When Staff Writer Sam Moses landed in Denver last December on the next-to-last leg of his trip from New York to Crested Butte, Colo., he was already bushed. But he had interviews scheduled for the story that begins on page 26 of this issue, and he set out immediately on the five-hour drive. Thus he found himself racing along between Fair Play and Salida at a rather precipitous pace, and with his eyelids drooping. "I remember thinking to myself, 'Moses, you're driving on glare ice at 90 mph,' " he recalls. A few seconds later the rented Thunderbird was buried, backward, in a huge snowbank. Happily, there was not a scratch on Sam or the T-Bird, but the near-miss reminds us that our staff members spend a great deal of time in rented cars, a circumstance that over the years has led to some unusual situations.
Senior Editor Bob Ottum's experience on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1966 was one of the more dramatic. When Art Arfons crashed during a world land-speed-record attempt, Ottum climbed into the ambulance plane for the flight to a Salt Lake City hospital, where he interviewed Arfons. He thinks it was over Chicago on his way back to New York that he remembered the rented car. On the Salt Flats. The rental company said it was one of the more original excuses they had heard for not turning in a car.
Also, we have had Ted Theisen, who hit the wall at Indy—from the outside. Ted, who is one of our picture editors, entered a muddy dead-end road, skidded, hit the wall and somehow dented all four corners of the car while attempting to extricate it—a process, he says, that attracted the fascinated attention of a considerable proportion of the Indy safety patrol. Then there was the incident involving Staff Writer John Papanek, who last year at Lake Placid somehow managed to lock the car keys in the trunk. The temperature was 10° below, there was two feet of snow on the ground, night was falling, Staff Photographer Tony Triolo, who was with Papanek, was cursing, and civilization was six miles away. They were saved when a tow truck inexplicably appeared and, for $10, the driver punched out the trunk lock with a screwdriver. And let us not forget Jeannette Bruce, as if that were possible. Jeannette had not driven for 10 years, and then only with a standard shift, when she picked up her Ford at the Fort Myers, Fla. airport. "It said P R N D L on the gearbox," she says. "Whatever that meant. I turned the key and promptly shot backward into a palm tree. 'Take it out of reverse!' the agent yelled. I was flustered and very angry. I said, 'Well, I never asked for a Prindle. I asked for a Ford!' "
Roy Blount, who used to work for us, is a more philosophical type. On one assignment, Blount discovered his car's engine was dead, and he had 25 minutes to get to the airport. "There was a Hertz place across the street," he says, "so I abandoned the first car and ran over and got another. I drove the second Hertz car in such a hurry that I ran into a third Hertz car. I had to fill out a very complicated form, but I didn't have to pay any money. Sort of a pleasant experience, on the whole.
February 19, 1979
"There is a whole rental-car language," Blount adds. "I remember a girl asked me once, 'Will you be accepting our collision, sir?' " It's a language Senior Editor Barbara La Fontaine has encountered. She remembers calling a rental-car agent to say her flight had been delayed, but to hold her reservation. When she arrived, there was no automobile. "I did hold the reservation," the agent said. "I just gave away the car."
Then there was the time Photographer Jerry Cooke rented a Ford Falcon in Nice for three months and drove it all over Europe—through Hungary and Bulgaria, from Vienna to Sofia. He ended up in Istanbul and went to turn the car in, only to be informed frostily that it was to be returned at the point of departure. Cooke shipped it from Istanbul to Nice.
There are also a lot of stories like the one about the writer who left a car in the Churchill Downs parking lot for 2½ years. But we're not going to tell them to you.