Lessons From A Rental Car

Please note: The travel described here occurred in the past. Today, I do not recommend that anyone who is, or may possibly be, pregnant travel to this state. A miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy cannot be safely treated under this state’s current laws. Please care for yourself and travel to places where your life and health are valued.

Test Drive

When you travel as much as I do, you get the opportunity to try out a variety of rental cars.  This is how I discovered I don’t care for wide panels combined with small rear windows.  On the flip side, with a full-size sedan, I realized the center console and arm rest on the door were too far apart for my elbows to rest comfortably, making the driving lopsided.  Every once in a while I’d be given a car lacking in cruise control – a feature I utilize to excess, even around town – which I find far more disruptive when skirting twisty mountain roads. In those outings I have to watch my speed more than my surroundings.  It’s a learning process.

Traveling in a borrowed car requires a bit of adjustment.  Where are the windshield wipers? Do you pull or push the turn signal to engage the brights?  Adjust the seat, adjust the mirrors, adjust the headrest, and figure out how to adjust the radio volume all before you pull away from the lot.  If you don’t, you’ll have to learn on the fly – or on the road – and I confess, by the time I get from home, to airplane, to shuttle, to rental, to keys in hand, I’m more than ready to get the adventure underway.  Pausing to figure out how to connect my phone to the audio system kills valuable vacation time.  Let’s go!

So Many Cars, So Many Adventures

Over the years, I’ve returned a rental mid-vacation because it desperately needed an alignment.  I kept the pitted one that spent its life outside during a hailstorm.  I make a point not to pull my rental too far off the road into the snow at Donner Pass (see Donner Pass from August 2013) – a lesson anyone who visits the site ought to know.  I once walked into Death Valley over a low rise and after twenty minutes, turned to find the rental car no longer visible (see Desert Dust from October 2011).  The first Jeep Liberty I rented I loved, but years later thanks to slight changes in the body style, I continuously hit my head on the door frame.  This was better than the door that came to a point at the lower edge and my shins paid the price repeatedly for its awkward design.  One rental company boasted about my upgrade to a convertible, and it rained throughout the two days of the lease.  I cruised across Texas in a Mustang (see My Son’s Mecca from February 2012) and zipped up that windy edge known to some as Mulholland – the sinuous road running the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains (see Mulholland Drive from December 2011) – in an efficient and unimpressive hatchback.

My first rental experience (not just using the car, but actually enjoying being in a car other than my own) happens not as part of a planned excursion, but out of necessity when my simple Saturn decides it needs a vacation of its own to the repair shop.  I accept whichever affordable option matches the keys I am handed, but being in a smaller locale, the selections are limited.  That’s when the universe decides that a single mom with two small boys deserves a saucy red Mitsubishi Eclipse.  We make the most of every mile until our basic power-steeringless vehicle returns from its week away.  Our highlight: sitting at the end of the runway watching the planes roar up and over our heads.  So what makes the lease remarkable: where I go, what I drive, or how I rule out what I may want to buy in the future?

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