I can write a history of my long trail of misfortune. But this time, something good came of my most recent episode. I was so surprised.
In order to place this experience in its proper context, I would be remiss if I did not explain what precipitated my eventual arrival at Hertz, and the disastrous financial consequences of that fateful encounter, upon my return to the States, following an 18+ month period of living abroad –
It began with Enterprise.
Once I had booked my flight to the States, I knew I would have to rent a car to get to my hotel from Dulles International Airport. And I would have to do that, using my debit card, the only card I had. Airport locations further had specific rules that only applied there, and not elsewhere. In order to rent, you needed to show that along with your arrival, there was a scheduled departure date, listed on your ticket. These were the conditions for securing a rental.
The first call I made to Enterprise, I was not told this. Instead I was told I could not rent a car with a debit card. I had to have a bonafide Credit Card.
When I mentioned this to someone I knew in the States, he questioned that, and encouraged me to call Enterprise again. “Under what conditions can I rent a vehicle from an airport location using my debit card?” And sure enough, the agent said that as long as my itinerary showed I had an outbound flight, I could then rent a car, so I booked one.
Still uneasy, however, an intuitive red flag shook my confidence, so I was determined to verify once again what the Enterprise agent had told me, so one week before I left Europe, I called Enterprise to confirm the terms, and again I was given a green light.
But when I arrived at the facility, the Enterprise Representative was determined not to allow this to happen. He immediately began nitpicking.
“I see your departure date here is not until September, and yet you only want a rental for 2 weeks,” he said.
“That’s correct,” I said. “I don’t need a car for the entire period. I just need transportation to do what I have to do.”
This, apparently, was problematic for him.
“And you want to return the car to BWI (Baltimore International) instead of here, at Dulles,” he said.
“That’s correct,” I said. “Look I’ve made these arrangements ahead of time and asked the questions I had to ask and was assured there would be no problem. And besides, the sign here clearly states that Enterprise will accept a debit card as long as you show you have a departure date. It doesn’t state that there are additional conditions.”
But he would not budge.
“The BWI location is more convenient for me,” I explained, “and I was assured this would not be a problem.”
“But how do we know we’ll get our money?”
Now this was a prescient question. I never imagined there would be a situation where the funds would not be available. In retrospect, I now know this guy lacked the shark instincts I would later experience at Hertz. They knew better. “Because I honor my agreements.” I said.
That, too, did not satisfy Tamer, the Senior Customer Assistance
Rep, at Enterprise. “But you could go and withdraw your money tomorrow!” He added.
“I suppose I could. But I have no plan to do so.”
The final nail in the coffin was the address on my Driver’s license. That listed my last known address in the States and did not correspond to the address on file with my bank. THAT had been my European address. But now that that address had changed, days before I left Europe, I updated my banking information to reflect my new address in the States. Logistically, there was not enough time to do that with the MVA, and it was the first thing on my list of things to do, even before securing mobile service, the day following my arrival in the States.
This further distressed Tamer.
“Ah, how can I rent you a car if the address on your license doesn’t correspond to your debit card address? I just can’t do that,” he said.
“But I was living ABROAD. I JUST arrived. I STILL have to go to the MVA and update my information.”
But this sequence, though logical and sensible, did not register with the Tamer who faced other challenges, and he declined my reservation, further telling me that even though I had secured a reservation, those people who made the reservation didn’t actually work for Enterprise, but other car rental agencies, brokers, you might say, and therefore didn’t really know the Enterprise rules about renting a car using a debit card.
How could I possibly respond to that?
Though severely jet lagged and sleep deprived, I mustered whatever strength I had and pointed to the sign. “The sign clearly says I can rent a car using my debit card, as long as I have departure flight. It clearly states that. It lists no additional conditions.”
But Tamer would not budge.
And that’s how I landed in the front seat (Remember OJ Simpson? He was the celebrity face for Hertz Corporation’s rent-a-car advertising campaign, which, incidentally focused on airport rentals, before sinking into infamy) of a Hertz contract, one of the darkest periods of my financial misfortunes.
