Good news first! I opened the boxes and saw my gorgeous books last night. I didn’t think I would, but I cried. I admit it. I did. I stood there looking at it for a while first, like they were a weird creatures I had never seen, just sort of taking it all in. Then, thinking of the previously mentioned little girl with the blue plastic typewriter… well, it proved to be a bit much, so I got a little teary/giggly. It was a very surreal feeling, to say the least, a pure, clean moment without a shred of the whispers of self-doubt that all too often underscore our lives.

Then, it got a little weird.

Follow me, here, this is a long, weird story. I decided to spare my car the mileage and rented a car to zip across the country and back. So, I picked up my rental car from Budget, packed up and headed out. I barely get going and noticed the rental car was making a loud clunking noise. Then, it turned into a clunking-wiggling issue. Then, a clunking-wiggling-loud engine noise. Then, blammo! A minute later, not even out of the city limits, the noise gets super-loud, the tire blows, smoke and sparks are everywhere, and I am skidding across the highway like I was driving on ice. I got control of the car a minute later, sort of as I skidded up an exit ramp and I sit there in shock for a second in the accident investigation site. Holy shit.

Then, I realize a man, a very cracked-out man, was running at my car. Um, with his junk waving at me. He approaches the car and runs away immediately. Guess I scared him off. Huh. Nope, nope, he’s back. He’s hovering. Awesome. So, I call Budget car rental’s 800 number, as at this point, I know I am in deep shit. The 800 number operator tells me that my situation is “unfortunate” but that I must call the roadside assistance number, which I do.

And, I am told that I cannot be helped! And, my cell phone battery is dying. And, without a cigy butt lighter in a rental car, I have no way to charge it.

Let me back up. When I rented this car, I checked specifically about roadside assistance and was assured that I “of course” had Budget’s full support. Fast forward to this minute, on the phone, and I am being told that “licensee locations” do not offer roadside assistance after business hours. Oh shit. So, I keep my cool and ask what my options are. I am told I can:

(a) pay a Budget-sanctioned roadside assistance vehicle operator in cash only to come bail my ass out of this mess and “request partial or full reimbursement” by the Budget licensee the following business day.

(b) track down the owner of the licensee location, even though it is way after hours. (Sure thing.)

(c) put the doughnut tire on the car and hope for the best, assuring me that I can go “50,000 miles at 55mph” on it. (I don’t fucking think so.)

So, I ask how much it would cost me to pay a Budget-sanctioned roadside assistance vehicle operator to help. “Several hundred”, I am told. Ah, I have forty-six bucks in my pocket. Outstanding! So, I ask what my other options are. I am told that I don’t have any further options. Super!

At this point, I see the wang-wagger again, and inform the 800 number operator of this information, trying to impress upon her the fact that I am in a really shitty neighborhood. She tells me to call the cops. And, getting nowhere fast with her, I did just that. They don’t come.

A Department of Transportation truck arrives about a bit later. Do I need help? You can bet your ass I do. I give him the option of changing the tire while I look out for the wang-wagger, or watching out for the wang-wagger while I change it. He decides to change the tire but not before his backup guy arrives. As, apparently, when in this neighborhood, they only work in pairs so one dude can be on the lookout for ne’er-do-wells while the other dude actually accomplishes the roadside assistance. Oh, but the tire is the least of my problems.

When the thing blew and skidded, it detached a portion of the bumper, tore off the material making up the wheel-well, wrapping that and part of the half-detached bumper around the wheel, and did who-knows-what to the underside. I get back on the phone with Budget to offer them a friendly little update, and turn to see the Department of Transportation guy under the car with a sledgehammer, beating the shit out of the wheel, so he can loosen the shredded tire and turn my wheel from horizontal to vertical enough to drive on. Fuck. He does it and puts the doughnut on. Meanwhile, Budget tells me that if I move the car at all without a law enforcement officer’s written report or abandon the car for any period of time, I “could” be liable for all damages.

Say what?

So, I go to call the cops again. But, just as I go to call them again, a sedan pulls up behind me with a state trooper behind. Oh happy day, I think to myself! After several minutes, the Department of Transportation dudes have gone on their way, having laughed their asses off about (a) how shitty Budget is to their customers time and time again and (b) their suggestion of driving 50,000 miles on a fucking doughnut. So, the woman the state trooper has pulled over is not very happy. In fact, she is shouting and making a but fucking animated drama scene. He puts her back into her car, and drives over to me, about fifteen feet away. He gestures to the drama queen and tells me that he’ll be with me shortly. Okay, things are looking up. I think. As he is getting back into his car, she is running at him and demanding to see her husband, as only he takes care of her business. Good grief.

Some time later, her hubby arrives on the scene to bring her proof of insurance, yell at her for forgetting it, to yell at her for getting pulled over in the first place and to yell at her for DWI. So, they’re fighting and the state trooper is doing his best to stay the hell away from them, while also trying to calm them the fuck down. Okay, maybe I spoke too soon about the night looking up.

