Rico Suave

Seven hours of flying and it’s only 9:45 am. It’s predicted the weekend’ll hit record temps, and this possibility is exacerbated by the blue layer of wildfire smoke covering the LA basin. The descent into LAX reminds me of my recent trip to Mexico City and I fully expect to step out of the terminal and breathe in a lungful of burning plastic. Instead, I think of some long ago summer camp.

The Thrifty Car shuttle arrived without delay and soon I’m in a slow-moving line at the off-site office. I wasn’t in a hurry, but something about the place makes me crunch my face at the other renters shifting their weight side to side and sighing so I can hear it.

I approached the desk and am greeted by white guy, middle-aged. He says, “Hello, young man,” then introduces himself as Rico. I laugh and tell him I appreciate the compliment, but we’re probably the same age. He lifts my North Carolina license close to his face, swipes his thumb across the front and says, “Nope, got eight years on ya.” “You’re gonna love the new North Carolina licenses,” he assures me. “They’re super shiny…like, indestructible. They don’t get all worn out like yours is here.”

“Now Mr. Griffen,” he says, “Are you here on business or pleasure?”
“Business.”
“What sort of business?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh. A writer. Are you in the Guild?”
“Guild? No. I write mostly fiction. And some poetry.”
“Poetry? I see. Well, I’m in the Writer’s Guild. Would I know your stuff?”
“It’s unlikely. I’m new to the scene and have only published a few pieces. Mostly in academic journals.”
“Nice. I write scripts and also work here. But it’s only to support my family. One day I’ll leave this racket and write full time.”
“Right on. I hope it works out for you.”
“Thanks.”

He pulls up my reservation and shakes his head.

“You know it seems to me you booked the worst car possible?”
“How’s that?”
“You’ve got an economy. A horrible idea in LA. We don’t have problems here like small parking spaces and such, and if you get in a wreck it’ll be at high speed, most likely. So you need a big car if you want to stay alive.”
“That seems extreme. I just need four wheels.”
“Yeah, I hear ya. But still, we’re going to upgrade you. How about a mid-size? You want a mid-sized car? Same gas mileage and way safer. You government?”
“Huh?”
“Are you a government employee? Oh never mind, yes you are. 50% off for government employees. How’s that sound?”
“50% off per day?”
“That’s right. Normally $20, but for you only $10. But don’t tell my manager, he’ll get pissed.”
“So ten bucks a day is what you’re saying?”
“Yup. And you’ll be in a car that’s not like American cars. You know if you compare a BMW in Germany to one in the US it’s like comparing a tank to a tin can. The German one’s got nothing in it, just the basics, you know, compared to a US model with all the bells and whistles. But when you close the door on that German one you can actually hear it go thud. Seriously, you don’t want an economy car. Not here. No way.”
“Well, Ok.”
“And let me give you some advice—never, I repeat, never book an economy car at any rental company. Not just talking Thrifty here. It’s a terrible, terrible idea. Check out the screen right here, I had you in a Spark, see, a piece of junk by anyone’s standards, and now we’re going to get you in a Corolla. You’ve made a smart decision. Possibly a life saver.”
“Really man, I just need four wheels. I’m not particular.”
“Trust me, this is the better decision. You don’t want to risk your life, do you?”
“Of course not.” So then what’s the difference in my rate?”
“50%.”
“50% per day? So then my rate is $10? Daily?”
“You are saving 50% per day because I’m cutting you a spot-on deal.”
“A deal on what though?”
“Sir, I’m telling you that this is the better decision. Look at the screen again. See here, this is what you would be paying and we’re cutting this in half. Can’t beat it. You’ll thank me later. You will.”
“Wait a second. I don’t think I need an upgrade. I’d like my original rate.”
“Sir, you simply should not go with an economy. Foolish to drive a car that small in LA. Super dangerous. Look, tell you what I’ll do. How about $9 per day? Nobody else here getting this deal.”
“$9 per day for an entire week?”
“That’s right.”
“Well ok, sounds fine to me then.”
“Smart man, smart man. Let’s take a look at the breakdown.”

Rico punches a few keys and shifts the computer screen until I see it better. The total he points to exceeds my original total by more than $100.

“That seems high. It’s definitely not $9 a day, at least.”
“Mr. Griffen. You have your own business, right?”
“Sure.”
“Can you say, write-off? Just save receipts and claim it as a business expense. Stick it to the man. Come on, you’re a smart guy, aren’t you?”
“Look, I travel for a living and have never been told any of this about an economy car. I want to believe you, but as far as I know this is all just an up-sell.”
“Just telling you what I know to be true.”
“Hmmm.”
“What if I offer you an additional discount?”

He types more keys, then points to a new total. Still higher than I expected, but I’d had enough and wanted to get out of there.

“How about this then?”
“Well…”
“Best I can do, Mr. Griffen. Just between me and you. I’m just looking out for a fellow writer.”
“Ok, Ok. Let’s do it.”

He prints out my paperwork and explains how to find a car in the adjacent lot. I thanked him and shook his hand.

“Before you leave, Mr. Griffen, can I get your card? I’m not much of a science fiction fan but I’m always interested in seeing other folks’ work. Never know what I might be able to get out of it for myself, you know?”
“Yeah sure, here you go.”
“Great, thanks young man! Be safe and God bless.”
“Thanks. But hey, I don’t write science fiction.”
“Oh, you know, science fiction, fiction, whatever.”

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