126. Stuck in the Desert

Patricia asked for the cheapest car available at Acme Car Rental. She needed a car for 48 hours. Because it was the weekend, there was only one car available at the moment—an SUV. Patricia was an environmentalist. SUVs, which are big cars consuming a lot of gasoline, offended her greatly.

But she needed something to get to Baker, a town that was 100 miles from the small airport. So she went to RentMe instead. “I need a car for 48 hours,” she said, “and I don’t want an SUV. I want something cheap.” They told her they had just the vehicle for her, a 1998 Fiat. It was only thirty dollars a day, including insurance and other incidental fees. All she had to do was to pay for her own gasoline. Patricia was very pleased. Thirty dollars a day was a good rate even for a weekday. She signed all the paperwork, and they gave her the keys.

The Fiat was a 4-speed, 4-cylinder, 2-door beauty. The paint, tires, and the interior were like new. It was comfortable, even though the air-conditioner was not the frostiest. She got in and drove north. It was a two-lane road all the way to Baker, with only one town between the airport and Baker. That town was Norris, 40 miles from Baker.

Patricia didn’t make it to Norris. The car refused to run 30 minutes after she had been driving it. Fortunately, her cell phone was able to connect back to the RentMe desk. “My car stopped running, and I’m out here in the middle of nowhere in the hot sun!” she said.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said the clerk. “You did put gas in the car before you left town, didn’t you?”

“No, of course not!” yelled Patricia. “Why would I put gas in the car before I even got out of town?”

“Well, why do you think you got such a good rate—we save money by having the customer gas up instead of us having to put gas in the car.”

“I was in a hurry,” said Patricia.

“Well, sometimes you pay a price for being in a hurry,” said the clerk. “We’ll send a man out with some spare gas for you, if you’d like.”

“Of course I’d like,” said Patricia. “How long will it be?”

The clerk told her it would be within the hour. He didn’t tell her that there would be a $50 service charge for delivering the gas, or that the 3 gallons of fuel would cost her $7 a gallon. She would get that bad news when she returned the car to the airport.

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