Saturday, May 23, 2015

8: Don’t worry. No problem.

Viale di Villa Pamphili, May 21, 2015
YES, A LITTLE BIT behind in the dispatches. And even in the private journal, if you want to know. Been busy. Yesterday, for example, we arrived in the city of Rome, in Monteverde, a nice residential quarter vaguely southwest (as I believe, but I’ll check that out sometime later) of Trastevere, about ten in the morning, in plenty of time, as I thought, to return the rental car to the Hertz office at the main train station.

The very nice fellow at our apartment counseled me against that attempt. E tutto bloccato in centro città, he said; the center of the city is completely blocked. So I thought I’d return it to another office. The fellow who rented me the car a week ago, in Naples, said I could return it to any Rome office. So let’s do it.

But which office, and where would it be? There must be one in Trastevere, I thought, but looking up the addresses of the various offices on the internet turned up no answers. Many possibilities for clicking into an endless help loop, but no addresses. Phone numbers, but all of them answered by machines, most of them babbling away in melodious lilting Italian impossible for a non-native-speaker to comprehend.

Finally I followed Google Maps to the nearest office, on the Via Pellegrino Matteucci, over in the Ostiense district, near the Ostiense train station, where the improbable Piramide is. I’ll flesh this out later, I suppose, when I’m home, and have little else to do. The Piramide is very interesting; I’d like to tell you about it. But just now we’re driving up the Via Pellegrino Matteucci looking for — ah, there it is — the familiar Hertz yellow, no doubt copyright — no place to park — but there’s a truck double-parked, its four-way flashers going; I’ll just stop behind it, leave the engine running, set my own four-way flasher —

And I dodge through traffic across the street to the Hertz office, to find it locked up, obviously closed. But careful inspection reveals a piece of paper in the window: they’e merely moved a few doors down the street. I run down there: it too is closed, locked tight, no one in evidence, even though it’s a good half hour short of noon, and they’re supposed to be open until 12:30.

But here again is another piece of paper, advising me that I can return the car to a parking garage up the street. I run back to the car, punch the address of the garage into Waze (thank Hermes I’ve noted the address; thank Hermes Waze is always ready for another chore), and off we go, up the street a long way, sharp right, up another street, sharp right over a very unlikely modern viaduct across I don’t know what, sharp right down the Ostiense, ah, there it is, a shabby entrance to a nondescript parking garage, no one in sight, no signs, certainly no familiar Hertz yellow.

Nessuno? I call, Italian for Anybody here? And finally a man answers, walking slowly over toward us. I explain everything to him in my very much broken Italian: the car is due at noon, at the cenrtal office at the train station; the central city is completely blocked; the man in Naples told me I could return it to any Rome Hertz office, here it is, what more must I do.

He looked at me impassively. Do you have a contract? I hand that question to my secretary-consort, who hands me a paper, which I hand him, though I see, my heart sinking, that it is not a contract, merely a printout of an e-mail from the second-party online car-rental I use. This is not a contract, the man points out, in beautiful, clear Italian, though he is certainly not a native Italian, he obviously has a good component of Japanese ancestry. Rome is a cosmopolitan city.

No, I said, but it is what I give you. I look at my secretary. That’s all we have, she says. That’s all we have, I tell him.

He has begun walking around the car in that familiar pace, looking for dents and scratches. It’s perfect, I say, just as we rented it. Yes, he says, No problem. Don’t worry. Was the wheel cover like that? I don’t know, I say; I’m sure it was.

Fine, he says, that’s all, thank you. What, I ask: do’t I have to sign something, or perhaps you should sign something for me? Don’t worry, he says; everything is fine. No problem.

So we walk out of the garage, me carrying a pair of shoes we’d forgotten to unload from the car back at our apartment, and think about what to do next, while at the front of my mind the gears are turning: there was no sign that that was Hertz; I have nothing signed; the paper with the address of the parking garage — was that taped to the inside of the Hertz office window, or the outside? How simple it would be to tape notices like that to windows of closed offices, wait for people to bring cars to you, and then drive to, say, oh, I don’t know, Istanbul, or Moscow, or Brussels, or any other European city, maybe sell the car along the way…

The hell with it. As I’ve already told my other blog, we stopped in at Perilli for lunch, which made everything a whole lot better, and then took a bus to a piazza near our apartment, and walked the rest of the way, and sacked out for the afternoon.

