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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Adventures in Rental Cars

We give a lot of repeat business to the rental car companies whether at home or abroad. Problem is, we can rarely figure out how to classify the cars, as well as how to drive them.

“Why do you keep washing the windshield?” I asked Benedetto just a minute ago.

“I’m not trying to!” he informs me as we speed down the highway. “I’m looking for cruise control.”

It happens another five or six times as we laugh and have one of the cleanest, most bug-free windows possible on a hot, cloudless day.

They like to confuse the customers in foreign countries. It’s hard enough to figure out that 140 kilometers per hour is equal to something like 25 miles per hour, but I have had the good fortune of not knowing how to roll down the window. Try getting out of a parking garage by paying at the toll booth… and the window won’t roll down. I finally get other foreign office mates to come and inspect the car. Several men can’t figure it out, which makes me feel good. We look at the door panel, the dash board, everywhere and anywhere that a window could be activated. Nothing. At last, I take it back to one of the car rental offices and ask them. They think Alexandra is an idiot, since it’s so simple: right there on the center column between the two front seats, BEHIND THE GEAR SHIFT. Anyone sitting in the back seat can easily lower the window, but my arm does not extend back that far. Makes for an interesting week.

These are the minor glitches that come with most rental cars. It all begins when making the reservation. In many countries, the cars are classified by Sub-Compact, Compact, Economy, Mid-Size, Full-Size, Luxury or Premium, Mid-Size SUV, Full-Size SUV, and Mini-Van. Most of these are designed for Little People of the anorexic persuasion, if not smallish children over seven and under ten years of age who do not need bulky booster seats, and who are not yet full-sized. Should doggies Misha and Grisha take up driving, they might be able to stretch out their legs in a rental car. We, however, cannot.

There are six of us, two dogs, assorted school rucksacks, and a couple of small suitcases presently squished into the minivan of the day. My purse, alone, can barely fit into the front passenger-side seat with me. (What, you thought I’m writing this from the driver’s side?) And yet, under my feet is placed another tote bag full of books, CD-player, sewing kit, file folders, and other travel necessities. It’s my overflow bag of sorts, and it’s overflowing, for sure, all around my feet.

“If I’m not able to stand up after this drive,” I say to the kids, “somebody pry me outta here….”

They were only too willing to volunteer sacrificing their schoolwork to be left behind.

“Thank you, we’re not taking volunteers today,” I squeeze their arms, and thus, by unvolunteering their legroom, I volunteer my own legs to be cramped.

In Italy, we always had excellent outcomes with rental cars.

“Alfa Romeo?” Benedetto would smile upon first glimpse of a car. “Bellissima,” he murmured as we roared off on the autostrada.

He was not smiling whenever he paid out for liter upon liter of liquid gold benzine. We were convinced that liters suddenly held the same amount as a small soupcan….

Israel was also fine in terms of rental cars, until we started growing our family. Prior to that time, they constantly upgraded me. I liked “the smaller the better” there, good for parking in urban, postage stamp-sized spaces. Standard shift helped on the many serpentine and mountainous streets stretching to Jerusalem.

Instead, the rental clerks handed me keys to automatic mid-size sedans, which were nice until I got to the gas station and liters again shrank to the size of small shot glasses. The shekels were flowing like the sands of time.

Benedetto, Petya and I once landed in Tel Aviv, needing a car for a few days. We heard that a snowstorm would be heading into the capital soon. We planned for a car with heft, something heavy enough to keep us on the road, and big enough to hold a couple of suitcases and three travel-weary bodies.

They gave us a compact car. Not to be mistaken with a sub-compact, unless you had to ride in it. We walked several miles, it seemed, to the car pick-up and here we are greeted by a sardine-mobile. Even the suitcases wouldn’t fit in the trunk. Back we hike to the airport reservations counter.

“That is the class car that you reserved,” the young lady at the counter insisted. Fresh from the army, she didn’t take any flak.

