Tuesday, May 20, 2008

hell or high water

Let's see, where did we leave off? After attending our daughter's college convocation on Friday afternoon, we were desperate to get home to Knoxville in time for our son's high school graduation on Saturday morning.

The lady at the airline ticket counter asked a supervisor what he thought about our delayed flight. He flippantly said that whatever was on the screen was all they knew. I had hoped for their advice about the chances of our flight being canceled or not. When he left, the woman shook her head as if to apologize for his attitude. She then told us that if she were in our shoes, she would go ahead and rent a car.

Another man on the same flight had joined us at the counter. We asked if he wanted to go in on a rental car with us. He was trying to get to Knoxville to play golf and decided it wasn't worth staying up all night.

Our daughter had decided to forgo her graduation ceremony in order to come with us to her brother's. She had booked her flights independently of ours, using the frequent flyer miles of a generous family friend.

The three of us headed downstairs to the baggage claim area in search of the car rental counters. All we found were some phones that connected us to the companies' toll-free reservation numbers. The phone I used had a three minute limit unless I pushed a button that gave me more time. I noticed the button just in time during a conversation with a clerk from one of the companies with an inexpensive sounding name. Meanwhile, my wife tried calling one of the major brands to see who had the cheapest rate. The phones were especially frustrating because some had no buttons to push at all. When the computerized voice asked us to press 1 for English and to press 1 for reservations, there was nothing to do but wait through the entire menu. Meanwhile I failed to press the "more time" button on my phone and got cut off mid-stream. This was a waste of time. I decided that we would head out to the shuttle buses and try our luck out at the drop-off and pick-up lots.

During my abbreviated conversation with the reservation clerk, I learned that they definitely had cars available. It would cost about $30 for the rental and about $158 to drop the car off in Knoxville. Even I wasn't worried about the price, it was more important to get home. We looked for their bus but only saw buses from the other companies. Some of the drivers tried to get us to ride with them instead but we waited for what we thought would be a sure thing.

We were still waiting when the buses from the other companies started coming around a second time. I was reminded of our trips to Walt Disney World when we would wait at the resort bus stop for a ride to a specific theme park. Meanwhile bus after bus passed by headed to all the other parks. Then I remembered the story about the guy on the roof in a flood. Two men in rowboats offered him a ride but he refused, saying that God would save him. When he reached the pearly gates, he asked God why he hadn't been saved. And then God says, "I sent you two rowboats."

I told my wife and daughter that we would forget about the rental company I had called and get into the rowboat shuttle bus in front of us. It had an LED sign that said "Cars Available." When we got to the rental lot, the guys in the office said a one-way rental would only cost us about $100. Wow. I had just saved about $88 by getting on the other bus. I initialed the contract to decline additional insurance and roadside assistance. That gave me the idea to ask for the AAA discount, which took another 5 bucks or so off the price.

It's a good thing I read the contract or I wouldn't have noticed that I was promising to return the car within 24 hours to the Nashville airport. Huh? Nashville is another 3 hours west of my house. My wife and I both instantly thought of how difficult it would be to take two cars to Nashville and to add another 6 hours of driving to the all-night marathon that was ahead of us. When the clerk changed our destination to Knoxville, the price dropped to about $72. Sweet.

The rental agents told us that we could pick any car from the middle row in the parking lot. We were excited, thinking that perhaps we were getting some kind of upgrade. Turns out the guys were joking. There was only one car in the middle row. Whether we were punchy or just relieved from stress, we laughed hard at the clerks' comedy.

We finally hit the road at 11:00 p.m. My wife and I split the driving as the two drivers who were over 25. We stopped several times for water and diet soda. I even had my first caffeinated soda in about 15 years. I found something better than the mild stimulant in my Diet Dr Pepper to keep me awake. The car had a satellite radio with lots of talk stations. The shows were all repeats from earlier in the day but I didn't care. I flipped between comedy routines, a show about BBQ and some political talk from both sides of the spectrum. Most of all, we were filled with determination to not to miss our son's graduation no matter what.

We pulled into our driveway just after 7:00 a.m. Our son was already dressed and waiting for us. I took a quick shower and put on my suit. I even had time to grab some food from the refrigerator for breakfast. Our son needed to be at the hall by 8:00. We got him there at 7:55, which was early enough for us to get front row seats.

After the long, logistical nightmare, it all finally felt real when we saw our son take the stage in his cap and gown. The exhaustion didn't kick in until later.

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Blogger Amelia said...

Wow! I don't see how you guys lasted the night! The anticipation of seeing your son graduate is worth it, though.

Blogger Stephanie Workman said...

After all of that...where are the pictures??

Anonymous Jere said...

I think the most annoying thing about those phones was when the speakers above started playing promos for the different services (hotels, rental cars, etc) loud enough that the person on the phone could hardly be heard. And they want you to keep track of a 3 minute countdown too. Ridiculous!

But the graduation ceremonies were really special. I teared up at both, just at the thought of my little babies being all grown up and independent. I really am busting with pride.

Blogger D.O.M. Dan said...

Great story! And funny, too - I hadn't heard the story about God sending two rowboats. Anyway, the things that parents do for their kids.


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