The Invisible Hand at Work
A trip report about three good things, one of which might annoy people who already think I’m “privileged.”
I’m telling this story partly because I like telling stories about my life but also partly because I’ve noticed that many people complain about bad service from for-profit businesses but don’t much mention the way many of those businesses go the extra mile (pun intended but you won’t get the pun until you read this post.)
On Thursday morning, I interrupted my time at my cottage in Minaki to drive to Winnipeg. Then I flew to Montreal, rented a car in Montreal, and drove almost 4 hours (due to a wrong turn and a 20-minute wait at the U.S. border) to Lebanon, NH. My purpose: to attend a memorial service in Newport, NH for my dear friend (and fellow Canuck and fellow UCLA econ Ph.D. Harry Watson.)
The service was very nice and on Saturday I got up early, drove to Montreal, flew to Winnipeg, did some shopping errands in Winnipeg, and drove to Minaki. In all, I did over 14 hours of driving in 3 days, almost all of it in 2 days.
At the start, though, I had an upset. After renting my car from Enterprise at the Montreal airport, I was in Montreal’s rush hour and, a few miles in, noticed that the gas tank was less than half full. I was pissed off, and there was no way I was going to lose time by turning back to the airport. I did take a picture of the fuel gauge with the total mileage on the car showing. I resolved to tell them when I got back to Enterprise on Saturday but was not confident that the people at Enterprise would believe me. I calculated that, given upstate New York gas prices, I would be out about US$30. I had to keep telling myself that $30 was not a big deal and was not worth fretting over. I sometimes have trouble with that, and I think it comes partly from having so little money for about my first 25 years of life. I stopped at a gas station just south of the border and, sure enough, spent a little over $35, making my $30 estimate about right.
By the way, because I took a wrong turn that lengthened my trip, I saw Lake Champlain for my first time. What a gorgeous lake! I crossed a bridge over the northern part of the lake and, looking to my left, saw a beautiful old stone fort that is almost 200 years old. It’s Fort Montgomery, pictured above.
On the way back, I filled the tank just south of the border, to save money on gas. That meant that I would use about 1.5 to 2 gallons before getting to the airport and was prepared to tell the Enterprise people that but that they deserved it because my tank had started out less than half full.
When I got to Enterprise, I immediately told the guy, whom I recognized as the guy at the Enterprise counter who had set me up with the car, about the half-full tank. I was prepared for an argument. What I wasn’t prepared for was for him to take my word for it. And I think he didn’t have to. He showed me on his cell phone the exact amount of gas that was in the car when I rented it and the exact amount when I returned it. So I told him my calculations that led me to believe that I was out US$30. I then went to translate that to Canadian dollars but purposefully went low–to $37–because of the gas I had used up after the last fill. Then he said, “Let’s round up to $40.” I high-fived him and he told me I would get something in my email asking me to evaluate him. I said I would praise him, but I’m still waiting for the email.
The night before, I had received an email from Air Canada telling me that because of a different airplane it was using, I was in 34F. That was unacceptable to me because I had paid extra for more leg room near the front. So after printing out my boarding pass, I went to a special line at Air Canada and explained the situation. The woman behind the counter told me that they had shifted me because it was a different airplane. I told her that I had paid extra and I wanted a better seat. “I can give you 16A, which is an exit row,” she said. “Done,” I said, happy with the conclusion. I really like it when people work with me to achieve something that’s in both of our interests.
The final thing was not from a for-profit company but from the people who can choose whether you get in the quick line to get through the gate-keeper or the long line. I noticed that the long line was really long. So I went to the two guys who were guarding access to the short line. I told them that I had Clear, and I was wondering if that was good enough to get me in the short line. I’m not sure if they knew what Clear was but the two young guys looked at each other and said, “Go ahead.”
All in all, an excellent trip.
Update: I originally wrote this about Avis, but I realized that this was Enterprise. I had reserved with Avis but when I got there I was told it would be a 30 to 45 minute wait. So I went next door to Enterprise and got a car within 10 minutes.