My 80-year-old mother recently had her 12-year-old Honda Accord stolen during the night from the street outside her midtown condo. Her bedroom is at the front of her place, and she thinks she may have heard the car beep a couple of times as it was, according to the police, expertly lifted. The car's time had simply come: According to every survey, year after year, '90s Accords are the most popular stolen car in America. My mom's 2000 champagne-colored model—with 42,000 miles on it, leather upholstery and a perfect maintenance record—was just slightly younger and nicer than most.
She called the next day to tell me. She sounded a little shaky, but had already filed reports with the police and her insurance company. Her immediate concern was that my sister-in-law had just flown in from Boston. Mom was fixing Sunday dinner, and now she had no way to go get ice cream for dessert. The ice cream, of course, I could take care of.
The next morning I told my boss I'd be late, picked up Mom and set out in search of a rental car. Hertz on Speedway had nothing available so I called the Enterprise on 22nd Street near Craycroft. The phone rang and rang and rang, but I waited, and eventually someone who said she was Nicole picked up, apologized and asked me whether I could hold. I could. She was soon back, with apologies. She got my information and said a midsized car would be ready between 10 and 10:30 a.m. I made more coffee and got a little work done remotely before we left at 10:15 a.m. to go down to the shop.
There were eight or 10 people sitting around the edge of the drab room waiting. A phone was ringing, and a young, clean-cut guy in a crisply ironed shirt and new tie stood beside the desk, looking self-conscious and not answering it. No one else was in the business side of the business when we came in. It did not look good.
Let me say right off that nothing about this scene was as it initially appeared.
A tall, pink-shirted, grinning flurry of purposeful activity who turned out to be Nicole was outside one door, getting a customer into a car. As soon as she was inside she answered the still-ringing phone, got all my mother's particulars and made sure we had chairs. It became evident that it was the young guy's first morning on the job—he hadn't been allowed to pick up.
We all watched as Nicole answered the phone while typing and texting, rounded up cars at other shops, got customers rides, rushed out to triage car washing, all the while explaining to the recruit—and us—what was going on. Soon, several equally young, chipper reinforcements showed up from somewhere to help deal with what was apparently a fairly typical Monday-morning rush. A flying squad whipped in with four Jettas from Tanque Verde and Kolb—Nicole had told us they were on their way. She was finally able to locate a van across town for a middle-aged guy who'd been waiting for an hour. The van guy was driven to his vehicle by a charming young man who, upon leaving, apologized to the whole room for our wait.
Even though the first hours of a busy week were ticking by, I was having a pretty good time, which is something I never thought I'd say about renting a car. So, I think, was everyone else. No one got up to ask when his or her vehicle would be ready. We could see for ourselves how hard everyone—especially smiling, joking, fast-moving Nicole—was working to get us on our way.
And the key to all of it? Transparency. You hear that word used all the time these days, usually as a sophisticated obfuscation. In that little cinder-block shop surrounded by asphalt and chain link, you understood its power. We could see for ourselves exactly what the deal was, and what it meant to us. And we were fine.
TPD called that night to say they'd found the Accord in a motel parking lot on Craycroft. Then they found its plates on yet another car, and fingerprints on the plates. Truly, wonders never cease.