Insulting Pirates Everywhere

Posted by jdg | Thursday, August 27, 2009

From across the room, while wrangling children I saw my wife flustered at the rental car counter, arguing with a goateed shaved head. “You don’t understand,” she was saying. “We don’t have a credit card because my husband doesn’t believe in debt, not because we have poor credit.”

“What do you mean he doesn’t believe in debt?”

“Some people don’t believe in God or the Loch Ness monster. My husband doesn’t believe in debt.” We were leaving town for a few days, and with our car on its last legs and smelling like the peaches my kids lost in it last summer, we pricelined a car for the trip. But it seems Alamo has a corporate policy that all Priceline renters need a valid credit card, even though walk-ins may use debit.

I can usually tell within the first few seconds of dealing with a customer-service professional whether they possess the ability or authority to compromise (and whether it’s even worth arguing). But this guy wore a certain air of inscrutability. Maybe it was the custom leather eyepatch that allowed me only one window to his soul, or perhaps I found myself so concerned that my daughter would impolitely ask about "the pirate" that I mistook something in his steel-hardened gaze for kindness.

I tried to negotiate a compromise: my mother-in-law’s credit card number and consent, perhaps, or a sizeable deposit. He just shook his shaved head, and it became clear that the office was short on cars and a policy was in effect to deny the lowest-paying customers a vehicle if possible, even if it meant stranding them at the airport without a car on the first day of their vacation. As we discussed the matter further, he started acting like a real dick.

I have a standard Hail Mary move, a last-ditch effort when such negotiations break down. I grab a pen and a piece of paper and I ask everyone for their full name so that when I write customer relations about the incident, all parties involved will be properly identified. This is a particularly nasty parting shot, and sometimes it works. If not, at least I leave them dreading that future meeting with some humorless regional corporate representative to discuss the incident. It's a real dick move.

In this case, the guy refused to give me his name, and proceeded to cover up his nametag. “I saw your name was Chris,” I said.

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes I did.”

“Fine,” Chris said and uncovered his badge.

“What’s your last name?” I asked him. He refused to tell me. “Let me speak to the manager again,” I said. Even the manager refused to give me the name or even an initial. “How am I supposed to refer to him?” I asked. “Can’t very well call him Chris the Pirate can I?”

The room when silent. All the other disgruntled customers stopped arguing and stared over at me in silence. I'd crossed a line. The corner of the young manager’s face twitched, and his lips compressed and folded together as if to stifle a grin. “That’s not funny,” he managed to spit out.

“I know it’s not funny. I’d prefer to call him by his actual name, but you’re not giving me that option.”

“We don’t have a policy for giving out our employee’s last names,” he said finally. Oh policy, what a cozy refuge. On the piece of paper in front of me, I slowly and legibly wrote. “CHRIS THE PIRATE,” and walked away. We left without a car and out the money kept by Priceline. But at least I had the satisfaction of calling some poor one-eyed wage earner a pirate simply for enforcing corporate policy.

* * * * *

UPDATE 8/31/2009

After wading through all the angry emails about this post, I just want to add that yes, I know I can be a real asshole. And if I do end up sending a letter to Alamo, it will be an apology for acting like one that day.