MAD DOG: Carless in Detroit

I'm in Detroit -- the Motor freakin' City -- and I can't get a rental car. This is like being in Los Angeles and not being able to see a movie, discovering that every restaurant in New Orleans is out of gumbo, or having a waiter in Paris not look at you as if you have the lowest IQ ever recorded while pretending he can't understand what it is you just ordered. It just isn't right.It's all because the North American International Auto Show is in town and the people at the rental car companies geared up for it by sucking as much car exhaust as they could, the carbon monoxide effectively blocking their ability to count. You'd figure they'd take only as many reservations as they have cars, and they probably did in their pre-emission snorting days, but now, in honor of a national show which features -- say it with me -- cars, they decided instead to take (number of available cars) 2 reservations. It's a form of math only Edward Lear could appreciate.Obviously they overbooked. And why not, airlines do it all the time. The difference is when an airline doesn't have a seat for you they make it up by handing you a voucher which covers half the cost of an airport un-Fun Meal, giving you a free flight anywhere in the continental U.S., putting your butt on the next available plane, and making sure you get an extra bag of peanuts, which is almost like being in First Class. Or as close as I've ever come anyway. Dollar Rent A Car, on the other hand, tells you to take a cab to your hotel, then take one back to the airport the next morning "just in case a car's come back before you show up." Now here's a company that's into giving their customers peanuts.I don't feel picked on because I know it's nothing personal. After all, they were telling everyone the same thing. They even told the three men standing behind me who were headed to Canada to take a cab there and back and send the bill to Dollar. I'm tempted to say I was renting the car so I could drive to Cozumel just to see if they'd pay for the cab. When they say yes -- exhaust fumes having a half life in the brain of about 10 years -- I'll buy a cab, have the driver take me around Detroit for the week, sell it, send Dollar the tab, and walk away with a tidy profit and a happy driver since I'll let him pick up fares when I don't need him and only take a 10 percent cut.And it's all because of the North American International Auto Show. This is the annual event where the car companies unveil their 2001 models, possible 2002 models, and models of the Car Of The Future, all the while hoping someone actually looks past the well-cleavaged models standing in front of the cars gesturing as if they really believe this is the way Vanna White was discovered.The auto show is big news here in Detroit, and rightly so. After all, this is the car capital of the world. True, they ship them all out of here and forget to hold onto a few just in case anyone happens to want to rent one, but let's not hold grudges, okay? The newspaper and TV stations reported that the crowd oohed and aahed as the new models were unveiled. And why shouldn't they? After all, these are amazing feats of modern ingenuity, like the cross between a pick-up truck and a luxury sedan (oooh!), the minivan with more horsepower(gasp!), two new convertibles (aaah!), and a Volkswagen pick-up truck that may or may not even be produced. Excuse me while I chug a triple espresso so I can stay awake. Face it, these are just more rectangular metal vehicles powered by gas combustion engines. You know, pretty much the same technology Henry Ford used 90 years ago.While these revolutionary concepts were being disclosed with great fanfare, AOL announced that it would merge with/buy/suck up Time Warner. Now this is heady stuff, mostly because it signals the end of the world as predicted by Nostradamus (" ... and the busy signal shall devour the town crier."). AOL boasts that this means we'll soon be able to buy CDs at home, play along with TV game shows, and get customized news delivered to our computers. And it's only costing them a measly $160 billion to make this a reality. To put that in perspective, that's $816 for every person who used the web last year, $94 for every web site that's out there, and almost twice as much as Bill Gates is worth this week. Of course they're ignoring the fact that I can already order CDs online, I've played along with Jeopardy since I was old enough to know how to phrase my response as a question, and I skip any articles in the newspaper I don't feel like reading. Progress is a wonderful thing.Maybe it would help if AOL Time Warner, as the new monolith will be creatively named, would buy GM, Ford, and the other car companies. Then they could inject the industry with new blood, new ideas, and new technologies. Even better, they should buy Dollar Rent A Car. Then they could put their heads together and solve one of the burning problems of the day: How to find a lousy rental car in Detroit during the Auto Show.

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