How to lose a rental car

Have you seen this car?

I realize that it’s been a couple weeks since we returned from Ukraine, but I’d like to “backblog” about our rental car experience because it just once again confirms that reality is much more interesting than fiction.

To start with, we tried to pray about our trip to the Ukraine–where to stay, what to do, etc. It’s one thing to talk about being led by the Lord, but it’s another thing to actually put it into practice. Our departure date drew nearer and we still hadn’t secured a place to stay. I kept feeling like we needed to wait, and, finally with only a couple days to spare, some friends of a friend offered to let us stay with them in Kiev. It turned out to be a big blessing, and I’m glad we waited rather than hauling off and renting something.

Also as we prayed about our trip, I felt several times that we should rent a car. We eventually did rent one about halfway through our trip. As Abby mentioned in a previous post, the car was tiny and no car seats were available. So Abby spent hours seat-belted to our one-year old. Despite the difficulties of traveling in an ultra-compact car with three active little children, it was really a blessing.

Having the car turned out to be so convenient that we even called and asked if we could extend our rental and drop the car off at the airport rather than at their office in the city. Keep in mind, this is not an international rental service like Avis. They don’t have an office at the airport. The lady who talked to me on the phone instructed me to park the car at the airport, lock the keys in the car and call “Sasha” and tell him where the car was parked. Apparently Sasha would then find the car and drive it back to their office. I dutifully wrote down Sasha’s number and made sure I programmed it into my phone. Not a bad plan it seemed.

Somehow we managed to squeeze not only all of us but all our baggage and stroller into the car and successfully arrived at the airport terminal. We piled out of the car. I then dutifully locked the keys in the car and attempted to call Sasha. A woman answered (not Sasha) and I fumbled through a quick, useless conversation with her as we herded the kids toward the terminal. “I’ll just try again in a minute when we’re all in the building,” I thought. I called back and it became clear that this was not Sasha’s number. Apparently I had been given the wrong number or perhaps I had written it down wrong.

I went to plan B–I called the rental car office. No answer at the office because our flight was departing late in the evening after business hours. Now I was starting to worry a bit. But I didn’t have time to think too much about it because we had to check-in for our flight and then pass through security.

Once we reached our gate, I was thankful to find out that the airport had free wi-fi. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the rental agency website to load. Now I was quickly running out of ways to contact them and explain where we left the car. I started to question whether renting a car was such a good idea after all, but I tried to trust God in the midst of it: “Lord, I thought you wanted us to rent a car, and now it looks like we’ll be leaving the country without being able to tell them where we left the car.” It was easy to start imagining an angry rental agent wandering through the airport looking for his lost car and cursing those stupid American tourists. I didn’t want that.

Plus, they had my debit card number. I’m not sure how much they charge for not returning the car you rented, but I was sure it was more than I had in my checking account. “Great,” I thought, “I may have to make a hurried call to Bank of America asking them to block any more charges from a certain Ukrainian car rental company.” I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain that to the BofA customer service agent.

Bank customer service agent: “So let me get this straight. You just parked their car in some random location and flew to another country without telling them where the car is.”

Me: “Well…yes. But I tried to contact them. I was an honest mistake.”

Bank customer service agent: “How do I know you are being honest? Maybe you just don’t want to pay what you owe.”

Me: “I can see how it might look that way, and I realize that I have no way of proving my innocence. But just please don’t let them drain my account.”

Bank customer service agent: “I’m going to mark this as a ‘special’ case and refer it to upper management. Please expect a call from us soon–we need to chat more about your shady financial practices. In the meantime, don’t rent from any more Ukrainians.”

Thankfully, that conversation never happened. As I looked though my bag, I found a brochure from the rental company. I had grabbed it on a whim at their office and stuffed it away. I called the first number I found there and…someone answered. It was long-lost Sasha, and he was already at the airport.

“I’m ready to meet you to get the car,” he said.

“Meet me?” I said. “I’m sitting at the gate getting ready to board my plane any minute. I can’t leave the terminal to meet you. I was told to just lock the keys in the car.”

I cringed a bit as I waited for an explosive reaction, but he told me that was fine, and I told him the location of the car.

Sasha called me back twice as he had trouble finding the car and then trouble again finding the keys in the car. But by the time we got on the plane, Sasha was happy, and I was breathing big sighs of relief.

If I could learn something from this experience, it would be that God is in control, even down to the last minute. I really don’t like situations like this, but it is good practice in prayer and trust. I kept reminding myself that I believed that the Lord led us to rent the car in the first place, and it wasn’t his will for us to hurt someone else financially. That wouldn’t have been a testimony of righteousness.

So everything ended well. And if you are wondering if I kept a close eye on my account balance for several days after we left Ukraine, you would be correct.

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