Two Down

“What car rental agency are we using here?”

As we drive up the departures-level ramp at Calgary International Airport, the Big Guy throws me for a loop. Yikes. Was I supposed to remember this?

Trying to show no fear, I casually thump the seemingly impenetrable dashboard surface, looking in vain for the hidden door-release mechanism for the glovebox on this unfamiliar car model. Feeling a significant sense of urgency as we approach the exits for the various car-rental-return locations, I respond quickly.


Too quickly, as it turns out, not that that’s ever happened before. Flailing with decreasing precision but increasing force, I finally hit something–what, I’m not sure–and the glovebox glides opens. Just as if it had not been brazenly denying me entrance, just a second before. It looks so innocent.

“What?” it asks, wide-eyed. “I was here all the time.”

Narrow-eyed, I fish out the rental agreement and amend my earlier answer. “Enterprise.”

We’re on city #2 of a five-city tour, dropping in during the Christmas season on family scattered from Phoenix to Yellowknife. The Big Guy has cobbled together an itinerary on different airlines, using a complex algorithm that optimizes family availability, attendance at two birthdays (Pile on the celebrations!), flight schedules, and, of course, cost.

Once the flights are booked, the car rentals, by contrast, are simple. The Big Guy simply signs onto Costco Travel and books cars for each stop, taking advantage of their bulk-purchasing discounts.

There’s just one thing: We end up with different car rental agencies in every city. All organized, we check our records upon arrival at each airport, head to the right counter, complete paperwork to rival that reputed to be required to sponsor a refugee family, and head off. Simple, eh?

And simple it is, or simple enough, until we arrive back at the airport.

“What car rental agency are we using here?”

Somehow, in the matter of a few days, we’ve completely forgotten the agency du jour. The proprietary transaction processes (somehow so standard), the indisputably unique faces of the counter personnel (somehow so similar), the distinctive logos (somehow so indistinguishable): all of these have (somehow) blurred into a generic car-rental experience.

I value moving beyond the physical horizon – to wit, travelling – as something that helps to expand my mental horizons. As helping to make me sharper, more perceptive, more appreciative of the world’s diversity. In general, I guess that’s true. But being elsewhere and getting elsewhere aren’t the same thing.

Yet if the logistics of travel don’t necessarily support the deep thoughts, the profound meaning that I seek from travel, neither do they shut down thought completely.

And so, at each airport, as we hand over our car to a cheery car-rental-agency employee whom I’m sure I’ve seen before in another city, working for another car rental agency, and whom I suspect I will soon see again, I think not deep, but shallow thoughts.

I think, “Is this a scene out of Attack of the Clones or The Twilight Zone?”

I think, “Two cities down. Three to go.”



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4 Responses to Two Down

  1. Danielle says:

    I also use Costco Travel by recommendation from the “Big Guy” and also had a similar experience recently. I stood in front of the myriad of options at the Edmonton airport as I tried to pull up the confirmation on my phone. I believe I was standing in front of the Budget counter (or was it Avis?). The agent offered to check his system for my name. Turns out I was supposed to be a couple counters down at Avis (or was it Budget?!) however he checked me in anyway hence why I still can’t remember which company I used less than a month ago.

    From a quick Web search (“OK Google…”) I learned the information below. No wonder we can’t keep the car rental companies straight!

    By the way, we truly appreciate being one of the stops on your holiday adventure. Glad we could save you the hassle of the rental car conundrum in YK. I believe there are only two (competing) rental car companies at the airport and no specific rental return lanes here so it may be less confusing.

    – Avis owns Budget and Zipcar
    – Hertz owns Advantage, Dollar and Thrifty
    – Enterprise owns Alamo and National

    All told, these three companies own 94% of the car rental industry.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Danielle – Well, there you go. Follow the money. I had a vague sense that the industry was more consolidated than it appears to be at first glance – maybe that’s true of all industries. A happy thought! I’m waiting for teleportation (Beam me up, Scotty!) to reduce the in-transit pain, while hanging onto the wonderfulness of being in all these different places and seeing friends and family.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    I used to use “Rent-a-Wreck” until a couple of times when the car really was a wreck. In one case, when I had to do five hours of night driving, headlights pointed at the sky. In another, a loose driveshaft….
    By the way, I think it was Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide) who pointed out that teleporting might not be as painless as we think. There must be some pain, he said, to have all of our molecules disassembled and reassembled. Isn’t that like having a whole-body wound?
    Makes a mere car rental seem quite pleasant, by comparison.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Yes, a little befuddlement is nothing compared to unsafe cars. As for teleportation – I think we can go with Star Trek’s presentation of it. Pretty sure it’s grounded in settled science . . .

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