In my 20s I worked for one of the top software companies in the world and spent most Mondays and Fridays at airports around the US. I racked up lots of frequent flier miles which I used for even more travel for vacation. I become a whiz at learning all the ins and outs of the major airports and having fun doing it.
As CEO of HairBoutique.com it's a requirement for me to travel from time to time. I have become proficient at delegating trips to other HB team members whenever possible, or doing business via conference calls, net meetings or email. Sometimes you just have to get on a plane and go do face time. There's no other way.
When I do have to travel, I employ every trick in the book to make it as painless as possible. For trips requiring multiple changes of clothing I have learned to ship my clothes in advance and pack suits that are interchangeable. I also prefer to stay in hotels with comfy beds to minimize jet lag and guarantee a good night's rest.
Google maps are another travel tool which help me arrive at my destination completely prepared to find my way through a maze of unfamiliar streets. Some HB team members laugh at how organized I am when I travel (I always use detailed travel planners) considering the fact my office often looks like a bomb was recently detonated on the floor leaving magazines spread everywhere.
One component of travel which continues to elude me is user friendly rental car services. At one time or another I have tried all of the major companies from Hertz and Avis to smaller no-name companies. In the old days, I used to enjoy Budget. But that was then and today's world is no longer the same.
Which brings me to my most recent business trip to Miami. Due to the location of my meetings, it was essential to rent a car. After a recent bad experience with Hertz in Madison, Wisconsin (that's another story for another day) I decided to reconnect with Budget after a long absence.
Unfortunately you can never go home again, which I learned the hard way with Budget in Miami.
After walking what felt like miles through the Miami International airport, my HB marketing guru and I found the Budget rental counter only to be told to go outside the terminal and "wait for the Budget bus".
Wait we did, while passed by multiple Hertz and Avis buses along with National, Dollar, Enterprise and other brightly colored buses. Finally Budget arrived packed to the rafters with people and luggage. It looked like a traveling sardine can completely packed to the gills. We squeezed into the Budget bus only to discover there were even more stops to be made.
Really? Where would the rest of the people go? To add to the overcrowding a young woman got on at the next stop with a massive wedding gown on a hangar along with five of her traveling companions including two small children. Unbelievable but somehow the doors closed.
By the time we eventually made it to the off-site Budget terminal I was marveling at how many people had packed into the little bus and had a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I also never noticed any other Budget buses. Did they only have one? Probably not but I found it a little odd.
Entering the terminal I saw a very long line of people waiting for one of the three agents. I asked the people at the front of the line how long they had been waiting and they said "almost an hour". Which is just about how long it took us to make our way to the Budget counter.
In all fairness, another agent eventually came out of the back room and helped, which made the line move a little faster which meant from dead stop to slow crawl.
One couple was at the counter when we first arrived and was still standing there, after we left. What they were doing is beyond me and everyone else in line who were mumbling about the long wait. At one point some of us in line were chatting. We started thinking the couple who had been their since the beginning of our arrival might be negotiating buying the car instead of renting it. Will we ever know for sure?
When my turn came at the main desk I provided a copy of my Budget car reservation which I had made in advance on the Internet. Since I have driven small sports cars all my life, I prefer to stick with what I know rather then book a bigger model. To my surprise they told me all they had left were SUVs even though I had reserved a much smaller model. Take it or leave it. Of course I took it.
I inquired about adding the marketing guru for driving privileges but was told it would cost an additional $10/day and it appeared to require even more paperwork. Argh. More waiting? Nope.
At that point in my unhappy experience I was not willing to tack on even 10 more minutes inside the Budget terminal. I made an executive decision to suffer through driving an unknown vehicle for the entire trip rather than hope for a more compatible model and the addition of a second driver.
I requested a map from Budget to the Hampton Inn where we were staying, even though I had previously mapped it via Google. Afterall, you can never have too many maps. Right? Well in this case it wasn't a good thing, but read on.
As an aside, I have had consistent luck with the Hampton Inn hotel chain. While other hotels might offer more glitz and plushness, Hampton Inns offer clean quiet rooms, extremely comfortable beds and 24/7 juice and coffee. I can honestly say I have never had a bad Hampton Inn experience and this trip was the same with just one one tiny mishap involving a too-short shower curtain, a soaking bathroom floor and the absence of requested back up towels.
Following the Budget map to the Hampton Inn, which was approximately one mile from the airport, was fairly easy. My frustration at standing in line for over one hour to retrieve the SUV was soon forgotten as I focused on finding my way through the maze they call Miami.
Luckily the trip was nothing like the initial arrival and much business was accomplished.
After my successful trip, I was ready to return to Dallas on the first available early morning flight out of Miami International. My memories of the long lines at Budget resurfaced and my better-safe-than-sorry paranoia triggered my need to allow lots of extra time to get to the airport. Thank goodness for that little voice in my head.
Although the Hampton Inn provided me with an automatic bill under my door, I made a point of stopping by the front desk to deliver the room keys and ask for additional clarification on the location of the Budget terminal. For some reason Budget seemed to be isolated from the rest of the rental car company terminals.
The front desk clerk helpfully highlighted the appropriate roads on the Budget map and I felt certain I was just being paranoid about the car return process.
