25 November 2007

Making a "new" car a "used" car

Yep. Another wonderful trip to Costa Rica. But this one had some twists.

We left Houston on a drearily dark day with storms raging around the greater metropolitan area. Fortunately, at the international airport, the rain was light and the expected Thanksgiving crowds were strangely absent. We breezed right into parking; straight through bag check-in; and, went through security with zero waiting – we were the only people in line.

The plane was lightly filled so we were lucky enough to have the center seat empty between us. Minutes after takeoff, the plane burst through the grey and into the bright sunshine. Here we come … Vacation!

As we got off the plane, we were surprised to be met at the gate by Manrique, Pat’s cousin, who is in the travel business and knew how to get us through Customs and the airport in record time.

Manrique drove us to the off-airport Toyota Auto Rental office where our reserved rental car was ready for us. A brand new little 4x4 with 10km on the odometer. Simple paperwork and walk-around got us on the road, following Manrique to La Casa de Vinicio, his father’s house.

The greeting at curbside when we arrived at Vinicio’s was that especially warm Tico welcome that is one of the nicest things one can experience. Vinicio parked our rental car up tightly between a tree and the house so that, “They’ll have to steal that tree to steal the car.”

A grand evening with family and friends followed and then we retired early.

Sunday morning, more family visits started again at 7am. By 9am, many people had come in and out, passing the rental car. Maritza, Vinicio’s wife and Pat’s dear friend, served us all a typical (huge) Tico breakfast up above the house in the “Ranchito.” (A little retreat area up at the top of their property where the breezes blow and the view is breathtaking.)

We had finished breakfast and were relaxing in the early summer breeze when Vinicio’s phone rang. A friend was driving past the house and was calling to say that “the car in front of your house has been broken into!” We all ran to the front street.

Sure enough. The brand new rental car sat there amid a pile of broken glass “popcorn.” I think that it was now classifiable as “used.” Broad daylight. Sunday morning. In a quiet neighborhood. Sheesh! There was “popcorn” all over the interior, accompanied by a large rock, sitting on the floor, beneath the broken window. Missing from the inside of the car was only one thing: the faceplate off the radio. Nothing else. They broke in for nothing. But what an inconvenience THIS would become.

After cleaning up the mess, Vinicio called the Toyota Rental people and they said to just bring the car back to them. With the wind pounding through the gaping hole, Pat and I drove back to Toyota. When I took the lead, speaking in English to the Rental Agents, it seemed like they didn’t know what I was talking about or perhaps they just didn’t know much at all. A slightly more “in charge” type finally walked from behind the counter, took the keys from me and walked out to the car. He got in, looked around and asked in perfect English, “So what’s wrong with this?” Also in English, Pat burst out, “Well the window is gone – they broke into the car and stole the face off the radio!”


We went back inside and there were many minutes of frantic phone calls, in Spanish, all of which Pat (clandestinely) understood. The “responsible guy” started in about a police report. We had to have a police report. They couldn’t do anything without one.

Pat exploded in Spanish and the startled look on the Agent’s faces was “precioso.”
(In Spanish) “So we have to take the car all the way back to Vinicio’s, wait for a police report, bring the car back here and then exchange it?!?”

“Well that is only if we have a car to replace it,” said the Agent.

I couldn’t translate what Pat said next, but after the Agent got his heart restarted, we suddenly were told that the replacement car would be clean and ready for us, brought over from the “downtown location” and available within 3 hours. All we had to do was get a police report.

We left with the car and went back to Vinicio’s.

When we arrived, the police were called.

“Well, the futbol game (soccer) is on TV. We can’t come for a half hour. You better call us back to remind us.”

Lesson one: They’re watching a soccer game. They’re busy, thank you. Don’t bother me now.

My first experience with the unique functionings of Tico government. Wow.

We didn’t have to remind them. About a half hour later, two officers showed up on Policia (Ministerio de Seguridad Publica Delegación Cantonal Fuerza Publica Alajuela) dirt bikes and were standing, staring at the broken window when we got outside. Both Pat and Vinicio launched into a big explanation.

The “boss officer” asked for a piece of paper. Vinicio went into the house and got a sheet of blank, ruled notebook paper and a large book. The officer took these. Using Vinicio’s book as his “desk” he wrote down all the details that he needed (on the blank paper!) folded it up and put it in his pocket.

“I’ll go back to my barracks now and fill out a report, get the stamp on it and bring it right back.” “I’m almost back,” he wisecracked as he rode off with is amigo cop.

Lesson two: Bring your own paper and writing surface. The police carry neither forms nor clip boards.

Our Seguridad gentleman was “almost back” 55 minutes later. I guess that is really fast around here.

Nonetheless, the required paperwork was a pleasant surprise. The Official Form was a piece of letterhead, with a Xeroxed header giving the date, time, officer’s names and approximate location, followed by a dozen ruled lines. At the bottom is a place for a rubber-stamped official seal and everybody’s signature. In the header boxes and in the ruled lines, was a hand-written rough description of what the officers observed. Nothing more. No shutting down the highway for 8 hours while CSI does a full investigation with lasers, GPS, measuring wheels, AutoCAD drawings of the site, video, 10.2 megapixel photographs of several hundred different views of the crime scene, DNA swabs, special sprays to detect blood and absolutely not a single news helicopter in the sky. What’s the matter with this country? ¡Pura Vida!

Wait wait wait. Wait until the appointed hour when the Toyota people promised our replacement car. Eventually, we called, at the beginning of the quoted time span and were told that it would be ready in 15 minutes. It would take longer than that to drive to the rental office.

Away we went. On arrival, we bounded into the office, ready to get the new car and we were met by a fresh face that we hadn’t seen before – and nobody else.

“We brought back the damaged car and we’re here to pick up its replacement,” I started.

“Huh?” said the clerk. “I just got here and nobody told me anything.”

Oh, cripes.

After much explanation by Pat, in Spanish, and plenty more time on the phone the new guy told us that the car would be there in 15 minutes. (15 minutes must be the Tico version of “Real soon now.”)

But soon, around the corner came the car. They closed out the old contract (only now, at this point, because, well, you know, they were REALLY busy all day with all of those other 2 customers they had,) and wrote up our new one, did the walk around with us on the replacement car – and we were off. {Note: This replacement car was the identical make and model, but was far from new. Maybe they didn’t want to risk getting another new vehicle “inaugurated”?}

Lesson three: Always buy ALL of the insurance from the rental guys in CR. I can’t imagine what we would have gone through if they had needed payment for this broken window and the missing radio faceplate. We’d probably be writing this from the Grey-Bar Motel.

More later.

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