Finally, they fighting ends, somehow, by a lot of laughing and joking, and the state trooper comes to me. He gets my info and my account and tells me to sit tight and he’ll write a report. And, look, it’s the Department of Transportation guy again, coming back to “hang out”. Before it’s all said and done, Department of Transportation guy slips me his number and ramble for a few minutes in his southsider way about finding a nice girl and buying a house. Get the fuck out! Hello, not the time for wooing, jackhole! Um, is now the best time to be hitting on someone? I mean, really? Then, I find out from the state trooper that while city cops get the tricked out cars, state troopers are issued a car, but they’re lemons. In fact, he told me all about how state troopers have to buy their own dividers to install behind the seats to keep the criminals from beating the shit out of them. Huh. Far out. He did have a really awesome printer, though, that looked like a 3-hole punch, but he laughed and demonstrated that while it is printing, his radio goes dead. Man, I feel kinda bad for the state troopers now. He also told me that Budget and Hertz seem to always strand their customers like this while Avis and Enterprise car rentals have impressed him again and again with their customer service in emergencies. (Somewhere in here, my publisher calls me, wanting to talk about the books I have only seen hours before. I don’t take the call, but attempt to call him back later, while the officer is calling in the accident report. I leave him a very tired, very punchy, very I’m-going-home-I’ll-try-this-again-tomorrow sort of message. Poor man, I probably scared the shit out of him. I’d think it was more than a little bit weird to get a serious yet let’s-laugh-at-my-luck message so late at night, too.)

Anyway, during one of the visits, the Department of Transportation guy, and another Department of Transportation guy declare the car drivable enough to get home and back to Budget in the morning, but that’s it. So, with an accident report, a dying cell battery, and very sleepy eyes (I had been there for a few hours at this point), I embark home.

Granted, I wasn’t out of Chicago, just on the southside. The most desolate, crime-ridden area (I looked it up later) of the southside. Yay for me. And, with a car dragging a bumper behind and balancing on a damn doughnut, I’m not about to hit the highway again. At some point, a different cop is called, who somehow knew or was related to the DOT guys, and escorts me out of the neighborhood. So, I take streets back. At a red light, an in-progress brawl escalated when a different man than before jumped in front of my car and grabbed his crotch and started wagging it at me. Then, a fight broke out on the next block, which involved a bottle bring broken to create a makeshift weapon. I ran that red light with the cop’s help, which felt weird. He got me through to the agreed-upon street, then bailed, leaving me miles to go before home, but still out of the worst of the mess. Then, two cars, each filled with several young men, pull up on either side of my very fucked-up car, and try to run me off the road, into a median, into a concrete overpass, all while laughing. I wasn’t freaking out about this, per se, I was just not having any of it. Oh, did I mention that my cell battery was fucking dead at this point? Yeah, it was the awesomest night ever. Ever.

So, I lose them, or they lose me. Whichever. Anyway, I drive on. It is about 12:30 in the morning at this point and I am exhausted beyond belief. I pull up to a red light, since they’d been so lucky for me thus far, and a car pulls up behind me and follows me to the next red light, at which point, a dude gets out of the passenger side of the car and starts kicking the back of my car. Dude! It’s fucked up enough! Let it go!

Anyway, after Googling for another hour once back into safety, I learned that, as I said before, I was indeed in the most crime-ridden area of Chicago, Budget has plenty of customer service issues, that the Better Business Bureau is a hollow threat and that if you want to get anyplace, threaten people with the Consumer Affairs Department of the Attorney General’s Office. So, I sleep. For like, two hours, before putt-putt-on-a-doughnut-ing back to the Budget office. The poor manager, who rented me the vehicle the day before, knew he was fucked, and was immediately very kind and apologetic. He took the keys, offered me another car (which, hello, I declined), frowned, and sent me on my way. Somwhere in there he called the owner of that franchise to confirm that he was indeed not giving out accurate info about their roadside assistance policy, and then his daughter, who was at that moment, road-tripping in one of Budget’s cars.

Things learned:

1. Enterprise and Avis amaze both Department of Transportation employees and state troopers with emergency customer service.
2. Budget is a little bit shady.
3. I do okay when the shit hits the fan.
4. I will probably be a little sore after skidding across a highway.
5. I am a magnet for crack-wang.
6. I value my safety.
7. Many people who care about me also value my safety.
8. Budget does not value my safety.
9. The manager of the Budget “licensee location” knows he is working for the man who doesn’t value my safety, even if he himself does.
10. I can admit defeat when I need to… My grandparents are going to have to celebrate sans one member of the family. I’m staying put.

That said, Good Shabbes, if that’s your thing. I’m going to bed. Yawn.