The worst thing about book tour is the business end of things.
It’s not like you get to sit in your enclave on a rolling hillside and crank out stories by candlelight. At some point, you have to figure out a way to get the story into the hands of librarians and book clubs and academics and such. That usually involves travel, which invariably involves a rental car company.
Yesterday, I had to deal with the rental car company from hell.
They are the reason for my hangover. I feel like some demon drug me into the Sensabough Tunnel and beat the holy hell out of me.
I did not know when I first rented a car from ADVANTAGE that their real slogan is: We take ADVANTAGE of you.
Truth be told, I had not intended to rent from Advantage at all. I had scheduled to rent a car from SIXT, a company I have dealt with in Atlanta before. They are always professional and helpful, but when I went to pick up my car, I realized I had scheduled for the wrong pickup date. SIXT didn’t have any cars available, so they arranged for me to rent through Advantage, the car rental company that is their next-door-neighbor at the terminal.
I don’t know if it was because Sixt helped me out or because I had a different employee but renting the car on Labor Day had not been an issue at all. The issue came when the 28 days were up. Car rental companies only provide for you to rent a car for 28 days and then you have to return it and redo another contract. I don’t know why this is but I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for it.
Because of this rule, I had to get to Atlanta, swap out my car, and then boogie on over to the bookstore where I had an event scheduled. I gave myself an extra two hours leadway. I figured that would be plenty of time since all I was doing was returning a car and picking up another to the very same car rental company – ADVANTAGE.
I dressed up in my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. Curled my shiny hair. Glossed my lips and away I went, completely unaware of the hell ahead.
The drive up to Atlanta was uneventful. The checking in of my car was uneventful. The gal with the handheld computer telling me several times to “Be safe out there.” It seemed kind at the time. Now it seems like an omen. Like she knew what I was about to encounter.
The Atlanta car rental facility is off-site from the airport. You return the cars to a parking garage, take the escalator up and cross a skybridge. The gal behind the counter took one look at me in my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, carrying a handful of posters and books and decided right then and there I wasn’t to her liking. Who can say why? Maybe it was my freckles. Maybe it was the dress. Maybe it was the shiny hair. You’ve had it happen to you, I’m sure. We all do at some point. I could feel the negativity before she opened her mouth. It emanated from her like heat from a furnace vent. I’d tell you her name but she wasn’t wearing a name tag and when I asked her to repeat it all she did was flip her long dark ponytail at me and mutter incoherently.
“I have a reservation,” I said, handing over my drivers license and my credit card. The car had been purchased in advance. I do that often to save on time. Usually picking up a car involves only ten minutes of my time, unless there is a long line, then it can take an hour or more. There was no line.
She took my cards, did her thing on the computer and then looked at me with a sour puss face and announced: We don’t have any cars available right now. We won’t have any for another 45 minutes.
What do you mean? I asked. How can you not have any cars available? I paid for a car in advance. I paid to pick up a car at noon. It’s noon.
I’m sorry, she said. All we have is a pickup truck. I can give you a pick up truck.
Do I look like the kind of gal who drives a pickup truck? I am an author on book tour. I have thousands of miles to drive yet. I don’t want a pickup truck that gets eight miles to the gallon. I want the car I paid for already.
I can cancel your reservation, she offered. You can go somewhere else.
No, I said. This is your problem, not mine. You have rented me a car. I want to pick up the car I rented. Not a truck. A car. Why don’t you just rent back to me the very car I just brought in to you?
That’s not our policy.
There are hundreds of cars down there. I saw them. How can you not have a car available?
Step away from my counter please, so I can help other customers.
How can you be helping other customers with rental cars when you don’t have any cars to rent?
Step away or I’m going to call the police.
Okay. So call them.I’m calling Advantage Customer Service and I’m not stepping away from the counter until you or they help me.
At 12:15 the Atlanta police arrive via a segueway. Is there anything more ridiculous looking than a cop with a gun holstered riding up like George Jetson? The cop took in all the information from the ponytailed sourpuss, while I was on hold with Customer Service. He turned to me, “She offered you a pick up truck.”
I explain to him without yelling or cussing that I did not rent a pick-up truck and do not drive trucks, especially when on book tour. He offers that “My itty-bitty wife drives a pickup truck.” What that had to do with the price of beans and rental cars escaped me.
