• Zeb Carlson

Rental Car Esteem



I’m a total car nut. I sweat over the details of new models and bask in details of trim levels, horsepower ratings, seat fabrics, and other (you may think mundane) information around automobiles. I frequently imagine casting a car to new acquaintances; what make and model would they drive and find ultimate satisfaction when I find out that I nailed it. Or at least got the color correct.

If there’s a car in a movie that doesn’t quite make sense to the plot or character I start to question the overall movie. "Why would she drive a Camry?", I ask myself, or “This movie takes place in 1981 and that Pontiac 6000 is a 1989, what is the world coming to?”.

With my own rides, I nourish their lifespan with twice yearly details and weekly wash/vacuuming sessions. When purchasing a car, I think about the same casting and also pine over colors and options while ensuring all parts of my ownership experience will be fulfilled, from careful attention to design details and also the painstaking need for comfort on road trips for myself and my passenger. Speed and efficiency must be balanced and when I hear a rattle or squeak it’s time to trade it off. I just can’t even deal with that.

Rental cars are stress inducing. While refreshingly divergent to have a role cast upon you that you don’t portray in your day-to-day, like when hearing “the role of Jill Abbott will be played by Judith Chapman in today’s episode”, the impending doom of miscategorization takes a quick hold after the initial rush of trying out a new model. I favor renting from Enterprise, mostly because they nurture my curiosity by allowing me to try out a few models before the final decision, and they handle my impending verdict with patience. Maybe other rental companies would take the same time with this normally banal decision but it’s too risky to swap vendors.

When I traveled to Arizona in ’16, the clerk announced a Mini Cooper and I was elated. While I have driven Mini’s before, their maintenance woes worried me and I decided that I would never own one. I feel like I am totally a Mini person but the sensibility of ownership overrode lust of cute speediness.

We went to the garage and I sat in the Mini while the attendant completed the paperwork. I asked what other options were available; decisions are more fun when you have multiple choices. I told him that I was going to be covering a lot of miles throughout the mountains and yearned for more than basic. I wished for instead a car that would define the trip. One that allowed me to remember the scenery both inside and out of the windshield. He looked at me for a moment — one that I assumed that would be followed-up by a stern glance — and said, “I have something in mind for you, walk with me”.

You get me. We are of shared mind. We walk the earth with a shared knowledge.

We walked to a black Chrysler 300. “Don’t even think about it, just sit in it and start it up, just go for it”.

As I walked by the 18” chrome rims to the driver door, I was mystifyingly overcome with hunger. I’m not this person. But for a moment, I will be. I left the garage and embarked on 5 days with one of the most ridiculous autos of recent era, one built from necessity to save a car company that fed into big-manly-ego while being overtly macho in every way. Unabashedly American in its swagger. Not quite a confederate flag, but a car that makes no apologies for its big scale. And these 5 days were amazing. We rode together in the mountains, on dirt roads, and down the freeway. It got thumbs-up from strangers at stop lights, and I returned it with a tear welling-up in my eye.

And the award for best Car Casting Agent of the year goes to…

Now, there’s other flip side of the 300 experience. When you take your car in for service they normally give you a similar make/model. And some places thoughtlessly give you a ride that is careless in it’s purpose. For a time in ’13 I kept getting Nissan Versa rentals, the equivalent of driving a teeny bus (the steering wheel is positioned near-parallel to the floorboards) who’s primary objective is to aggravate the driver. I posted a sign in the window “This is a rental, I wouldn’t purchase this with my own money” after feeling ashamed in parking lots. People will think I am a buffoon! And don’t care deeply about the automobile experience!

During a recent trip to Austin, TX, I backed up into a pole while trying to unwrap a burrito, thus scraping my bumper and breaking a taillight. While the Volvo gets fixed, I have a Kia Optima, a car so specifically tuned to the frequency of surprise and delight that it can’t help but make you feel smart in your financial responsibility. It may lack the hospitality of my Volvo, yet strives for goodness in all of its duties. Comfortable, efficient, roomy, good-looking, and trustworthy, you can’t help but find yourself feeling like you are a person that makes wise decisions. Sensible and adequate, like a spunky shoe with proper insoles to support your instep. This car is clear in its mission.

I find myself watching the calendar, waiting for the body shop to call with an update. The Kia has satiated the need for transport while I want an experience of fulfillment wherever I travel. The co-op trek for Granny Smith’s should be one of enlightenment. Running to the liquor store needs to have a moment zen. Kia, you did a good job. Volvo, you grant wholeness.

This week of personality indifference will pass and I’ll soon be back to my old self. Until then, I will wrap myself in the comfort that next time there may be a Chrysler 300-esque moment where I find a new face in the mirror. The hope brings comfort as I pair my Bluetooth with the Kia and think to myself, “that interface worked smoothly” and think about the fulfillment that comes from a car with personalities that make you more than comfortable and instead delighted with finding your true self.


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