Expat life Long before my carlessness was resolved a supervisor from the rental firm admitted: "I'd have shot someone by now."
A bump in the road
In any parade of lame excuses, it would surely rank with "wrong kind of rain" and "leaves on the track" from British Rail spokesmen. "We've had a few problems with our cars," said the man at the Abu Dhabi car rental office. "It's the hot weather." True enough, it was indeed hot when last I checked; we are, after all, in Arabia at the height of summer. Yet this chap thought it helped explain why a promised 24-hour emergency breakdown service should turn into a 16-hour wait for any service at all. Cars, it seemed, were dropping like flies.
Eventually, they found one. But on the first, belated attempt to deliver a replacement for my lifeless Honda Civic, the driver had to turn back with faulty AC. An hour later, he arrived with another Civic that has so far been from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah and Dubai without succumbing to the heat of July. Mobile once again, I can acknowledge that hitches occur in the best-run organisations, newspapers no less than car hire firms. But my experience does offer an instructive lesson on the extent to which our daily lives rely on things not going quite so spectacularly wrong.
My first call had been at 6.12pm on Friday after the button on my car key refused to open the door. A flashing red light suggested that the key's battery was working normally. Opening the door manually triggered the alarm, and the only way to stop it was to stick the key into the ignition. As I ploughed through the inch-thick user's manual for instructions on switching the alarm off, the car's electrics gave up the ghost.
There initially seemed hope that response would be swift. Someone, I was assured, would call straight back. No call came. I chased. "No problem, sir, someone will call." As the calls - mostly from me - multiplied, I was told it was proving impossible to find a driver. "You promise a 24-hour breakdown service and cannot find a driver to implement it in the capital of the UAE?" I asked in disbelief.
In the final call of the evening, a young lady vowed that a car would be sent at 8am. It wasn't, and the man just starting duty was unaware of my case. Long before my carlessness was resolved - after countless more calls - a supervisor from the rental firm admitted: "I'd have shot someone by now." No matter how understanding I try to be of others' difficulties at work, I am left with the question none of the people I dealt with could answer. What, leaving aside the emergency services, if the car had conked out in the desert?
The manager has just called with apologies and a pledge to investigate. He also offered token compensation. But to what degree would my faith in his firm be restored by a tankful of free petrol (Dh50), Dh100 off my bill or a two-week upgrade to a car I don't want? @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org