Ode to a Chevy Lumina (or Why Your Rental Car Should Not Inspire Memories of 1996)
It’s not often that I’m prompted to write about a rental car. But then again, it’s not often that I rent a car as full of unintentional comedy and fail as the gem I rented for this trip to Phoenix.
The Rental Car Saga Begins
Let’s start at the beginning, which is both logical and necessary. One thing I didn’t know about Phoenix is that it’s next to impossible to rent a car here during the peak months of October-March. And if you do find one, it will cost at least $500 for a multi-day rental. One of the main culprits behind the extremely high rates is the insane (dare I say usurious?) airport tax that’s assessed on every car rented at the airport.
Given my recent change of career plans (i.e., lack of income), I could not spend that kind of money on a rental car, so I looked for alternatives. And I found one. From the good people at Phoenix Rental Car. When I called them last week to book a car, they were happy to help and quoted me $287 for 5 days. And as a bonus, no airport tax, since they are located about 2 miles from the airport. Great! Sign me up. I didn’t ask what kind of car it was, feeling relieved and lucky to get one for a fairly decent rate.
I was delighted when the rental car place sent Bruce to pick me up at the airport. When we arrived at the lot, it was a random storefront on some industrial street and there were a lot of pretty beat-up looking cars in the lot. No problem, I thought, I’m sure I’ll get a car that’s clean, runs and has an AUX cable for my iPod.
You Get What You Pay For: A Chevy Lumina
Bruce showed me to the car. A dirty white Chevy Lumina. I tried not to hide my surprise at the fact that not only was this car old, but it was dirty. At least wash it so it looks better. But I digress. This was a good one, Bruce said. It drives great, he assured me. So I got in, started it up and drove off the lot.
Just how old was this car? I’ve confirmed that it is a 1996 Chevy Lumina. How did I confirm this? Because my friend Tyler (with whom I’m staying) actually owned this car years ago.
Yes, I rented a car in 2009 that has been on the road for 13 years. To put this in perspective, let’s take a look back at the year 1996 in sports:
- The Orioles and Rangers both made the playoffs
- Derek Jeter was Rookie of the Year
- Ken Caminiti and Juan Gonzalez named NL and AL MVPs
- The Yankees won their first World Series since 1978
- Browns moved from Cleveland to Baltimore and became the Ravens
- Tony Dungy replaced Sam Wyche as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach (I’ll let that sink in. Sam Wyche was coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
- Jimmy Johnson became the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins
- Barry Sanders led the league in rushing
- Steve Young led the league in passing
- Not-yet-retired-and-unretired Brett Favre and the Packers beat the Patriots to win the Super Bowl (those were the days)
- Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls went 72-10, en route to another NBA championship
- Magic Johnson came out of retirement only to retire again
- Boston Celtics played their first game at the Fleet Center
- The Knicks were competitive
Not to mention that the city of Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics in 1996. That was a long time ago. So, what I’m trying to say is this: this is one old car.
The Fun Begins
For starters, the gear shift was on the steering wheel. What? I’m not sure I’ve ever driven a car with that set-up. But ok. Then when I turned for the first time, I noted that the steering wheel squeaked and creaked in a way reserved solely for the doors of haunted houses. Not to mention that it may have once had power steering, but that damn thing was hard to turn. But wait – there’s more!
I wanted to put on the radio to listen to some music. I don’t need to tell you that there was no AUX input to be found. But there was a cassette deck. A cassette deck, ladies and gentlemen! And to top if off? THERE WAS AN ACTUAL CASSETTE TAPE STUCK IN THE CASSETTE DECK! I can’t even imagine how long that damn thing has been stuck in there.
I wish I knew what cassette it was. Just a couple of guesses for fun: The Macarena? Alanis Morissette? Perhaps some classic Celine Dion or Whitney Houston?
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that every time I turned on the radio, the stupid stereo would try to play the cassette tape. Which was stuck in the cassette deck. So I had to press eject every time to convince the stereo that I wanted to listen to the radio instead of the tape. Good times.
Let’s Talk Performance (or lack thereof)
If you’ve ever been to Phoenix, you know that you can’t survive without a car. Which means you drive everywhere. And spend a lot of time in the car. So this is not based on a small sample size. I’ve been in this car a lot since Thursday and two things about it have become the source of frustration (and amusement).
First is the turning radius (or lack thereof). This thing handles like a freakin’ boat. 3 point turns become 5 point turns. Think you can turn into that parking spot? Think again. Want to make a U turn in one motion? Good luck. I’ve taken to parking facing out if at all possible, it’s that bad. And no, this is not about me being a New Yorker who’s not used to driving. I grew up in Los Angeles. I know how to drive. And over the past year and a half with ESPN, I drove frequently to Bristol, logging many hours in the car.
And how about highway driving? No need for the Phoenix PD or highway patrol to worry about catching me speeding. The car actually starts to shake when it hits 65 MPH. Seriously. The last time I drove a car that shook when it hit 65 MPH was my 1984 Honda Accord (RIP).
It’s Been a Good Run
I know that I’m lucky to have a car at all so I really shouldn’t complain. But after four full days with this baby, I just had to write about the entertainment value it’s provided me during my visit. And how many rental cars can do that?
Now watch – it will break down on my way to the airport tomorrow.
P.S. It didn’t break down. But with the 18.55% tax, the car cost me $391 for 5 days. A 1996 Lumina.