Sunday, June 28, 2009

Seattle trip - and how Car Rental is the biggest scam ever!

Once again I have ventured up to Seattle for my annual summer vacation, and once again I'm staying 11 days to visit friends and family. This time there's more family to visit, as My sister had her little baby, and I finally got to meet Jonah!

I arrived in Seattle on Friday, after Diana was nice enough to drop me off at the airport. She also gave me something she'd made to give to Jonah - a stuffed Octopus and a matching baby blanket. Diana has become very crafty. When I got to the airport, I rented a car and then headed to Redmond to meet friends at Red Robin.

... A word about rental cars...
Car Rental agencies have quickly ascended toward the top of my list of institutions I find unreasonable and ridiculous. I realized that I should have booked a car in advance, and I was already kicking myself for not having done so. However, they're still car rental agencies, and they still rent cars to people, right? Well, that's not as clear cut as you might think:

Avis, Budget, and Alamo all have deals with Southwest, and offer discounts and double credit for Southwest Rewards members, so I first stopped at the Avis counter and said "Hi, I don't have a reservation, but I'd like to rent a car." Despite a sign that said "Cars Available," their response was "Sorry, all I have left is exotic stuff, like Hummers and Cameros, they're upwards of $150/day." OK... I'll try the next counter...

Alamo had a big line, but Budget's counter was bare - I said the same thing there, and the lady behind the counter answered very curtly "I've got no cars whatsoever, I'm completely sold out." Ok - I guess I'll wait in the Alamo line then. Maybe the reason there's a line at Alamo's counter is because they have cars..?

No. They told me all they have is some convertibles for $78+ a day, nothing compact or cheap. I was beginning to worry a little bit at this point, and was starting to make preparations for a somewhat desperate plan. Back at the Avis counter I inquired about making a reservation for Saturday or Sunday, and was planning to perhaps rent a more expensive car until then, and come back and swap them out in a day or two. It would have been a pain in the ass, but at least it would have worked. I was in luck! The guy was able to reserve me a car for the next day! He said I could pick it up anytime, even like 8am. I asked when I should come in order to ensure there would be a car for me - how could I be sure if they don't have anything now, you know? His reply... "oh, we'll always have a car for you. If we're out of this one, we'll give you a bigger size."

I started to think something was a little fishy at this point, and I formulated a better plan. Unfortunately, SeaTac airport doesn't have free WiFi, so I couldn't just get online and make a reservation. Instead, I called a friend and got him to look up some phone numbers for me, and then I called Avis, Alamo, and budget and made reservations for 3pm Friday (which was 10 minutes away). I was able to get a reservation for all three, and I was quoted prices which, of course, were different fromt he ones the guy at the counter had given me (you never seem to get the same quote twice from rental agencies).

Armed with my reservation number, I walked up to the Budget counter as they were the cheapest price (by only a couple dollars over Avis). The person in front of me in line was on the phone with someone, obviously distraught, and said "they don't have any cars-" and was promptly interrupted by the clerk "I didn't say we didn't have any cars, I said that all reservations are waiting..." I'd heard enough. This was the same lady who told me they were completely sold out, and obviously these people had a reservation and were having a problem. I decided to go to Avis.

Again armed with a reservation number, I talked to the Avis clerk )not the same one as before) and not only did they have a car for me, but while I reserved a sub-compact, they gave me a Toyota Corrolla (which I believe is "full size") for the same price!

So after over an hour of consternation, a little panic, and frustration, I finally was driving away in a car which - after $560 rental fee and then over 50% taxes and stuff - is mine through next Tuesday when I go home. My god renting cars is expensive! I'm going to drive the shot out of this thing while I've got it!

...and now back to your regularly scheduled vacation report...
On the way into Redmond I picked up my friend Sean, then Jeremy and his sister Emily met us at Red Robin. I started last year's vacation with dinner at Red Robin and then Game Night at Uncle's Games, and I really liked how that went. I think my typical vacation will start that way from now on.

Renee, Matt, and Jonah were able to join us as well, on their Anniversary no less, and I finally got to see the little guy in the flesh! Jonah is about 1 month old, and man, is he tiny! Babies - they're just like real people, only smaller...

After dinner we went to Uncles and Alex met us there. Renee and Matt went home, and the rest of us played Battlestar Galactica. Alex and Sean had some variant rules they use, and they'd tweaked most of the character powers a little and also added some new made-up characters. I think I may have played out BSG, but it was kinda fun. The character I picked was one of the new ones - Sharon "Athena" Agathon - and she started in the Brig. that was boring, I spent the whole first half of the game in the Brig, doing nearly nothing. I ended up being a Human, and the Humans won fairly handily except for being a little low on fuel.

After BSG, Jeremy and Emily tried Cow Tipping, a prototype card game that Michael has decided Tasty Minstrel Games will publish - while I taught Glory to Rome to Alex and Sean. They liked it, and Alex said he'd want to play it some more, however the store was closing so we headed home. I was hoping Mohan and Runjith would make it to Uncles like last year, and I kinda thought I was going to stay in their apartment, but I haven't heard from Mohan lately and they weren't there. Fortunately, Jeremy and Amelia (and now Emily and her husband Aaron who live with them) always seem happy to have me, so I am staying with them this weekend.

When we got to Jeremy's house, he, Aaron and I played 4 hands of Dominion, each of us winning one, and then Jeremy being the first to win 2 (which is what we decided to play to). One of those games Jeremy beat me by just 1vp!

Today, Jeremy, Amelia and I played Cow Tipping. Then they two, Emily, Aaron and I all went to get Teriyaki at a really good place - I liked it a lot. After that Aaron, Jeremy and I played a couple hands of Race for the Galaxy - one in which Jeremy beat me by 1vp AGAIN, and Aaron was only maybe 2vp behind me. The second game I had started really well, but we had to abort because Aaron and Emily had to go to some Red Hook Brewery tour thing.

Ameila went to study (she's taking the Bar soon), and I talked Jeremy into playing glory to Rome. We played 2 games, and in one he beat me by 1vp yet again! Then we played a couple of songs worth of Rock Band - oh my god am I bad at drums! After that we left to pick up Sean and attend a game night in Seattle with Julie, Peter, Alex, his GF Julie, and some other people. Jeremy and I played a few games of something called Twitch, which is a speed game sort of thing (fun, but not the best game - some rules ambiguity). Then we played Smallworld with Julie and Peter, then a 2 player game of Smallworld, then we went to dinner with Alex and Julie, and finally played another game of Smallworld with those two.. all in all, we played a lot of Smallworld. Alex played several games of Glory to Rome with other people, so he got a chance to play it some more.

And then we came home at 3 in the morning, and I spent an hour writing this blog post! If I were less tired I probably would have simply summarized stuff, for example the entire last paragraph could have just been "We played some games".

Tomorrow I plan to play some pickup ultimate at Marymoor park, which happens to be right by Jeremy's place, then go to dinner with Renee and Matt while Jeremy Raids - he plays World of Warcraft... but everybody's got their faults ;)

Monday afternoon there is pickup frisbee at Microsoft campus, and it turns out that Jeremy's place is super close to that as well! I'm so glad Jeremy (and co.) considered my convenience when choosing an apartment - it really couldn't be more convenient.

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