Car Rental Misfires

July 23, 2009

Today Scott and I were bad at life–tripped up by being here in a place we still don’t know that well.  We woke up, dashed out of the house without breakfast and went to class. Thankfully there was no dog shit this time, but there was a test during the second part of class that we had forgotten about and didn’t study for (don’t worry parents, we don’t get actual grades in Portugues Para Estranjeiros and it was extremely easy, we both thought we did well.)

A few weeks ago we talked about going to Buzios (Rio’s version of the Hamptons) for my birthday, but after compulsively checking the weather for that beach town and a dozen other cities in Brazil, we discovered that it’s supposed to rain everywhere all weekend.  We decided a night or two ago that we should go to Sao Paulo, since it’s a huge, sophisticated city with with so much to offer, even in a downpour (not something that can be said for many of Brazil’s other cities).  Flights here are regulated by the government– it was ridiculously expensive to fly there on such short notice, so we thought we would rent a car and go on a road trip to Sao Paulo, about five and a half hours away, according to Google maps (this country doesn’t have trains).

After class today, we jumped on the bus in Gavea and took it across town, feeling totally confident, to the far edge of Copa, where the car rental places are.  We got to Thrifty (wahoo!) and learned that we didn’t need some weird international driver’s certification to rent a car (even better!), but we did need a passport, which we didn’t have.  It was also about 1pm, and we were supposed to meet a person who was going to come clean our apartment (for $20!) at 2.30pm, way on the other side of town in Leblon.  As we were debating whether to take a cab or the subway/bus combo back home to get a passport to go back to rent a car to drive to Sao Paulo tomorrow, we passed a bike shop.  Tragically, I insisted that we rent bikes, rather than paying for taxis both ways, or spending the time on the bus.  I thought we would zip home along the beach, Scott could grab his passport, bike the eight miles back, return the bike and rent the car and drive home.  I would stay at home with the cleaning man, Joao, until he was done, bike back to Copa, return my wheels and run home in time for a 6pm conference call.

Well, we start biking.  Our bikes were awful, with rusted chains and no gears.  It was totally unpleasant, the sun went away, and it felt as if we were peddling uphill the whole way.  We realize that Scott left his driver’s license as collateral for the bikes, so we have to hope that they’ll give it back to him for returning one bike and let him give them mine until I get back there.  He goes.  I wait for Joao.  He’s late.  And then he arrives and he’s old, and moves slowly and takes a long time to clean.  Scott bikes back to Copa, rents the car, and drives back home, prepared to pick up my bike and turn around.  At first it doesn’t fit.  It’s 4.15pm, and I insist that I can bike back and run or take a taxi back before dark (it’s winter here, so it gets dark at 5.30pm).  He’s (rightly) not into the idea of me running in a bad part of Copa as it turns dark.  He wants to ride the bike while I run.  Without noticing that there are two policeman and another guy standing in our parking area, I throw a legitimate tantrum.  I start crying, jumping up and down, flailing my fists, insisting that I just needed to go ride the bike back.  I just wanted this whole experience to be over for Scott as quickly as possible, as he was already pissed that I added an amazing level of complication by insisting on riding bikes instead of paying a stupid $8 for the cabs each way. The policemen got a show.

We fit the bike in the car.  We both get in, and we start driving to Copacabana.  The car doesn’t have power steering, I’m in tears, Scott’s just spent the last hour in traffic (they call traffic jams engarrafamentos here, isn’t that a fantastic word?) and we’re stuck in traffic again.  By the time we go to return my bike, it’s been four hours and they charge us $25 (cabs already would have been cheaper).  We get stuck going around the one way streets of Copa, without power steering, there are cars everywhere, as it’s getting dark, trying to figure out how to get back the Thrifty, which is literally on the highway which leads into a long tunnel that goes beneath a favela and into Botafogo.  We’ve decided that it’s ridiculous to drive to Sao Paulo, or at least an impossible notion in this tin can car that can’t turn.  We wonder how we forgot how hard our last road trip in Brazil was, last summer when we thought it would be fun to drive from Recife to Pipa at night, along a cliff, where we had no idea where we were going, what was beyond the edge of the line-less road, with trucks, and another crappy little Fiat.

So here were again, doing laps around Copa, trying to get to the Thrifty to give them back their car. Thankfully, they took it back and charged us only for a couple of hours.  Happy to be free of a vehicle that seemed entirely too dangerous we stumbled to the Chinese restaurant, at 6.30pm, well before we’ve eaten dinner any other night here, totally starving (we hadn’t had any food all day) and spent.

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