Unfortunately my little voice was right. After following the Budget map with the highlighted path from the Hampton Inn clerk, I found myself turning down a street which was completely barricaded with big construction signs. No entry was plastered everywhere.
Now what? The marketing guru and I retraced our original path. I thought maybe I had turned on the wrong street. Nope, I had followed the map exactly and wound right back at the designated street that supposedly led to Budget but was completely blocked. I considered driving past the signs but could see the street contained big gaping holes. Not an option.
The marketing guru turned on the map light and proceeded to try and reroute me along the back of the area. Oddly, none of the road signs on the Budget map matched the signs on the streets. It was almost like we had landed in an alternative universe or were trapped in some freaky two way mirror.
After making multiple circles past a well-known hotel, we stopped to ask directions. The guard was polite but noticeably intoxicated. Although he was slurring his words he proceeded to give us alternative directions to Budget which ultimately lead us to a different path. We were very hopeful that we were on our way until we turned down the last street to find it also completely blocked. Nooooooooooooooooo. Not again.
At that point we could see the Budget terminal from a distance but could not figure out how to get there from where we were. I again retraced my route to the airport and followed the Rental Return signs. At one point we found arrows for Budget which again led us directly to the torn up roads which were completely blocked. Then the Budget signs mysteriously disappeared and we were back at ground zero. Burning gas and time and becoming extremely frustrated.
We made us way to a local gas station where the clerk was explaining how to get to Budget to another man, who was from Alaska. The Alaskan couple, like us, had been driving in a circle for close to an hour and still could not find the Budget terminal. Needless to say, they were very upset and were ironically trying to follow the same Budget map we had been given.
The gas station clerk drew a new map on a piece of paper and the kind Alaskan couple suggested we follow their car to save the clerk from drawing a second map for us. The gas attendant announced that the Budget map was wrong because all the street names had been changed over the past year and none of the new names were on the map. He also informed us that he had to constantly help people find Budget.
Not a good omen at that point. By this point I truly felt that by renting from Budget I was in hell on wheels.
I followed the Alaskan couple's car only to watch them take yet another pass down yet another different road which was also blocked and was swarming with forklifts and other machinery. The Alaskan man jumped out of his rental car and marched over to talk to one of the forklift drivers. The driver wildly waved his hands and pointed.
The Alaskan signaled to me to again follow him and off we caravaned to a completely different street that was also blocked. Rather than stopping, the Alaskan couple deliberately drove around the barricade in the middle of the road. I was flabbergasted? But what the heck, what did I have to lose at that point? I followed their lead past the barrels only to discover a torn up road, without big holes, that lead into the back of the Budget terminal.
Victory! After an hour of being lost in the early morning light we had finally found the Budget terminal.
Who would have ever guessed you needed to drive down a barricaded road to find the location of the car return station? Not I, and definitely not the Alaskan couple who I thanked profusely.
The couple told me the forklift operator reported that the Budget maps were two years old, all the street names had been changed and the Budget folks had not updated anything to help their customers find the terminal. Well that figures. Same thing the gas guy told us.
When we parked the car in the return aisles the Budget attendant took my keys and contract. She then told me the "computers were down" and "who knew when they would be fixed, if ever". She told me I had to go back into the main terminal from hell (my words) to finish the process. I was horrified remembering our first trip into the bowels of car rental suffering.
The Budget bus was waiting at the door and the marketing guru popped her head into the door and asked the driver to wait for us while we finished up. The sullen driver shrugged and said maybe he could and maybe he couldn't. It would depend on whether dispatch called him to leave.
Luckily there were only four people in front of us in the line (including the Alaskan man and his wife) and even though there was only one agent, somehow we managed to all get through the line in about 10 minutes.
The return trip to the terminal was almost as bizarre as the original trip. The Alaskan couple, my marketing guru and I were at the back of the little bus. In the front were two men sitting across from each other right behind the unfriendly driver.
At one point during the return trip to the airport one of the two men jumped up and proceeded to straddle the other man who had been across from him. It was beyond strange and we couldn't tell if it was a loving or aggressive straddle. After all our ongoing drama we didn't really care and all of at the back of the bus pretended not to notice.
The bus driver never asked us what airline any of us were going to and basically just stopped the bus. The Alaskan couple got out when we did, because we were all concerned that we might never get to our final destination. We had no idea how many stops there were or what terminals the bus might go to. I personally had visions of spending an additional hour in the little Budget bus as it circled around and around the various Miami terminals and was happy to walk instead of trust my fates to the bus.
We said goodbye to the Alaskan couple who were from Anchorage on Holiday. They wandered off to look for Alaskan Airlines while the marketing guru and I somehow found our way to the American Terminal.
Once we were at our gate we both resisted the urge to kiss the ground and proceeded to collapse into a pair of very comfy seats to wait for our plane.
While many people might fondly remember their trip to Miami because of the gorgeous weather, the beautiful beaches or the exotic palm trees, I certainly will not have those idyllic memories.
Instead, I am always going to remember Miami as the trip where I was lost in the bowels of the back streets of the Budget car rental terminal for over one hour.The only thing missing to my memories of Budget? Vampires dripping blood while lurking in the shadows of the torn up streets, laser guns and exploding bombs.
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