“How could it be? We didn’t reserve a sub-compact. We need a car that will fit three people and two suitcases. I mean, you guys are always upgrading me when I’m here by myself,” I explained. “The one time I need more space, you can’t help me? You don’t have anything bigger?”

“You already have a big upgrade,” she told me in Hebrew.

“I do? It couldn’t be. Have you seen that car?” I pressed.

“Here is our chart of cars,” she pulled out a laminated sheet. “You have G-class. G-class, do you understand?!” her voice starts to rise and I did not like her tone.

“You can call it G-class or Z-class. If it doesn’t work for us, we need another car.”

“Lady, you already have six levels above our most basic car. You don’t know what G-class means? A, B, C, D, E, F, G,” she ticks off for me as I grow more ticked-off.

“Thank you, I’m familiar with the English alphabet,” I say to her.

Turning to Benedetto I ask, “Should we go with another company?”

“No,” he replies, “we just need a decent car.”

“Let me speak with your manager,” I turn back to the clerk. Mentally, I am calculating how in the world this car could be anything but the most basic. What were “extras” these days? A radio? Power windows? Airconditioning? Paint? Wheels? A glove compartment?

The manager emerges and she’s just as hot under the collar, reciting the alphabet. I don’t bother revealing how many foreign alphabets I can recite, too, but eventually, I wear her down, pulling out story after story.

“Were you around when your company first started?” I ask. “I remember the tiny one-room office with a sink next to the King David Hotel, the determination to hustle and grow the company, the commitment to the customers’ satisfaction….

I went on… and on… and on….

“I remember the time we had just rented a car from your company and were going up and down the hills of Jerusalem. The car was losing more and more power. Finally, we made it up to the top of Har El and coasted to a stop at the shopping mall.

“Har El!” I exclaimed. “The Mount of God! How can you lose power on the Mount of God? So we waited a couple of hours and eventually one of your guys came and rescued us….”

Long story longer, we finally got our car that day. I wore her down. The three of us drove to Jerusalem where we were snowed in for three straight days. All shops, restaurants, museums, and places of business closed, the snow was so deep.

I got extra trash bags from our Russian maid, doubling as boots attached with rubberbands so the guys could go out to photograph and play. I had work I needed to accomplish… which we didn’t. One slippery night we ventured out with the car, slip-sliding all the way to visit friends on Mount Scopus.

Several days later, we returned the car, virtually unused. I refrained from reciting alphabets, times tables, or the Periodic Chart.

Once upon a time, another rental car there received a boot, which in Israel they call a “sandal”, appropriate for the Middle East. It was our last foray into the city, Benedetto and I had a lovely dinner and were heading back to pack and head to the airport.

The car was clamped on the wheel, unable to be moved.

We walked up and down the street, checking and rechecking the street signs. On the remote end of the block was a sign that appeared to indicate that it was forbidden to park here during the exact time we were there. Great. The ticket on the car was written in teeny-tiny Hebrew and said we could present ourselves at a certain location to pay the fine and they would then issue the truck to come and release your car. It wasn’t my car. It was a rental car. I thought briefly about just leaving it, but knew that they had my credit card on file.

“San’daleh!” a woman exclaims as she walks past. “Do you need any help?”

She joins our pity party as I pour out our tale of woe. She helps us mentally locate the office of their boot headquarters, which is in an underground parking garage, of all places. I complain that we’re trying to get to the airport and she confirms that it might take them an hour or two to release our car.

“Listen, I can come with you to your hotel and help you pack,” she offers. “It will be no trouble at all–.”

We decline her offer, but are warmed by her friendliness freely given in a time of need. Somehow, the car is released and we are able to make it to Ben Gurion Airport in time.

Such fond memories of rental cars– as we zip down the road today in yet another squish-mobile. Bigger car, but much bigger family.

“Mama, our legs hurt,” the kids moan.

“Be thankful we have a car. Did Papa ever tell you how he went to work by camel in the desert?”  They stop complaining lest I regal them with another long adventure story.

Just then, the wipers squirt and swish for the hundredth time.






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