Published on Monday, July 17, 2017

Hiring a rental car ain't what it used to be

Dinah Hatch and family have taken to the road this summer in California and Oregon where they will visit some classic tourist sights as well as some lesser-known spots. Here, in Dinah's first blog, the family arrives in San Francisco...

"I admit it, it's a while since I hired a car abroad. From the moment we touched down at California's Oakland airport, just across the bay from San Francisco, an internal monologue inside my head went something like this: "What if I haven't printed off the right email, what if they have no record of our booking, what if they bamboozle us with add-on extras like whether we should buy insurance against mowing down an elk?"

That sort of thing.

By the time the shuttle bus arrived at the Hertz depot, I was feeling kind of shouty even as I marched to the desk. "Name's Hatch, I've booked a …" I barked pugnaciously, right before the counter lady beamed at me, nodded and handed me a receipt, pointed at my Hyundai Sonata in bay 117 and called in a wonderful drawl: "Let me know if y'all are happy wid the car and have a safe trip, now."

What? That is NOT how I recall the procedure. The last time I did this there was more paperwork and more negotiations to get through than Theresa May encounters when she goes to Brussels.

Minutes later we were hurtling through the industrial waste lands of Oakland, Ben's knuckles a bit white as he tries to remember to drive on the right at 60 mph but by the time we arrive at the toll queues we are pros, yelling at people who cut in front of us and debating whether to bomb down the Fastrak lane and claim British ignorance when questioned.

We fly onto the Bay Bridge, double-breasted cormorants swooping and circling above us, windsurfers dancing on the choppy waters, and blast through Yerba Buena island.

The city's mirrored high-rises glitter across the waves, the kids shout about it looking just it does on their favourite movie Inside Out and Ben and I smile.

We are here in San Francisco after months of planning. Over the next few days we will see Al Capone's cell on the island of Alcatraz, learn that physics can be fun in the hands of the curators at Pier 15's Exploratorium, sail through the fog and sunshine to the Golden Gate Bridge and hurtle pell mell down fancy Russian Hill's Lombard Street, 'the crookedest street in the world' with its sweet-scented, flower-bedecked eight hairpin bends.

Google maps leads us faultlessly to the Airbnb apartment we have hired for five days in trendy Bernal Heights.

The Sonata noses up and down rollercoaster streets past pastel three-storey townhouses with top floor views over the city - the kind I always imagined featured in Maupin's Tales of the City.

We park the car, pick up the keys and head to the Real Foods store for fresh herb bread and ground coffee. An elegantly dishevelled man pauses on his bike to let us cross the street and hears our accent. "You Brits enjoy our city - there's a great place to grab a pint on Cortland and Bennington," he calls. It's a great omen for the trip."

Dinah hatch travelled with Hertz, website

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