In an age where the bulk of our communications is done online, you’d think the job of communicating would be easier, but it is not, especially when you are looking for a job, and the experience, you realize, is a futile attempt to communicate substance, and ultimately, dehumanizing.
I knew I would be especially challenged, since my goals in life were much different from having to be consistently employed, and therefore those gaps could be construed as less than favorable to a potential employer, at least, on a superficial scale.
But the overall scale, I realized, is just as superficial for those who show a consistent work history, as well. Engagement in apps that are supposed to expedite the job search are instead behemoths, a portal, where simply submitting your resume is an experience fraught with problems.
The apps have a certain degree of formulaic intelligence, but this intelligence lacks substantive value. The focus is not to explore the differences, the variety each person has to offer, what makes them unique, those attributes, but instead to chop you up into bits of nonsensical pieces, segregate those into abysmal demonstrations of who you are not, rearranging you into something unrecognizable – I didn’t say that! That’s NOT me. This is a formula that yields aberrations, an imperfect host, that stuffs you into a box, as though you are a piece of furniture being advertised on specific sites. If only you were.
What is the purpose of downloading a PDF version, for example, of your resume if its structural integrity is destroyed in the process? Isn’t that the whole idea behind a PDF document? That its structural integrity remains intact, so that no one can tamper with it?
And yet, this is exactly what they do. A formula determines what parts of the PDF are relevant – buzz words, perhaps, or the names of corporations – that are ultimately irrelevant, an example of bad arithmetic, ultimately incoherent, and the process of correcting these errors is far more time-consuming than what you really should be doing: Making connections with prospective employers.
Instead you are side-tracked from your principle goal, and must learn to navigate these bizarre algorithms, which often lead to nowhere, and attempt to bring coherence to your narrative, fully aware that there is no formula that can fully explain the art of being human – at least not yet.
(NOTE: May not be suitable for more sensitive readers.)
No wonder Iman, the Hertz Customer Service Manager, had a smug expression on her face. She KNEW they were going to get their money. After all, I HAD signed a contract. Didn’t matter that the essence of the contract was misrepresented by the Hertz associate. However, I would be remiss if I did not state that Hertz had a willing accomplice in this economic fiasco of what exactly constitutes a contract, which I maintain below, is still under debate.
I often get alerts for unusual activity on my bank account when I have transferred, for example, money from one account to another. This is a customary practice. And yet, I received no such alert when I unknowingly authorized Hertz to place an Authorization Hold for the sum of FIVE THOUSAND, THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN DOLLARS ($5,316.00) on April 17th of 2018.
Had I received an alert, I would have immediately questioned the nature of that transaction. There is NO way I would have consented to such terms. It’s an absurd amount for a car rental that was an initial estimate, I have since learned, for 48 days. I would have immediately returned the car and said such a rate was unacceptable.
However, I had no such opportunity because my bank did not deem such an alert worthy of my attention. Thus, my bank has also played a significant role in this sordid matter, and based on my telephone conversations with bank associates, disputing the charges, I have repeatedly had the impression that the real client here, the bank client, is Hertz, not me. My bank has afforded Hertz, the respect and dignity generally reserved for clients, and demonstrated immense generosity with my money.
This past week I have been engaged in a series of ping-pong games with my bank over this dispute. I have received several notices that I have a message regarding this claim, and the actual message is often vague, and impossible to comprehend, the most recent message stating, “Unable to pay,” when in fact they HAVE already paid Hertz a considerable sum of money.
I filed a dispute over the phone challenging the charges on May 19, 2018, a Saturday, and the first message arrived on Monday, informing me the dispute had been closed, before I even had a chance to provide my statement, challenging the transaction. How could that be? I hadn’t even filed my written statement yet.
Since Monday, I have been on the phone with bank associates and the dispute has been opened and closed repeatedly. Furthermore, the first associate I spoke to, claimed that the money had been paid from an account that was closed years ago. How could that be?
