The US Goodwill Ambassador to Shmertz

As I was making reservations to visit the Pop in the Florida Keys this Thanksgiving, I had a flashback to my, er, travel challenges of last year.

I had used a rental car company-- let's call it Shmertz-- to get from Miami Airport to my hotel, and from my hotel to the Pop's domicile. And as a result, I had one of the more surreal travel experiences I can recall.

It was the day before Thanksgiving. My plane had gotten in a bit early, and everything had been smooth up until this point. So like those moments where Indiana Jones smiles cockily because he's just blown up, like, twelve Nazis and escaped, I was pleased with myself. And should have known things would go awry from here.

My rental reservation information indicated that the Shmertz rental desk was inside the airport. So I headed down to baggage claim to where the rental desks were.

Only that entire area was gone. And by gone, I mean, the rental desks were gone. The signs were gone. Even the floor tiles were missing.

I went off to find an airport map.

A thorough analysis of the map showed every rest room, lounge, hot dog stand and souvenir shop... except for baggage claim level.

So after losing a half-hour, I finally asked someone in Missing Baggage. I figured missing the rental car desk was close enough.

"Oh," said the Missing Baggage Dude, "those desks are gone."

"Um, yes."

"You need to go outside and stand and wait for a shuttle to Shmertz."

So dragging my suitcase, I went into the oppressive Miami heat and exhaust fumes.

Ten minutes later, I found a sign on a concrete median which read "Shmertz." So I parked my luggage and I waited.

Shmelamo went by.... And Shminterprise... And Shmarvis.... And Shmarry's SuperCheapo GoCart Rental...

No Shmertz.

I noticed next to me, two tall German men with poofy hair-- one blonde, one brunette-- were watching the various shuttles come through like a particularly intense tennis match. "Is it....? Yes? Yes?.... AWWWWWW.... It isn't."

"Are you waiting for Shmertz, too?" I asked.

Siegfried and Roy looked at me with surprise. "Why, yes, vee are," said Roy. Or was it Siegfried?

"How long have you been waiting?"

"Tventy minutes," said Siegfried wearily. Or maybe it was Roy. "Ze Shmertz shuttles, I see zem come around zat corner, but zen they go zat vay." He pointed to a median three down from ours, and then the exit from the airport.

Siegfried, Roy and I gathered up our stuff and move to the other median.

Well, such went another half hour. Shuttle after shuttle headed to the median-- and then passed us by and took the exit, filled to capacity.

We waited so long, Siegfried and Roy decided to take a cab. They'd pick up the white tigers later, I guess. And me, after forty minutes I managed to climb onto the roof-rack of a passing bus and get a lift.

(Okay, so maybe I just squeezed on to one bus because I wasn't a family of 37. But still. Same diff.)

So at Shmertz, once again, optimism was in my heart, because I am stupid like that. Even with the delays, and the hour-and-a-half drive ahead of me, I figured I'd get down to the Keys in decent time.

I used the automated check-in machine that said there would be a compact car waiting for me in the parking lot. I could just take whatever car I liked in that particular size, and that seemed so fun... so marvelous... I couldn't wait to try it.

It was like legalized car theft. Or being really, really rich. So I hurried to the parking lot, luggage trailing behind me and....

There was not a single car in the lot.

I looked at the Compacts sign. I looked at the empty spaces.

I looked at the Sub-Compact sign. I looked at the empty spaces.

Things didn't bode well.

A different set of German tourists were now with me, wandering around the Compact/SubCompact area in the intense heat and glare of the sun.

"Zer is no cars. Ver are ze cars? Is zis how zey do sings in America?"

"Er, no. This is an anomaly," I told them. And then I spent a few minutes trying really hard to build morale and act as a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.S...

Kinda like Angelina Jolie, you know, but without ten kids and Brad Pitt following me around.

But I don't think the tourists bought it.

Finally, as self-assigned Ambassador to Shmertz, I went to talk to one of the guys milling around in the Shmertz vests. He was speaking rapid Spanish to another guy in a Shmertz vest and ignoring all the lost customers wandering the parking lot.

"Um, hi. We..." And here I motioned to myself and a growing group of Germans, "we don't know what to do next. The paperwork says take any car in your size, but there aren't any cars there."

The Shmertz employee looked at me blankly. Just about the time I was wondering if I could cobble the same phrase together in Spanish, he scowled and said, "They're coming, they're coming. Go wait by your sign. You can't stand here. Go wait."

So I went back to the Compact/Sub-compact area, and relayed the information to Germany.

Naturally, the Germans weren't thrilled. Having not been in the States for more than two hours, their first impression of the place had already been fairly tainted by poor planning and pulsing heat.

More time passed. The sun was dipping in the sky. The crowd in the Sub-Compact area was huge by this time-- now including France, England and Newark, New Jersey. And I was now a solitary figure across the aisle in Compacts. I had pulled out a book and was using my suitcase as a lumpy chair.

Suddenly, someone started yelling at me in Spanish, then switched to English. "You! You move! You can't sit there. They're coming. They're coming."

And he had me move out of one of the empty Compact car spots as a wet Chevy HHR came swinging around.

More Compact cars were being pulled in, one by one. All wet, all narrowly mowing down the folks waiting for the Sub-Compacts that had yet to come.

The Sub-Compact people looked on sadly, as I guiltily grabbed the HHR. I saw their drawn, sunburnt faces in my rearview mirror as I pulled away.

But while I might have seemed the lucky one, the Travel fates weren't done with me yet. As I left the Shmertz rental behind, none of us knew what would happen next.

