Life is a Highway

Court and I got on a crack of dawn flight, which as you can guess was not my favorite thing. Business class was all we could get, which was fine. I declined the bloody mary they offered me when we boarded and slept the whole way to Tennessee. I honestly don’t remember whether we flew into Nashville or Memphis or what.

I do remember that at the airport, Court had an argument with the woman working the rental car counter. Like a lot of arguments, it didn’t really make sense. The rental car agent was a rather thin, middle-aged woman with graying roots and her hair back in a bun tied with a bow that matched her floppy uniform tie. She looked at Courtney’s drivers license, then handed it back, and the argument went something like this:

Rental car agent: I’m very sorry, ma’am, but we cannot rent you a car.
Courtney: What? Why? I have a reservation.
Agent: I know that, ma’am, but what our phone reservations system does not take into account is that you are under the age of 25.
Courtney: Um, but the driving age is 16?
Agent: That is not the issue, ma’am. It’s that I can’t rent a car to an underage driver.
Courtney: That’s ridiculous. I’ve driven rental cars before.
Agent: But were you the primary renter?
Courtney: I think I was… but maybe not. Anyway, what are you saying?
Agent: I am saying that I cannot rent you a car.
Courtney: What about him? Could he be the primary renter? He’s older than me.
Agent: He’ll have to make a new reservation.
Courtney: Okayyyy, how do we do that?
Agent: I can do that for him. May I have your license, sir?

I handed over my license, but didn’t mention that I was also not older than 25. Somehow that didn’t matter? She punched a bunch of things into the computer and then handed my license back and I put it away. I could hear a tractor-feed printer begin to chunk away.

Court: Okay, so now that he’s the primary renter, can I be added as a driver?
Agent: Because of your age I would recommend against it.
Court: Why is that?
Agent: You’ll have to pay the underage driver surcharge which is quite sizable.
Court: Aren’t you supposed to sell us things? Isn’t it good when we pay you money?
Agent: I just thought you might appreciate not paying hundreds of dollars extra.
Court: My mother’s dying of cancer in this godforsaken state or I wouldn’t even be here. I don’t give a rat’s ass about a few hundred dollars.
Agent: Well, I just thought you might not want to pay enough to buy a used car merely for the privilege of renting one for a week. Some people!
Me: (piping up suddenly) Don’t spouses get added free?
Agent: Excuse me, sir?
Me: I thought spouses can be added on as drivers for no extra charge.
Agent: Well, that is true…
Me: (with a completely straight face) She’s my wife.
Agent: (blushing) Oh well sir why didn’t you say so in the first place, goodness me. Sign here.

She then put the keys onto the counter. When I went to take them, though, she held onto them for an extra second and said, “Mr. Marks, tell your wife it’s bad luck to lie about the health of a family member just to try to get sympathy. That’ll come back and haunt you.”

“Sympathy? I don’t need your sympathy you officious sow!” I took the keys while Courtney went off on the poor woman. My sister proceeded to give a graphic rundown of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer and the side effects of chemo so graphic that the woman eventually ran away. Like, literally ran into the back office and left us standing there.

Court huffed. “All right. Let’s go.”

“She didn’t tell us which car was ours.”

“The license plate number is on the key. Come on.” She took the keys from me and led the way toward the rental parking lot. “Can you believe that? Calling me a liar?”

“Well, I lied about us being husband and wife.”

“And she didn’t even think to challenge you! And what the fuck, you’re not old enough to rent a car, either, but she didn’t bother to mention that?”

“Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that. None of it makes sense.”

“I thought male drivers under 25 have the worst driving records, too, right? Yet she just handed it over to you.”

I looked at the carbon-copy paperwork the woman had given me as we walked. “I think that’s because the risky driver surcharge was already built into my price, but who knows.” I couldn’t really read what it said. “I really have no idea what just happened.”

“A weird combination of sexism and ageism and what-the-fuck,” Court concluded. “You know that only worked because you’re wearing a wedding ring and you gave her that good ol’ boy drawl.”

“What drawl?”

“Oh come on, you know. The one you obviously learned from Remo.”

“Court, no one looks at me and thinks ‘good ol’ boy.'” Although with my hair in a ponytail the fresh red streaks were less obvious than they could be.

We exited the airport and found the spot where the shuttle to the rental car lot would pick up. She set down her backpack. “Let’s just say, out of the two of us, right now, you present the more respectable front to petty authority figures.”

“Does that mean I should drive?”

“No. If we get pulled over only I can pull off the spontaneous-burst-into-tears act. I’ve never gotten a ticket when I’ve done that.” She pulled a granola bar out of her bag and offered it to me.

I declined. “Yeah, if I tried that, I’d probably just get myself dragged out of the car and bashed. How about we just drive the speed limit and try not to get pulled over in the first place?

“Suit yourself.” She tore the packet open with her teeth. “Speed traps probably can’t be avoided, though.” She started to giggle. “Now that it’s over the fight at the counter was kind of funny.”

“Was it?”

“Infuriating, but don’t you think the idea of us being a couple is ridiculous? We’re so obviously related. We look a lot alike.”

“Maybe she figures married couples start to look like each other…?”

“And maybe she knew full well you were lying, too, but she wasn’t going to put up a fight against a guy.” She chewed the granola bar thoughtfully. “God save me from ever having to do a job like that. I’d probably torture people for no reason.”

“Like she did to you?”

“Yeah, although I think I’d do it the other way around. Screw over the egotistical men and give the discounts and stuff to the young women. Not that I’m saying you’re egotistical.” Court crumpled the wrapper and stuffed it into her pocket as the shuttle bus pulled up. “Still. Imagine being so bored and powerless that fucking with people was your only joy in life.”

Maybe it’s just that Claire was on my mind, but didn’t that describe her pretty well?

(Here’s a song we probably heard on that drive into rural Tennessee in 1992. -d)

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