If it were not for my persistence in addressing my grievance, and in the process (by default) investigating the mishaps and erratic behavior of my bank during the course of an entire workweek, I would have (and still am) been cradled in a nest of uncertainty, as my bank has demonstrated it has no scruples when it comes to protecting MY assets, my money, and will swiftly allow access to my money to any shark that may swim by. This does NOT inspire any confidence whatsoever in one’s banking institution.
I should have been alerted.
But I was not.
Once I realized what had transpired when I returned the car to the Hertz location at Dulles International Airport, and realized that the staff there would not budge, insisted that since I had presumably authorized the amount (noted below) I did what any reasonable person would do: I took measures to protect my liquid assets. But first, as soon as I left Hertz, I immediately telephoned my bank, and attempted to file a complaint and dispute the transaction.
However, I was told that I could not dispute the transaction until it had actually materialized – in other words, until Hertz attempted to withdraw the money from my account, because car rental companies have special dispensation under the law – they can lawfully empty your account, if it has been deemed that you have authorized them to do so.
So what would a reasonable person do under those circumstances?
At first, I considered closing my bank account altogether, since I’ve had a few frustrating experiences that would compel me to do so, but nothing of this magnitude of brazenness. But then, I realized since I had a second account, I would simply transfer my money into that account instead. How could Hertz access my funds if there were not sufficient funds there to access? But to my surprise and disappointment, my bank willingly complied and handed over $3,246.12 to Hertz without even blinking.
Now my understanding is if the actual funds are not available, that my bank would notify the merchant, and render a NSF (Non Sufficient Funds), and then let the merchant sue me, if necessary, for the amount. But not only did my bank not do this, they also provided Hertz with the noose to hang me.
How was I to know what an Authorization Hold was? Was it incumbent on Hertz inform me? Highly improbable. Was I supposed to know what this meant through some form of osmosis? Highly probable.
“By the way, Ms. Hood, we are assured, once we determine the funds are available, that we will get whatever you may have unknowingly agreed to – that’s guaranteed – because the law is in our favor, supports our right to access those funds, regardless of whether you knew what you were agreeing to, or not, dumbass.
The reason we ran your card was not simply to determine if those funds are available, but to lock you into an agreement, a contract, which works solely in our favor. We will get that money because your bank will honor that agreement (and screw you over) whether the funds are there, or not. Either way, your fucked. So thank you very much, Ms. Hood, for the opportunity to do so. We greatly appreciate your business.”
I was SO jet lagged and sleep deprived when I got to Hertz, I could have unwittingly signed my death warrant and execution. Imagine that: “Whoa. Looks like we’re going to have to execute her. She doesn’t seem like execution material. But hey, who are we to judge? She even provided her consent, initialed the order – not once, but three times! Death By Hanging.”
But all I really wanted to do was to get to my hotel and prepare for the frenetic pace that awaited me over the next 2 days, following an 18+ months stint abroad, relocate to my country that had since been hijacked by a short-fused and narcissistic President who had put Democracy on the highest threat alert – orange, I believe.
But I digress.
Wake up. Go to MVA. Update address. Go get mobile service. Call mover. Meet at Storage place. Finalize move for following day. Show up following day. Make sure everything is loaded and head to Baltimore, an hour’s drive away.
IF the Hertz associate had explicitly stated that the cost of renting a car for one month would have been $5,000+, I would have swiftly declined the offer and grabbed a cab to my hotel, because relatively speaking $150 is a small price to pay for transportation, especially when compared to a sum that would make a handsome down payment on a new car, or even a house, presumably, in an area experiencing gentrification, that happy medium between a slum and hip outpost, or a sum that would satisfy the full purchase of a fine, used car. (That’s how I would have used that money, if I had so chosen to do so.).
But he did not.
The amount that Hertz claims I agreed to pay was NEVER discussed. The process of agreement required my initials on an electronic device, similar to an iPad, perhaps it even was an iPad, without a delineation of the specific charges associated with my initials and which assured them access to my funds – real money, not credit. Crispy Benjamin’s. Lots and lots of them. Thousands and thousands of dollars.
