Tonight, after nine hours in airports and heavy crosswinds, I found myself wondering what to expect at the rental car counter while waiting for my bags at MIA (which stands for Miami International, not missing in action, although Miami-bound luggage often is). I was on a much tighter budget than Benjy Bluestone when he met Mr. Kim, proprietor of SOBE Supercar Rentals, in my novel Landmark Status:
Wearing a white form-fitting shirt and windbreaker in 1970 Gulf-Porsche team colors, Mr. Kim stood behind the counter under a white plastic sign with neat red lettering that said, “SoBe Supercar Rents Number One Top Big Shot Luxury Lifestyle To Go.” He asked if Benjy was sure he wanted a Mustang, because there were far better cars on the lot.
It’s rare that I rent a car in Miami, and tonight I had no reason to expect a heavenly experience. We’d lost ninety minutes to a loose panel in the 767 they’d rolled out of an LAX hangar for this “premium” flight. My expertise with duct tape was politely refused while we milled around like Kremlinologists outside the Politburo, analyzing the body language of anyone emerging from the jetway. Holding a coveted upgrade, I’d then spent hours in flight trying to take a nap, which required mastering mystifying controls to a seat from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise miami exotic car rentals.
By now its well after midnight, and my fellow travelers are so tired they twitch from ear pain at the buzzer blast signaling the start of the luggage-go-round (unlike Fort Lauderdale, which offers a light show and canned music that sounds like the Macarena). Finally, the laws of FOLO (first on, last off), bring my suitcase rolling lazily around the bend (I swear it’s putting out a cigarette, basking in the afterglow of a mile-high tryst with the Gucci makeup case behind it).
Time to get the car, and unlike Benjy, I’m in the airport, not some rich guy’s playpen. Holding a reservation for a Pontiac G6 (or equivalent), a decent ride with good road feel and some cojones (if you luck out and get a V-6), I’m fully expecting I’ll end up in a (not so equivalent) Hundwoo Marmot LSMFT.
The manager greets me as one Miamian to another, with a sullen, “Can I help you?” which barely conceals her fond hope that the answer is “No.” I ask if they have a G6. She says nothing. Now I know I’m home. Then she points to an ATM and tells me to do it myself. When I fumble trying to reject the optional insurance, child-seat and bucket of buffalo wings, she assures me this gizmo is more efficient than the old system, which it plainly isn’t when there’s only one customer.
And then, something miraculous happens. Papers printed, initialed and signed, the manager points outside and says, “Over there. Pick any car you want.” She merely nods with a tired smirk when I ask, “Really?” as I walk backward through the surly gates of rental car heaven.
It’s my car lot now, with new V-6 Chevy Malibus the reviewers raved about, and V-6 Pontiacs as well (I know this engine, based on the block that powered my screaming Citation X-11 twenty-five years ago, a car feared by all who drove in or near it).
Striding past some Toyota Bore-olas, I spy a Dodge Avenger (an SXT, with go-fast bits and an iPod jack). If I want to go green instead of fast, they’ve got Prius sedans, and, can it be? One of them is blocking a gun-metal grey G6 coupe with GT badges.
Jackpot! The top engine, suspension and tire combo, with black leather, sunroof and big audio. It’s a close call, but the Avenger’s out when I see the Pontiac’s got an iPod jack, too. The only problem is moving the Prius. I’m not risking anybody telling me I can’t have what I want, so I move it myself. With its weird controls, wiggly joystick and push-button starter, I’m hoping it doesn’t blow up while I wait for its systems to respond to my commands, so I can get it the hell out of the way.
At last, I’m in, and soon, I’m out, before anyone’s the wiser, enjoying that “number one top big shot luxury lifestyle to go,” blasting up the corkscrew to State Road 112, wondering if I’m driving a car they don’t really rent, just take home themselves. But there’s one thing I’m sure about. If there’s a rental car heaven, it has to look like Miami. This I know. I’ve seen it.