I was determined this vacation would be different. Here in Oceanside, I would find my very own slice of paradise.
My typical Modus operandi as a tourist is to see and do as much as possible between breaths of exhilaration and exhaustion. But what unfolded next was unthinkable. I was in Oceanside less than 24 hours into a seven-day vacation when my rental vehicle was towed on 300 Pier View Way.
The locals all know that every Thursday, this street is cleared for a weekly Sunset Farmer’s Market. Tourists find out the hard way. Yes, there were signs, actually four of them — but in that precise moment, my brain processed only one — 2 HOUR PARKING 9 a.m.to 6 p.m. EXCEPT SUNDAYS AND HOLIDAYS.
In my final hour before total chaos erupted, I had walked the Pier, and admired the sheer beauty of the surroundings. Then, total panic set in as I approached the parking space and realized the car had vanished like a ghost in the wind.
I felt the adrenalin rush through my entire body and my heart accelerate in uneven rhythms. Within seconds, two pieces of paper handed to me by a public works official would be my road map to a foreign kingdom — that of towing yards, taxi drivers, the Oceanside Police Department, unrecognizable streets, signs, parking lots and neighborhoods — and now I only had my two feet to get around.
I was a solo traveler with no resources. Over the next seven days, I spiraled rapidly downward into fear, uncertainty, helplessness, uncontrollable sobbing, and despair.
As a perfectly shiny new 2014 rental car sat idle in a tow lot on my dime, I waited for Avis staff, all mostly unfamiliar with this situation, to provide the required paperwork for release of the car. It was a procedural matter that almost cost me my sanity. Like the Wizard of Oz, the Police Department Records office will grant your wish of releasing a rental car under one condition, in the form of a magical notarized letter from the car’s legal owner, in this case Avis Budget Group.
This truly becomes a miraculous feat over a holiday weekend. Offices are closed while an Avis customer pounds the pavement hoping someone will notice her cries for help.
Now fast forward seven days through the insomnia, blistered and burning feet, throbbing head, 34 phone calls to Avis, trips back to the towing yard to plead, a visit back to Avis at San Diego airport to check the status of that elusive, golden notarized letter … with all of the due diligence on my part, perhaps everything will work out.
But that was wishful thinking. Back at Avis, I was presented with a $1,293.15 bill — the majority of it for impound fees. There was no sympathy, no apology, no compassion, no shame for not coming through for me in my hour of need.
I was deeply wounded in pride and spirit. I had a flash of insight —this is the American way! A rental car held ransom in a tow lot for seven days, a customer powerless while being held financially liable, 34 calls for help (the majority leading to dead ends). I left town with an indescribable sense of defeat, having never found the peace I had come here for, with the realization that if I had sat back and taken no action all at, I’d be facingexact outcome.
After all, nothing had changed. The car still sat in the impound lot one week later, as my plane lifted its wheels to ascend into the sky.
The moral of the story … the next time you see a tourist in Oceanside — smile and give them a big hug! They may really need it!
Paula J. Margus is a Virginia resident.
Update: the author of this editoral is currently in negotiations with Avis Budget Group for a partial credit of towing and impound fees. She has also contacted city officials in hopes of changing a procedure that greatly benefits the towing companies and results in logistical nightmares for car rental companies and their customers.