When I visit family back in New York, I usually rent a car.
Let’s review the insanity of what I just said:
I commit myself to driving in New York.
In a car that isn’t mine.
Never miss a local story.
Even if you never require temporary wheels, you probably receive spammy emails that proclaim, “Rent a Car for Just $7 A Day!” But the fine print says, “*We mean Paducah, Kentucky. If you’re renting in, say, New York, move the decimal point to the right. No. Waaay over to the right. Sucker.”
But the cost winds up being the least of my worries. I often end up with troublesome cars. Story time.
One night last summer, the guy at the airport rental counter gave me a key fob that didn’t have a key at all. I probably made a face like I had just been handed a dead frog, because he immediately explained the key-less key.
He said, “Ya gotta keep this fob near the dashboard so when ya push the ignition button, it communicates with the engine.” (This might be a good time to mention I can’t stand the word “fob.”)
I nodded. The rental guy directed me to the dim lot. I don’t know how I found the car, because its dark paint absorbed the night sky and all physical mass around it, very much like a black hole. When I opened the door, the dashboard didn’t light up. I couldn’t find the “on” button. I had to go back to the terminal for flashlight assistance.
When I finally left the airport, it occurred to me I was driving a muscle car. It had a loud NASCAR engine and sloping rear windows framed with complimentary blind spots. Wait, did I say windows? Correction. They were fob-sized portals.
FYI: A “sporty” car means “to hell with seeing anything.”
I had the Dodge Black Hole for a week. And what a week it was. On the first full day, I was required to park in my brother’s NYC neighborhood. I was anxious the whole way there, not because of a looming thunderstorm, but because I’d be parking a large, rumbling car in a Seinfeldesque ZIP code. As is common there, once a driver finds an available space, they never move it. The car rots there.
Somehow, I got lucky. My patron saint, Ricky-Bobby, must have been watching over me. A spot appeared right on my brother’s block. I parked my keyless, windowless muscle mobile in the middle of George Costanza’s nightmare. Overcome with pride, I took a picture of this accomplishment. Because, as Sinatra once sang, “If I can park it there, I’m gonna park it anywhere.”
That photo became significant several days later when I went to the ocean. It was a bright, reflective day. I parked near the dunes. When I looked back at car, something below the front license plate caught my eye — the Black Hole had its own mini hole! The inward-sloping bumper had a punch-out the size of a golf ball. What? There were no incidents on my watch. I had inspected the light-sucking vehicle at the airport. But the damage was partially hidden and easy to miss at night. Sure enough, I expanded the city picture from my early hours of possession, and there it was — the hole I had inherited. Long story medium, I wasn’t fleeced for the ding that was already there. But I paid with days of anxiety.
What sparked this memory? Just weeks ago, I found myself back in New York with different car rental problems. Dirty upholstery. Defiant former occupants who ignored the “no smoking” stickers. Two March snowstorms preventing me from switching out the car. A tiny ice scraper deserving a Fisher Price logo. But the worst: I had a temperamental real key that was so flimsy it wouldn’t lock my tobacco-coated Kia. I spent the whole time dreaming of the fob life.
Some people borrow trouble. I rent it.
Freelancer Denise Snodell writes on alternate weeks.