“Initial here, please. And here. And here.” That was the extent of the discussion. Actually, there was hardly any discussion. A copy of the printed contract, which is attached, resembles a boarding pass for flights. The only difference is, boarding passes clearly explain what you must do to get on the correct flight. (Imagine ending up on a flight to Siberia instead of Honolulu.) There, you will find your flight number and gate number. This crucial information is not rendered in fine print. The print is BOLD and LARGE.
But unlike a boarding pass and more significantly so, the font of the Hertz boarding pass, styled contract may measure at 8 points – at most – as illustrated here. Even on a good day that’s a tough point scale to track visually. To be fair, there are portions of the contract that are in caps, and, BOLD, like:
TOTAL ESTIMATED CHARGE $5316.00
However, the “Rental Rate,” which is the first line of the contract, provides the dollar amount of a monthly rate, and that is listed at $847.55, and below that, the rate for an additional 18 days (if necessary) and that is what I focused on.
It’s not that I didn’t see the bold print at the bottom. I did. And I questioned it. But this also has to do with the peculiarities associated with renting a car at an airport using a debit card. In order to use a debit card, you must produce your flight itinerary, verifying your arrival date and departure date. Those are the conditions associated with rentals when using a debit card. That’s what they say. Without that, you are not eligible to rent a car using a debit card. My departure date is in early September of 2018. So when I saw that enormous amount, I never once thought that could possibly be the price of renting a car for a mere 48 days. If the Hertz representative had clarified that, I would have likely responded this way: “Are you fucking crazy? Who would ever consent to that? (Apparently, I did.) That’s absurd!”
Instead, this is what I said: “So THAT total is if I were to keep the car the entire period, between my arrival and departure date through early September, still an exorbitant amount, but I have no intention of doing so, correct?”
That was a prime opportunity for the agent to correct my impression. Instead, he confirmed my impression with a nod and a “yes”. The agent merely asked me if the funds were in the account. “They are there. But I would never budget that amount for a car rental.”
That was my understanding. I had understood THAT total to reflect the cost of rental for the duration of my stay here, based on my departure date, as indicated on my itinerary. I had no intention of renting the car for that entire period. So I was safe. Secure.
Had the associate reviewed each charge before I “agreed” to the terms, or better yet, a scenario where acceptance of terms was preceded by the specific amount I allegedly agreed to, I would not be drafting a statement challenging the charges. I would have made an INFORMED decision. (Incidentally, according to my bank, this is not considered fraud. But I maintain it is a form of fraud. It is a conscious form of misleading a customer whereby that customer unknowingly agrees to terms they never would have had they been fully informed of the exact nature of the charges agreed to. Therefore, it is impossible to make an informed decision. It is the willful withholding of information, which is protected, both Hertz and my bank claim, under the law. Right.)
Instead, Hertz picked up the scent of desperation and pounced and ensnared me in a trap. Under those conditions, the Hertz associate did not deem it necessary to fully inform me of the charges – “She’ll agree to anything!” – so that I could have made an informed decision, a failsafe that took into account that some people (or corporations) totally lack an ethical foundation, something in place that would protect the consumer, before they step into a presumably binding contract, something that would put a check on unethical practices – omission of significant information, being defined as an unethical practice. Hence, if I were told to provide my consent on an electronic line, the dollar figure would clearly and boldly be stated, before I initialized. For example:
“You hereby consent to pay a Loss Damage Waver at a daily rate of $31.99, for a total of $1,567.51, for the duration of this contract, which commences on April 17, 2018, and concludes (estimated) on June 5, 2018.”
“You hereby consent to pay LIS at a daily rate of $18.85, for a total of $923.65, for the duration of this contract, which commences on April 17, 2018, and concludes (estimated) on June 5, 2018.”
THAT would have prevented my entering a contract of absurd proportions right on the spot, for however jet lagged I may have been, my critical faculties and the “flight and fight” response were fully intact. I would have had no difficulty identifying a shark as a shark – nor would I have confused a shark with a paper tiger.
