Monday, May 08, 2006

“This is Detroit. Cars get stolen:"

The Virtual Tourist recently mentioned my experience having a rented car stolen. I appreciate his fuzzing the details a bit to protect the anonymous, but I've decided to supply a few details of this rich, multilayered story.

In 1985 I spent a week in Detroit helping to prepare for the most expensive trade show booth in trade show history ($120 million for one booth for a single three-day show, in fact, and I'm not kidding). I had just returned from a day off and expected to meet several business associates I wanted to impress. I dropped off my big rental car at the hotel valet parking, not even stopping to take my suitcase out of the trunk, and hurried into the hotel to meet my associates. They were forming up to go to dinner, so I volunteered to drive four of them. We returned to the valet parking, where my car keys were not to be found in the valet office. I searched the entire car park (several levels, holding some 250 cars) while my associates drifted off without me. The car was gone.

I learned several fascinating things that night. The police wanted a precise description of the car including the Vehicle Id number. In Detroit at that time it was legal to shoot to kill car thief. They did not want to shoot someone over the wrong car.
Second, when you tell any rental car company that your car has been stolen, they want you to give them the keys. They get really, really upset if you don't have the keys; I think rental car companies believe that valet parking is a fairytale.
Third, when you drop your car off to a valet, make sure you get his name. What if he's an impostor and the valet company insists you never gave them your car? (I was lucky; they logged my car in before it was stolen from curbside two minutes later.)
And finally, while the police and the rental company are slowly and painstakingly taking your story, there's no point getting impatient and feeling that you deserve more sympathy. That's when I was told, “Look, this is Detroit! Cars get stolen here.”
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