There is something about car rental operators overseas: they seem determined to confound and confuse weary travellers.
You would think that an agency at an airport would consider that some of the passengers who’ve just decanted from aeroplanes would have come from foreign countries.
Specifically, in their line of business, lands where they drive on the other side of the road, often in vehicles smaller than an Australian military Bushmaster.
I’m thinking the UK, Ireland, India and Japan as well as Australia and New Zealand. So, when the size of vehicle you have booked isn’t available – and it never is – you’d think they might offer you a choice something more modest, rather than gleefully loading you into a gas-guzzling monster truck, as if they’re doing you a favour.
And how about taking into consideration that you might never have driven a vehicle that’s push-button only?
I spent a bewildering half hour in the Alamo car park at the airport in Richmond, Virginia, first of all trying to work out how to program the sat-nav, or even just switch it on.
I thought I had paid the astonishingly reasonable $17 for three days of sat-nav hire only to discover I had paid for satellite radio. That explains the ridiculously low cost.
I cancelled that when I realised that what I called sat-nav, they called GPS and I didn’t need to pay anything. Just plug my phone into a USB socket in the dashboard and I could get turn by turn instructions via Google, and in an Australian accent too.
Sadly, I hadn’t yet taken out the Optus $10 daily global roaming data option for my phone, so my GPS service would turn out to cost $150 in data over-charges. Aaaargh.
The GPS activated, the address typed in and the engine started I then looked for the gearstick and handbrake. This car had neither and nothing I did would make it move. I might as well have sat there going vroom-vroom.
OK, I guessed it was automatic – I’m not that dim – but that still required some sort of input from me. I call a passing attendant and, trying not to sound like a five-year-old, asked him the humiliating question: “How do I make this thing move,”.
He pointed to a series of buttons in the console that I had assumed was a cassette player P for play, R for rewind. A nice retro touch, I thought.
It turned our P was for park, R was for reverse and D – which I hadn’t managed to translate into Walkmanspeak – was for drive.
“Oh, I thought that was the cassette player,” I said, grinning apologetically.
‘What’s a cassette player?” the millennial asked. I could have slapped him … if I’d known how to lower the window all the way.
The next few days passed without much in the way of motoring incidents. I managed to mostly stay on the right side of the road, I didn’t grind the hubcaps or mount the kerb (sorry, curb) more than a couple of times, due to not being able to judge the width of the vehicle from the wrong side.
And I resisted the temptation to get to wherever I was going using a series of only right-hand turns.
But the next time I have to hire a car in the states, when they offer me a free upgrade, I’m going to demand a down-size … preferably into one with some kind of stick.