You fumble through pockets, bags and check your surroundings and suddenly realize the horror: your brand-new cell phone has vanished.
That happened on a recent trip to Boston. We returned our rental car at Logan Airport, and if you’ve ever flown in and out of there, you know what a challenge it is. The car rental center has 12 car rental agencies and is reached by shuttle bus that goes back and forth among four terminals.
So there I was at our gate, 50 minutes until boarding and my new cell phone was gone. There was only one solution: leave my bags with my husband, take the shuttle back to the rental car garage and hope to find the phone and return before our flight left.
After a six-minute shuttle ride, I rushed to the lower level of the Rental Car Center—a huge parking garage—to find myself standing among acres of rental cars. I hurried over to the Budget area, but nothing looked familiar until I spotted the attendant who’d checked us in less than an hour before.
She shrugged when I told her my dilemma. “Ask the man in the Avis shirt,” she said.
Avis? He hadn’t been involved. Panicked, I stepped up several rows to the man wearing a bright red shirt. He was busy haggling with a family who spoke only Portuguese. This was going to take a while. My heart raced. I glanced at my watch.
After a minute or two, I told Avis Man my predicament. I described the car, showed him my receipt and realized how many of these cars look alike. It was dark blue, almost black. A four-door Camry. Within a couple of minutes, I saw the familiar Massachusetts license plate on a dark blue sedan. I opened the passenger door, scrambled into the front seat and checked the console. Nothing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Avis was checking the back seat. I knew that was a waste of time because the last place I’d seen my phone was in the front console. In the dim light of a parking garage and the black interior of the rental, finding anything is tough.
“I found it!” he said.
I couldn’t believe it. My phone had somehow slid its way off the front console to the back floor. I thanked Mr. Avis profusely and rushed back to the shuttle that took me to Terminal C and TSA security. I made it back to the gate with 12 minutes to spare.
The episode reminded me of another time, in 1995. My husband, our 9-year-old son and I spent a week in Europe. We were returning a Hertz rental car at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Somehow my wallet was dropped from my handbag. Again, we were in a dimly lit parking garage and dealing with the black interior of a Dodge Magnum station wagon.
Our flight was ready to board when I realized that my wallet was missing along with my credit cards, driver’s license and cash.
The flight to Boston (yes, Logan Airport again) was the longest six hours of the entire trip. In that time, the car would have been cleaned and possibly rented to another customer who could have driven off to parts unknown.
In Boston, I reported the loss to Hertz and canceled my credit cards. At home, I used my passport to get a new driver’s license and held my breath that no one had used my cards for a joy ride through Europe.
About two weeks later, a package arrived in the mail from the Hertz office in Frankfurt. It contained my wallet with all of my credit cards, every bit of my cash and my driver’s license.
Also in the package was a British passport with a letter enclosed.
“Dear Mrs. Wilson,” it read. They had found “your husband’s passport.” Incredibly, the same station wagon had been rented to a Scottish Mr. Wilson and his 9-year-old son who were traveling on the same passport. They were from Ayrshire, Scotland, the same county where my husband had relatives.
I don’t know how these British subjects were able to return home without their passport, but I remember writing a letter of explanation and shipping it to the British Consulate in Atlanta.
Maybe that passport was reunited with its owners; I have no idea.
Over the years I’ve pondered the odds of the same car in Frankfurt being rented to two families named Wilson who were each traveling with a young son that July. And I’ve pondered the likelihood that both families would lose something important in that car.
I think the odds are pretty slim.