You have to step away from the counter, he said. So she can help other customers.
How can she be renting cars to others when she has no cars to rent? I asked. I never got an answer.
We agreed, finally, after some negotiation, that I would go sit down and the officer and the girl with no nameplate said they would have a car ready for me at 1 p.m. I told the officer I did not trust her or the company to keep their word. (Oh, how often my premonitions turn to reality).
Customer service on the phone offered me nothing other than a pickup truck. I pointed out that this was fraud. Taking a person’s money without providing them with the service you contracted for. How about I pay in you $500 in Monopoly money for that truck? I suggested. I mean, since you want to substitute a car for a truck, why don’t I substitute Monopoly money for real money and then we will have a deal!
At 1 p.m. I walked back up to the counter and told the no name girl that Customer Service agent wanted to speak with her. She did exactly what I figured from the get-go. She told the agent that there was NOW NOTHING available. Nothing. Not one vehicle of any sort. This after she lied and told her she had offered me a SUV, a Mini-van and a truck. My choice. A total untruth that she eventually copped to. (Pun intended).
Then she handed me the phone back. Customer Service tells me exactly what she had just told them: Nothing at all available. And with that, no name girl took her purse and went to lunch. She was followed by every single girl at the counter. They all left licketly-split. I walked to the door through which they exited, one gal was on the phone. “Please call a manager,” I said.
“You need to leave,” she said.
“I’m leaving, but I need to see your manager.”
Charles showed up within moments. Like a Keebler elf, he just dropped into place from a magical tree. By then, I was taking the escalator out of the building to go catch the Uber car I’d summoned after I called Tim and he wisely suggested I do that. Charles the manager followed me, as if he was escorting me. He thought he had a grasp on the events, but of course, he did not. He let me know that at this point Advantage was unwilling to work with me as I was being abusive to his employees.
Insert eye roll here. No curse words exchanged. No waving of arms, no threats made. A stern voice yes. A heated dialogue yes. No hollering, no name calling. (I didn’t know anyone’s name to call them names). Our son of a bitch president has acted more abusively and gotten away with it.
I was 20 minutes late to my book signing. It was a bust anyway because some church had scheduled a big event on the square where the bookstore is located, taking up all the parking spaces and making it nearly impossible to maneuver through town. We didn’t sell one book. Not a single one. But we did have a good conversation about Walter Anderson and creativity. And that was refreshing after all that negativity from the folks at Advantage.
My Uber driver, a kindhearted soul, suggested I go on my phone and rent a car, which I had done. And much to my delight sweet friends, Dave Schechter and Audrey Galex, had come to the event despite it being Yom Kippur. They graciously gave me a ride back to the airport. No small matter, given the traffic and the distance. I was able to pick up a rental car from Enterprise in a matter of five minutes. No lie. Five minutes. I spent more time on the escalator getting to the counter than I did at the counter.
When the gal with the handheld computer walked me to my car she asked how my day had been. I told her it had not gone well. She asked if I had been over to the Advantage counter.
Why do you ask that?
Because we get folks from them all the time, she said. I had a lady in here earlier today crying because she was supposed to pick up a car from them yesterday but they didn’t have it. So she came back today and they didn’t have it.
Do they do this often? I asked.
All the time, she replied. All the time.
How can they rent out cars they don’t have?
I don’t know, she said, But they are nasty to their customers. I’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it.
We approached a line of cars.
Here’s your car, she said. But you can have any of the cars here. I’ll upgrade you for free.
I thanked the good people at Enterprise for being so helpful. Before I left the car terminal, I had stopped by Advantage’s desk to get the paperwork on them canceling my prepaid car rental. Charles had been reluctant, telling me they didn’t offer that sort of paperwork. I suggested that he write me a handwritten note, then, because I would not be leaving without something in writing that said they had canceled my car rental after defrauding me. He finally printed out a paper. I handed him and the employee my business card.
I want you to know who it is you are dealing with.
I am not interested in knowing who you are, he said. I’m throwing this in the trash.
And that folks is my warning to you: Do not rent cars from Advantage. Not in Atlanta. Not unless you want a pickup truck and an hangover.
Karen Spears Zacharias is a world traveler who hustles books and not people for a living. (Christian Bend: A novel, Mercer University Press).