Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Amsterdam it all, part one

In my past travels I have always been the designated planner; it has always fallen on me to book the train and the hostel, research the sights and round up the participants. This is due, in part, to the fact that I'm good at handling such details and motivated to put in the work to ensure a good trip. My friends are happy to let me handle things. It's also due to the rather embarrassing fact that I'm slightly obsessive and would likely be unwilling to surrender control and allow them to handle things even if they wanted do. When a few grads here approached me and pitched a last-minute weekend road trip to Amsterdam, with rental car and hostel already taken care of, I was wary but, after brief reflection, willing.

Things went wrong from the get-go. A graduate lunch at NYU lasted longer than we expected, and problems on the RER-B line meant that it took us several trains longer than usual to get out to the airport and the rental car place (Murphey's law of the metro, as witnessed with several exams last semester: if you ever actually *need* to get somewhere on time, the metro *will* be broken). Once we finally got the car and got on the road it was around 5pm. We made it through a little bit of commuter traffic around Paris and up through Northern France, and had just passed the Belgian border when...BAM. Our rear passenger-side tire blew out.

At first it seemed as if things would be okay. Lindsey's boyfriend Pat knew how to change a tire, so he got to work with the jack and the lug nuts and had that sucker ready to pop off in no time. Unfortunately, it wouldn't. We tracked down the owner's manual for help--a picture in the manual showed using a bar to lever the tire off. Although our tire didn't match the one in the image, we found a place to lodge the bar and lever. Much to our dismay the bar gave out before the tire. It began to snow. I made the first call to roadside assistance, giving our license number, rental agreement and cell phone to the Belgian branch of Hertz's insurance call-line. After waiting an hour we called again, only to find out that Hertz had no record of our original call. We were on the phone with them a third time when the repair man finally pulled up behind us, almost a full three hours after we had pulled over.

After using a sledgehammer to knock off the obstinate tire the man fixed the "doughnut" temporary tire in place and left us in the snowy dark to figure things out, telling us to go no faster than 80km and no further than 30 km/h. We pulled into a reststop 5km up the road, where I began the first in a series of frustrating phone calls with Hertz. No, there was no way to repair the tire until the following afternoon. No, there was no way to get a replacement car without returning to Paris. No, there was no way to get a refund on a car once a contract had been started. No, they couldn't tell me what to do about being far from our destination and already-paid hotel; I needed to talk to customer service. No, the customer service office would not reopen until Monday. No, we can't guarantee you'll be reimbursed for a hotel unless you're in France and the car is out of service. "We're 5 km over the border. We can come back to France. We *want* to come back to France; we're in the Femish part of Belgium and don't speak Dutch. What's your definition of 'out of service'? Where exactly do you expect us to get with a doughnut tire in a snowstorm?"

In the end we returned to Lille (a city in Nothern France) where my angry insistence scored us three free hotel rooms (one for Phinn, who was ill, one "couple" room for Lindsey and Pat, and a double twin room for James and I) and a pretty deluxe complimentary breakfast. We rolled in a little after midnight, trekked through deserted (but fairly picturesque) streets to the only diner-esque restaurant still open, and feasted on eggs and beer as we made fun of the hickish regional French accent. Under heavy pressure, Hertz had promised to call me at 8am the next morning to work things out with the car. I gave them a half hour to redeem themselves, then called at 8:30. "I'm sorry, but we don't have a record of your car even existing in our database. Are you sure you have the license plate number right?" I'm sure. I have it memorized by now. If you don't have it, does that mean I can keep the car? "Oh. One moment please. *pause* Yes, I found your file. You can go to the central train station to pick up a replacement car."

Half way to the train station Hertz called back. "Hi, we're calling back from last night to tell you that you can pick up a replacement car at the airport. Get there before noon. No, what you were told is wrong, there are no available vehicles of that size (apparently a five-person car is huge by European standards) at that location." Cue exit by a rather under-the-weather Phinn, who finally said "j'en ai marre!" (I've had enough of this crap!) and caught a TGV back to Paris. At the airport: "I told them that a car wouldn't be ready until after 5! Oh, and you owe us money for the tire; you were at fault." Cue me gearing up to really bust some balls. "Oh, you're right, you did buy insurance. Oh, we do have a car. Here are the keys. Have a nice trip."

This sign pretty much summed up the way we felt about Lille when we finally left, down one person, about half a day and several hours of sleep, and got back on the autoroute towards the Netherlands.

(stay tuned for part two....)

1 comment:

  1. I really hope Holland treated you better... If all else fails, you could always visit a coffee shop and forget about it ;)