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PART I

I


I hate driving rental cars. They’re full of squeaks and rattles, the controls grow loose and sloppy from long abuse, and though they probably do receive regular professional maintenance just as advertised you can tell just by looking that no one really loves them. Take the econobox I was sitting in at the moment. A clicking noise emanated from the right side of the dashboard at any speed over forty miles an hour. The driver’s seat leaned to the left, mute testimony to a past driver’s weight problem. For some reason it was hard to shift from second to third. And last night I’d discovered that half the dashboard lights were out. None of this reflected badly on the manufacturer, at least not in my opinion. The problems were the result of simple abuse. For example, my rental was just a little roller-skate of a car— no engineer could be faulted for failing to consider the possibility of a four-hundred pound driver levering himself in behind the wheel of such tiny vehicle. The second-to-third gearshift thing was most likely a linkage problem, probably created by some boy-racer type who gloried in speed-shifting. And, over the years I’d seen many rental-car drivers veer towards the deepest potholes they could find. “Look at me! I’m not paying for this!” the drivers’ grins seemed to declare after the resulting impacts. This sort of thing explained the dashboard rattle and failed lights quite neatly. No, the manufacturer wasn’t to blame for any of these failings. Besides, a skilled mechanic with simple tools could easily have fixed them all in mere minutes—heck, I could’ve done it! The real problem was that no one cared enough about the poor thing to make the effort.

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