
“What kind of noise was it making?” the clerk asked.
“It wasn’t really making a noise,” I admitted. “It just revs really loudly.”
“Did it smoke?” he asked.
“I smelled smoke,” I said. “But I didn’t see any.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You probably just had it in manual.”
It was at this point that I actually draped myself over the counter and removed my eyeglasses.
“Listen,” I said. “I want an automatic, small, not new SUV.” I was going to add “and not a stupid color either,” but thought it wise not to further muddy the waters.
“That’s an automatic,” the guy answered. “I should have told you that it’s both. Come on, I’ll show you.”
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Needless to say, by the time I mastered the automatic/manual transmission setting on the RVR and arrived at my hotel some two hours later, my nerves were pretty shot. Further complicating matters was the weather forecast, which called for below-freezing temperatures and a 100% chance of snow over the next four days. As someone who had thus far failed to demonstrate even a basic level of competence driving indoors, I had real concerns. I checked for alternative places to go – ones that might be warmer and with fewer moose to hit, but found no reasonable options. I looked at the cancelation policy on the hotels I had booked, but the penalty-free option had already expired.
I went to bed that night not sure what to do next. Call the whole thing off and eat the cost? Ignore the forecast and go anyway? Continue sitting in a midrange B&B, the owner of which had a raging marijuana habit and an ancient Bichon Frise?
Based solely on the Instagram pictures, you already know the answer. But you don’t know the story…
To Be Continued…