The first half of this month in Italy has run its course; the second half will be quite different. We will no longer be alone, just the two of us; we will be with friends and relatives. Tomorrow we attend the graduation of a granddaughter from the American University in Rome; her parents are here as well. In a few more days we’ll rent another car, if Hertz hasn’t thrown us in jail, and drive up to Piemonte for a festive weekend with many friends and relatives. My Italian will get evern worse for lack of need for it; I’ll be hearing English everywhere.

The Roman episode will be odd, too. We’re almost not in Rome; Monteverde is quite a different quarter from Trastevere, where we’ve stayed before, not to say the historic center on the other side of the river. I feel restless. My son-in-law messages me: he’s getting a haircut: would I like to go along? Well, yes, I need one. I walk up to meet him; then we walk down to Trastevere to a shop he’s been told about — but, predictably, it’s closed.

But I have my own favorite shop, where I’ve twice had very good haircuts, at 44, Piazza del Teatro di Pompeo, near the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination — these few yards of street mean so much to me, from just a few visits but over so many years.

We settle into the shop. The barber looks familiar, He tells me he’s been there thirty years. I first came here for a haircut, I tell him, in 1988; I remember a boy who swept the floor meticulously…

The owner’s son, he said; yes, not completely… well…

That’s the one, I say. And is he…

Oh he’s fine, the barber tells me. The owner is retired; I own the shop now. I was second barber then. And the boy? He’s, well, retired, too, living in a home…

Pavel and I emerge a half hour later, both looking like George Clooney. Well, I look like Clooney’s father, and Pavel looks like a friend of Clooney’s, I tell him. We walk back across the Ponte Sisto, across Trastevere the short way, up the Janiculum to Fran’s apartment. I buy a couple of bottles of wine and a bottle of grappa, and we have dinner in her apartment, three generations of us, us oldtimers who in our twenties would never have dreamed we’d ever be in Rome, our daughter and her husband who grew up in a prosperous, secure world; our granddaughter and her boy friend who are questing their way in a world none of us could have imagined.


louann said...

Lovely - and also very funny!

Curtis Faville said...


Your Hertz story reminded me of my own Hertz nightmare.

Arriving in Carrara in the early afternoon, driving a Hertz SUV which had been a replacement for another one that wouldn't start in the car garage in Milan, we stopped at a four way intersection, from which we expected to turn left towards the quarries we had come to see. Unfortunately, the engine died, and wouldn't start.

Not speaking a word of Italian, we had no way of telling anyone on the street why we weren't moving. Desperately, I walked off down the street, and miraculously (I assumed) found a big car garage. Here, I thought, I can order a tow or someone can help me get the car off the street. A half-hour of futile pidgeon English-French-German-Italian later, I had gotten nowhere with the lady behind the counter, who just became increasingly stubborn and suspicious of my intentions. SHe wouldn't call Triple A, she wouldn't send a mechanic out, she wouldn't call for a tow, she would do nothing for this crazy American!

Meanwhile back at the car, my wife had been joined by the Italian police, who were livid that we had not set up the little red triangle which Italian law apparently requires, but which Hertz had forgotten to include in the boot. We were threatened with jail, and finally a tow truck arrived (not Hertz) which we were able to tell the policeman should be towed to the nearest Hertz facility (in Pisa) where we were next headed. The two truck sped away, but we (and our luggage) had to wait on the street for another hour or so. In due course, a driver arrived and we were given another car.

A month later, we got a credit card report from Hertz Italy, with a $500 charge, for towing fees! I called Hertz in America, and explained the situation. They said nothing could be done, they had nothing to say about such charges.

We never did see the quarries of Carrara, and it cost us about $750.

So much for Hertz.