I rented a humongous car on Sunday morning for the multi-generational family sojourn to and from Rhinebeck for a family barbeque. I am a regular at the rental car place and (as long as no one is waiting) I kibbitz with those behind the counter while I wait for my car. It is a nearby location of a national rental chain with huge corporate profits. Still, they’ve been in the neighborhood for decades and that’s important.
When I arrived I asked for a portable GPS (remember the trip to Philadelphia? see prior blog entry), since I forgot to request it when reserving the car. The car that was scheduled for me had to be driven from another location. 20 minute delay. No GPS. I built in extra time so I was ok with it and since no one was around, the people behind the counter and I, well, kibbitzed about this and that.
The guy in charge of the car intake and outflow (how else would it be described) radioed that the exact same model with GPS had just been returned!! Awesome. Except there was 1/4 of a tank of gas and since the car itself was the size of a military ops vehicle, I would need to refill shortly after getting on the road.
Noooooo problem. I know that someone would have to go to the bathroom within 5 minutes of clearing Manhattan. This is my family after all.
When I got in the car, there was a full tank of gas. Hmmm. I must have heard wrong. I picked up the brood and off we went.
This morning, I had to return the car. If you live on the Upper West Side of New York City, you know it is a pain to get gas. The stations are shoe-horned into crevices along streets leading to major highways and bridges, so getting gas can be life-ending experience. I look at the fuel gauge. A little more than 1/4 filled. I remember that I was told that the tank was only 1/4 filled. I look at the print-out from the rental place. Yep, it says 1/4 filled.
I am tired. I am late for work. I am late to return the car. I was planning to write the premium check for my life insurance later this morning when I got to the office. No one will know if I return the car as-is. In fact, according to the company’s records, it is a gallon or two ahead. And, don’t I pay enough already to rent a car in Manhattan?
No one will know. No one. Actually, someone will know (yoo hoo!!). I will know. I who try to teach my child to do the right thing not because you will get rewarded if you do (or get punished if you don’t) but because it is the right thing to do.
I will know. My parents used to say, “if doing the right thing were easy, everyone would do it.” Yeah, but I can navigate the mania of city driving and I can afford the late charge, the cost of a tank of gas and being late for work.
So, I go to the scary gas station where you have to back out onto a two way street just yards away from that access and exit ramps of the West Side Highway and do a high speed, ultra-alpha-macho U-turn. Did I mention the school down the street? Luckily, it is a really long block and there is nothing residential until the corner. And, anyway, I am always early on my premium payments so if something happened, my family would be ok financially.
I can’t help but think [for those of you who think I am an easy chair liberal who often contemplates my navel, wait for it . . . wait for it . . . and a one and a two and a . . . ]: If we were struggling financially, would I look at it as a gift and stay quiet? (Think Paul Muni in, “I am a Fugitive From the Chain Gang” www.imdb.com/title/tt0023042/.)
Maybe doing the right thing depends on what lies in the balance.