Thursday, January 9, 2014

Practical Wisdom, milord?

Their name is Sixt. German origins. Grown to a car-rental powerhouse! Modern and young appeal. Low prices. N°1 Herz national colours Yellow and Black, with a taste of White. Couldn't go wrong, could it? 

My youngest offspring (long live all three of them) had a car break-down yesterday. The car, a 1997 SAAB, simply collapsed and went into coma. BLR. Eventually the garage mended it earlier today, but, like one jokingly mentions colloquially here, they also said the car was 'dead beyond its funeral' (don't ask me what it literally means, the way I understand it, it's a matter of time when it's gonna fall in pieces and never recover again...). So, son and dad decided to buy a replacement car for the former, right away, and in the meantime use a rent-a-car go-between. Sixt came on top of the list, goes without saying. Rest, much too expensive. And Sixt was a German... you know, Deutsche Gr├╝ndlichkeit and stuff! I'd trust them with my life, wouldn't I? Little I knew then...

Son arrives at the Sixt office in Ghent. Lowest possible rate stands at 15€ a day. I advised him earlier to mention that he wanted the car for at least a month. You'd expect, a month is 30 days, so 30 times 15€ makes 450€ right? Wrong! Not in the Sixt logic. 30 days is more than 25 days, they told him. So for anything up to 25 days would be 15€ a day, for more than that it's 20€... 600€ for the month! Say what? That is to say, I rent a car for a couple days and it cost me 15€ a day, I rent it for 30 days and hope (in my dreams) for a 'volume discount' (maybe those Sixt bosses never heard that before) and they'd now wanna sell it for 33.333% more? From day one? Pinch me! I gotta be dreamin'! Sixt folks, feel free to comment hereunder! I challenge you!!!

Wait, there's more. Not only they asked 600€ for the period, but also we had to add an additional guarantee payment of 50%  (thus 900€ in total) in case there's a problem... Here, I got real mad! They asked an equivalent 50% on top to cover potential accident hazards, damage, theft... Wait a sec! WTF?! Hadn't those geniuses ever heard about insurance coverage for car rentals?!!! In any transaction of the hundreds I done in two continents and more than two dozen countries the last 30 years (literally) I ALWAYS had to pay insurance fees for damages, theft and passengers (incl. myself), and I never, I repeat NEVER (!!!) EVER had to add 33% on top... That's what insurance is for, right? Yeah, you typically pay a guarantee when you rent a house for possible coverage if you 'miss' rental payments in the future, but not for renting a fokkin' SMART! Imagine it were a Rolls! Jezus, Maria, Joseph! WTF?!? 

So, in any reasonable rent-a-car company, I'd imagine people would be happy to give you a bonus for renting something for so long. Not Sixt. Sixt will even penalise you for being so generous and for sparing them the admin burden of having to re-rent the same car 20 times to different customers during the same period, and clean it every time it comes back, and fill it with petrol, and even bearing some dead time (staying idle between rentals). Ok, some hotels have a similar practice to avoid guests sneaking out with half the minibar contents unpaid, but I never saw a rent-a-car company do that before! 

So, the kid calls me with the story, telling me his card limit was no good to cover that much,  and so, I decided to go back with him and use my credit card instead. Young adults can't afford the luxury of large card limits, so if he paid 900€ by himself the card wouldn't be much use to him for the rest of the month. I had to help. 

I go find him and we drive to Sixt next. Before that, listen to this, we 'had to do' a web reservation. Ah, yes, forgot to mention that you just can't drop-in and rent-a-car on the spot at Sixt... you need to reserve the car online before that!!! So, if you are some Internet illiterate, tough luck (shit would be more appropriate here, I suppose). 

This time, with our brand new online reservation, all expenses included, we got a total cost of 230€; We only picked 15 days this time, and if he had to get longer he'd do it after the initial fortnight. This time over I'd use my own Mastercard instead. 

Picture this... Sixt lady employee sitting behind the desk, us two in front, standing:

-Oh, she sez, I'll have to register your son as an additional driver. That would be about another 40€ for the rental period! (that'd be an 80€ equivalent for a month!!!)

-But I'm not gonna drive the car at all! I protested. He's gonna be the only driver!
-Yes, she sez, but since you are the one paying, and the contract has to be on your name, you'll have to be the main driver'!
-I am not gonna be that, it's insane! I screamed. Don't you understand?  I'm just helping the kid because of his credit card limit! Is that so difficult to grasp?
- No, it's not, but that's the rule!
- (Holy f*ck, I'm thinking, that woman is brain-dead!) Well, OK, I say, I'll walk outside to a cash dispenser around the corner and bring you the cash, or better said, I'll give him the cash and you will have to rent it to him directly, OK? I won't even exist on the transaction!
- I am sorry, Sir, she sez, but I am afraid this is not possible! We can't accept cash payments. We only accept credit cards! 
-You must me (f*cking - this I thought, I didn't say) kiddin' me! So, if I want to rent a car for say two days (30 euros and change), and I don't know how to reserve this online, and have no Visa I am out of luck with Sixt?!?! For just 30 euros! Have mercy on me!
-I am afraid so... Sorry! 
-We are outta here, I said and pulled a flabbergasted offspring with me away from that madhouse! 

One thing I could not blame them for is that they weren't polite enough! Not true! They were one and all friendliness! Sure thing! They stayed calm while I was up the walls, boiling under my Greek temperament and all! I had to drive 60 km to listen to this shit? But, they had to follow their rules. Some rules that probably a double digit IQ big shot at their Sixt HQ back in Germany had to put together, most likely someone who never had to rent a car himself. What can I say?

But I been thinking... in what kind of 'practical wisdom'-less society and big brother constructs shall our young generations have to live in the future? Already seen scores of desperate 3rd age passengers crawling along in Europe's airports, frightened to death, struggling at the robot check-in counters that airliners decided to replace their check-in desk staff with. Did you ever happen to watch BBC comedy series  'Little Britain'? Have you watched the episode with "Computer sez no!?" Well do that. This ain't too different than what I experienced today.

Why do companies work like this nowadays? Is it just because Sixt happens to be German and German rules stand usually above common logic and practical wisdom? Or, is it that 'German' has got nothing to do with that at all? And this insanity epidemic is simply universal?

Logic disappears when people become automata and follow hierarchy rules imposed from above unconditionally. Billie Joy will prove right after all. Even his Unabomber might eventually be proven correct too. I have personally served the IT industry for 30 years, and during my time, the companies I worked for have dimensionally improved system development for their customers, who got deeply automated and replaced their human workers with iron, plastic and silicon, and the braincells of their left-over staff with 'do as I say' neurons! Well, each time as a customer or user, I come across a Sixt look-alike, I sincerely feel deeply ashamed for doing my bit in planning and building this insanity. More and more, every day, in the Sixt's of this world I can thoroughly see the reasons why Billie Joy quit IT for good. And that he did, after having been one of the foremost and most admired pioneers in the history of IT as a father of Unix and a founding architect of Open Source.

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