None of us imagined that the sign at the end of the Shmertz rental car drive, pointing toward the very highway I needed in giant letters?

Due to recent road construction, it pointed the exact opposite direction from the actual road. I would find this out as I drove lost and confused in the middle of Miami on unfamiliar streets in the increasing darkness, squinting in the dim light to read my Rand McNally directions.

I am trying Shmollar Rent-a-car this year. And I'm trying to keep the optimism at bay.



Miss Shirl said...

Wow! That sounds like a pain in the butt! May my own travel destinations be in driving distance. What you went through does not sound like fun.

Unknown said...

Shirley- Sometimes it's such a pleasant adventure.... And then sometimes it's like this last time was. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh my ! I haven't seen anybody pull off a better German accent than you do - in written word !

It just goes to say, no matter how much you plan, things will go wrong - even in Germany !

Da Old Man said...

I've always had good luck with Schmenterprise.

Of course it's hard to drive when a car is wrapped in brown paper like that. (Weak reference to old Schmenterprise commercial)
Usually a few bucks cheaper than Schmertz, too.
They rent Camry's, which are pretty nice cars.

Anonymous said...

By the vay, have you seen zis ad beforre ?

Unknown said...

Jaffer- Heh, thank you. I'm just glad folks knew what I was doing. :) And no, I hadn't seen that video before. You always come up with the darnedest stuff! :)

Da Old Man- Well, I'll let you know how Shmollar is. I've used Shminterprise before and it's been fine. But it was a lot more expensive than Shmollar, so I went with the cheap one.

Babs (Beetle) said...

Oh my! I'm not sorry you had to go through it though. I would have missed this great post ;O)

*and relayed the information to Germany.* Ha ha ha!

P.S. I am sorry really.

Unknown said...

Babs- Heh, oh, it's okay-- I found it funny, too, once I got out of the scary sections of Miami and was on my way on a road I knew down to the Keys.

My dad got quite an earful of the tale when I arrived at his place at 6:30PM, when my flight had arrived at 1:15!

Da Old Man said...

Schmollar is giving you a good deal, then. I only rented Schmollar once. Was very pleased with the decision, though it was a little more pricy at the time. Rented a mini van and went to Virginia. I don't recall meeting any Germans, though I do believe a saw a couple Swiss guys. Not really positive they were Swiss, but they were yodelling, so I went out on a limb and just presumed.

Matt said...

All rental dudes are schmutzes...the whole "upsell" crap when you get there drives me nuts.

Great story.

ReformingGeek said...

There's something about me or my family having to deal with the Miami airport. It misaligns the moon and the stars creating chaos. I hate it.

I hope you have better luck with Schmollar. We have used them on recent trips and they were great!

Unknown said...

Da Old Man- We'll see how Shmollar goes. As long as there's a car there, I will be happy. I don't need frills.

Matt- That's why I like to use the little rental kiosks when I can. The computer won't argue with you about your choices. :)

ReformingGeek- I usually just get lost leaving the airport. Typically my Miami airport experience itself is okay. In fact, I think I've used Shmertz before this, and things were fine there, too. It must have been a really off day or somethin'.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this happened so when you did finally get to see your Dad, you would have something to talk about.

Don't you hate those long pregnant pauses with family?

We wouldn't want to picture you and your fam sitting at the kitchen table, just staring at each other, talking about....the weather.


heh heh heh

Unknown said...

QuirkyLoon- Well, you're right in that it did give us a bit of a running joke about me spending the holiday standing in an empty parking lot.

"Look, Jenn- there's an empty parking lot... wanna stand for a while?"

"Erm, no. Thanks. Very generous."

PS- and can't family talk about the weather like nobody else? Friends never want to discuss the weather, but family... for some reason it's gripping.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the joys of travelling! Sounds a bit like Planes, Trains and Automobiles! LOL! Hopefully you didn't end up sharing a small bed with John Candy and Steve Martin.

We've had mix ups with car rentals in the US, but usually they've been OH's fault. And then there was the time when we drove out with a brand new Ford Escape and he broke it in an altercation with a taxi driver ...

Chat Blanc said...

yikers! I really think you should be able to have charges brought against Shmertz for holding you against your will and collect damages from the city of Miami for false advertising of roadway information. I hope your luck is much, much better this year!

Chaotically Calm said...

Schmavis has always been good to me. I feel for you but I think about the enjoyment I had reading this little diddy and I can't help but think selfishly what about my reading pleasure if everything would have went well. LMAO!

Unknown said...

Jay- Really, it was a bit like Planes Trains and Automobiles. Fortunately, my hotel is always really nice and also doesn't involve sharing it with John Candy. I can only imagine how you and your husband must have felt getting into a car accident in a rental. OH MY.

Chat Blanc- Well, I'm giving Shmertz the benefit of the doubt that this was just a fluke. But OY what a day it was.

Faith- Heh, yes, stories are a lot less fun if they involve, "And I made all of my connections perfectly, and the sun was shining, and rainbows and bunnies fell from the sky...the end." :) Good humor involves pain.

Ed & Jeanne said...

Holy're plane got there early? That is surreal.

Unknown said...

VE- *Snicker* Yes, in fact it was. Now I think of it, that alone should have better prepared me for what would ensue. :)

Anonymous said...

Awww, I thought that was Mario in your illustration...I thought this was going to be some kind of videogame. Have you thought about adapting your tale of woe in such a way?

Unknown said...

Greg- HA-- I see Mario now in the illustration... that's so funny, and NO, Mario was not what I was going for.

As a video game it would be boring because it would involve a lot of waiting around for nothing. :)