When I was a kid, it was clear, when traveling with my family in summer—That we were cosmopolitan in attitude, but bohemian in cash. We would criss-cross Europe, yes— But we were car-camping, our luggage strapped to the roof of our shuddering VW fastback. Lunch was sweaty cheese and days-old ham from an unrefrigerated metal cookie tin. The bathrooms in our one-star hotels were. . . shared.
When I travel now with my teen daughters, I'd say we are basically middle-class—? But due to the complexity of mom's travel points—? We never know if we'll have a first or third world experience.
For instance, recently, using air miles, we flew United to Denver for free! Mostly. I splurged on the extra hundred dollars so we could actually sit together, rather than, as Basic Economy requires, being seated randomly all over the plane. I did not allow any extra bags carried or checked, because my girls may one day go to college.
Kayak-ing the white water rapids of cheap car rentals, I'd found a company called ACE offering a tiny car that looked like a Yugo— But, as they used to say at IKEA, "Impossible Price"! Upon arrival, I find out why. Our instructions? Walk past the Ground Transportation counter, get into "lane four," then turn left and walk half a mile, past all the Avis, Budget and Enterprise signs and wait, literally, and I quote, "under the sign that is blank."
"I know that we're not Platinum members of anything," I grouse to my daughters, "but standing under a blank sign? Can ACE at least not tape their logo up there? It's so humiliating!"
"Maybe they didn't have enough money to commission a logo," says my older daughter. Shuttle after shuttle whooshes by.
"We'll be lucky if the car has four wheels!" says my younger.
Forty-five minutes later, the ACE shuttle finally arrives. I'm strangely comforted that there are other passengers, as humiliated as we are. We are the people too cheap to get a real rental car. None of us make eye contact. We study our crumpled Expedia printouts as though we are important business travelers splitting the atom.
We are shuttled to the far side of town. Though not quite a van down by the river, the rental office is in fact a trailer.
On the upside, we are led to a vehicle that, while splattered with mud, is a giant black Ford Explorer. Added plus: it comes loaded with Sirius 1970's Radio! The minus — The first song that comes on is The Captain and Tenille, "You Better Shop Around!"
Next week: Running on Dr. Pepper, dry shampoo and Special K.