Now I ask you to explain what an LIS is, for example, because I surely have NO idea what an LIS is. So how could I possibly consent to a contract that lists an LIS, when I have no idea what it is? I would not. And I did not. Nor was it ever explained to me.
When I was at Hertz, challenging the amount, Iman El Rayess, the Customer Service Manager, on duty then, said they would review video footage of the transaction, because that would be grounds for dismissal – if someone had NOT been upfront with a customer. However, video footage without sound does not prove anything. And yet, both she and her associate who reviewed the footage claimed the agreement was kosher.
However, without any corresponding sound attached to the video footage, which would support either my claim or theirs, they have NO proof that the associate explained the exact nature of what would be construed as a binding contract. I was a frazzled traveler, experiencing severe jet lag, and sleep deprivation, who desperately needed to get to my hotel and tend to business. The video without any corresponding sound is a flimsy justification. For all we know, the associate could’ve been yelping, or making idle conversation about the weather. There IS no proof.
But to fully appreciate the extent of this ruse, it is imperative that I include their final act of brazenness here. “Would you be willing to write a review about your experience?” the Hertz associate said. “Why, of course, I will. I’ll do it right now.” So I whipped one out. And I showered praise on Hertz. They could do no wrong. They saved me, I said. And Iman, who wore that smug expression throughout the exchange, which I couldn’t quite understand then, but is totally comprehensible, knowing what has transpired since, Iman, totally confident about screwing over yet another customer – because at that point, I wanted to retract my favorable review – said I would have the opportunity to do so, once the account was closed, which they technically had done then, but I have yet to see that opportunity. So cavalier, she was, that I could not help but make the following observation before I left the establishment: “I bet you don’t even clear $3,000 a month, and yet you are so smug.” I said to her.
Now I have no idea what happened to the favorable review I wrote. Maybe they are hoarding it. But I also had the impression they immediately published it, but I cannot verify that with any certainty. But I do know I have not been presented with the opportunity to delete it, as claimed, and therefore it is imperative to state that ANY favorable review authored by me is “null and void”.
THE HERTZ BOARDING PASS, STYLED CONTRACT
“THERE WAS NO COLLUSION!”
I nudge my cardiovascular system by extending my daily journey from the Dark Kitchen Room to The Light Room Of Many Windows and the kitchen and the light room of many windows and…the… It sure is bright in there. There’s a world of difference between them. Both serve a purpose. But really. Who would choose to volunteer for such an experiment? The Study Of Adaptation From The Perspective Of Extremes.
Once I complete the journey, I’m back to my steadfast routine. Sometimes I cook. But mostly, I nurse a mug of espresso and consume lots of cigarettes and swirl ideas above my head. The dark kitchen room is a good way to transition from sleep to wakefulness. It has no light. Not a single window. And some icons covered in spider-webs stuck in a corner. It’s thoroughly dank. However, you never have to fear you’ll wake up blinded down here. It’s impossible.
Along with the diet of dank corners, you get to experience and taste dank thoughts. Who would’ve ever thought you’d end up doing this? I see one hand raised. Great. Thanks for the vote of confidence.
It’s no different than living in a cave – though I have never lived in one. The chief resemblance is the dampness, the darkness, the absence of life. So you finally understand your sole mission and what isn’t. It was not as you had imagined. There were no ballerinas there. There were no canvases filled with brilliant colors. However, music was the nearby thread to the world of Living things. Some of the music was dank. But most of it wasn’t.
In the damp winter months by the sea
where you are comforted by rain
I awaken well before dawn
usually chilled by the air –
insulated as much as possible
by shirts and undershirts and sweaters
under a robe –
and crank-up the heat.
My mind slowly drifts from puzzling dreams
vaguely remembered –
Darkened by the night of the sea.
So it’s time for caffeine.
The strongest of them all –
a mug of espresso made on the stove-top –
Time to sip away dark moments
and prepare for the Sun
When the forecast calls for rain.
A morning such as this will not deter the fisherman with a spear, or the old man taking his final steps on our shores, while a stranger stumbles into town, with purposeful gait, the weary traveler, suitcase in each hand, and heads to sea.