I spend more time than I would probably like in Houston, TX. Approximately 99% of that time is spent on business, and when you’re dealing with a sprawling, spread-out metropolis such as Houston, that means rental cars. And rental cars are fucking goofy.
Remember the movie Up in the Air? The one with George Clooney where he flies all over the country firing people and then has the hot sweaty sex with Vera Farmiga, but it turns out she’s not his female mirror image, she’s just using him as some escapist fantasy from her home life, and Sam Elliott shows up later for some reason?
Much of the first act of that movie is like porn for business travelers. Points are sacred and you accrue them like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter. Per diem should be exploited to the fullest. And minimizing the administrative rigmarole associated with the endless grind of travel is paramount. That’s why Hertz is featured. They’re the biggest and most expensive rental car provider, but really the only choice if you’re a business traveler – especially in Houston.
In Houston, you have to take a queer little shuttle from the airport to the rental car center, which is like a mini-mall, if the mini-mall only sold rental cars. I’ve waited twice in a line at one of the kiosks, and I’ll never do it again. Because compared against my usual practice of heading down the escalator, walking outside, seeing my name on the board, going to the spot where my reserved car is, getting in, driving to the check-out booth, and getting on my way with maybe 10 seconds of total conversation and human interaction, the other rental car processes might as well be the 7th circle of hell. Hertz is a thing of beauty. Hertz gets how shitty business travel is, and this set up mitigates the shittiness nicely.
But sometimes Hertz is drunk, and their choice of automobile for me is vexing. I rented a mid-size, and you’ve provide me with… what now?
When I started this job, I was ultra-conservative in my travel spending. Getting an economy car with our company discount results in approximately $2 per day savings. Look at me saving the company money! I did that until Hertz gave me a fucking Smart Car. Really? This is Houston, TX where every third car you see ain’t actually a car, it’s a fucking rhino with an engine in it. I feared for my life in that Micro Machine on the East Texas highways, and vowed never to get the economy car again.
So the next time I bumped up to mid-size, and Hertz overcompensated by hooking me up with a goddamn minivan. In terms of safety, much better. In terms of space efficiency, not so much. I do not own a minivan, nor do I have designs on ever doing so, so driving around in this huge bastard was certainly a new experience. Got room for a hockey night if you bros want to play some pickup roller hockey! A minivan will make you hate parking, but will please you when you change out of your suit in the parking lot to fly home comfortably. So, win?
The last time I was here, I must have gotten secretly upgraded because they gave me a Mustang convertible, which brought me right back to high school. That’s weird, right? I spent junior year here, and from my spot in the parking lot, I could see 7 brand new Mustangs from my vantage point. I drove a ’94 Jetta in 1999, and I had probably the 3rd shittiest car in that lot. Texas is different, man. And rich! I did not especially enjoy high school here.
But the Mustang helped on the East Texas highways because I believe fast cars have a safety element in that sometimes the best escape from a sticky situation is to accelerate. So zooming ahead of Jethro in the lifted F250 (Lift it cuz fat chicks can’t jump! HAWR) who failed to check his blind spot is both a nice ego stroke, and often the safest available option.
Ideally everyone would be forced to drive around in different rental cars a few times per year. Why? Because it forces you out of our comfort zone and experience – god forbid – some empathy for what everyone else is experiencing on the road.
While I don’t necessarily advocate toodling around the greater Houston area, I do advocate for getting outside yourself any way you can. Maybe that should be Hertz’s new slogan… “Hertz: Get outside yourself INSIDE one of our cars!”