A Car Rental Rant

This past weekend we went to visit my family. It was our first time traveling with three kids and based on time constraints, convenience, and other basic logistics, we decided it made the most sense to fly and then rent a car along with three car seats.

We made the car rental reservations months in advance and three days before our trip I called Budget to confirm. I made a point of (1) speaking to a human, which is a feat in and of itself, (2) confirming our reservation, and (3) emphasizing that we needed three carseats and a car big enough for three car seats to be available upon our arrival. The human assured me a minivan along with three car seats would be waiting for us. He even read our reservation back to me word for word. I thanked him and crossed “confirm car rental” off my list.

You can guess what happened. We arrived at O’Hare, walked the mile to baggage claim, waited 10 minutes in 95 degree heat for the Budget shuttle, and stood in line at the Budget counter for 30 minutes. I actually didn’t wait in the line, Dave did. I found a nice little corner, fed the kids a snack, took Katherine and Clara to the bathroom, and changed Alexandra’s diaper, all of which also took 30 minutes. Then I was ready to get in the car and be on our way. But Dave was still at the counter talking to the woman. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen, then twenty… Budget had neither a minivan nor three carseats. The woman didn’t even see carseats on our reservation. My pointing out that I had confirmed our reservation - complete with carseats - just days earlier did not help. It took an hour and a half for Budget to locate a “car of equivalent size” and three carseats. When we dragged the kids, bags, and carseats across the parking, we found an SUV with one backseat row that wouldn’t fit three carseats.

By this point we were well into naptime, melting in the heat, and at a loss of what to do next. No one was in a good place, least of all me, because not only do I lack patience and have a hard time dealing with incompetence, I really don’t care for SUVs.* We pleaded with a Budget guy in the parking lot and he eventually found us an even bigger SUV with a third row. We installed the carseats, loaded the kids, and got out of there.

An image of the monstrosity, showing the inaccessible third row, nonexistent trunk space, and lack of handy sliding door.I’ll just take a moment here to explain why I don’t care for SUVs. First of all, we are a small car (as in Nissan Versa small) family and committed to remaining that way. Second of all, if we were to be a big car family (which I admit may happen someday), we would go for a minivan, not an SUV. The monstrosity we ended up with, like a minivan, had three rows, but it was impossible to get to the third row without folding down one of the second row seats, which of course wasn’t possible when there was a carseat in it. We weren’t about to uninstall and reinstall a carseat every time we needed to get Katherine into her third row seat and we couldn’t put Clara or Alexandra back there to free up a second row seat because we couldn’t fit either of their carseats past the second row. There was probably some better way to do it, but standing there in the heat with three hungry, tired kids, we weren’t about to figure it out. In the end we had Katherine climb in through the trunk and over the back of her seat. A minivan doesn’t have this problem. It has three rows, a lovely sliding door, and a convenient aisle so everyone can get to their seat with minimal, if any, difficulty.

But all’s well that ends well: the kids held it together at Budget (more than the parents did), having to climb in through the trunk and over the seat was the highlight of the trip for Katherine (she’s still talking about it and asking why we can’t always have that “nice car”), we made it to my parents’ house and had a relaxing visit, and Alexandra took revenge on Budget on our behalf with a mighty blowout. Of course we had to clean it, but it was quite gratifying to see her poop running down the carseat and onto the seat.

Anyway, this isn’t exactly a post on parenting, but it happened while I had kids with me, so that is close enough. I try to keep in mind that as a parent my behavior should always be worthy of imitation. This can be very challenging, especially in situations like this, when I am beyond frustration and feel helpless when it comes to solving a problem that shouldn’t even exist. This time I failed, I was definitely not worthy of imitation at the Budget counter.

*Except for Sarah’s because I associate it with our weekly play date.