My 300 Mile Lyft Ride From Chicago to Bradford

I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday:

Here’s the full story on it.

Yesterday I flew home from Spain, where I’d spent a week at the Celsius 232 festival in Aviles. It was a lovely time, and the first two legs of the flight — Asturias to Madrid, Madrid to Chicago — went fine. But when I got to Chicago, my flight to Dayton kept getting delayed. After the third delay I should have just tried to rent a car, but I decided to stick it out. For my pains my flight was cancelled at 8:30 and my rescheduled flight wouldn’t be until 10pm the next day, meaning that I wouldn’t get home until after midnight on Tuesday (i.e., today). It’s ridiculous that the leg from Chicago to Dayton would take almost three times longer than the leg from Madrid to Chicago; I decided to rent that car after all.

And found that there was no car rental service in Chicago that would give me a one-way rental to Dayton. That was in itself unusual; I’ve done the one-way rental before when I was stuck in Chicago, and it’s normally not really a problem. But this Sunday it was. I checked the O’Hare car rental services: None. I expanded my search outside O’Hare to other rental locations in Chicago: The locations were either closed or didn’t have one-way rentals.

Finally I went on the American Express site to see if I could rent a car one-way through there. And I could! Literally, there was one car available in all of Chicago, through Hertz. It wouldn’t be available until 7am the next day, but that would still get me home earlier than the flight, and I was going to have to get a hotel room anyway, so fine. I rented it and when I did, I noticed that the pickup was at someplace called Signature Flight Services, not the usual Hertz location. So I called Hertz, gave them my confirmation number, and confirmed with the person on the other end — several times! — that indeed I was meant to go to Signature Flight Services, not the Hertz location at O’Hare. The person on the other end said “yes” each time, so, fine.

The next morning I was at Signature Flight Services bright and early at 7am. At 7:07 I called Hertz and asked where my car was. They said I would have to call the O’Hare Hertz location directly and ask what the deal was, and gave me the number. I called the number, only to discover that if you don’t have the extension number of the specific person you want to reach, you can’t actually call the O’Hare Hertz location directly. So I called the reservation line and pointed out the problem of not having an extension. They said I would have to call the O’Hare Hertz and talk to them about that.

The next bit of dialogue is paraphrased but essentially true to the conversation that followed.

“So, you understand the part where I said that without a specific extension, I can’t actually reach anyone at the O’Hare Hertz, correct?” I asked.

“We don’t have any extensions to give you,” the Hertz person said. “You’ll have to call the local number.”

“So your solution to me not being able to reach anyone at the O’Hare Hertz because I don’t have a specific extension is to give me the number that if I call I can’t use to reach anyone, because I don’t have an extension to call.”

“It’s the only number we have in our system,” the Hertz representative said, sensing my irritation.

“Look, I’m not angry with you,” I said. “But I want you to acknowledge that the way you’re telling me to deal with the problem of a number I can’t use is just to give me that number again.”

“… yes.”

At which point I hung up and the very nice people at Signature Flight Services let me take their shuttle over to the actual O’Hare car rental building, where I could to talk to the real live local Hertz people about my rental, and why it wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and if, since I was now there, in front of them, they would give it to me so I could be on my way.

Turns out, they wouldn’t give it to me.

And here is why: Apparently, Signature Flight Services is part of the area where charter flights go through O’Hare. If I had flown in through the graces of a charter flight, then Hertz would have happily given me the one-way car rental. But since I flew into O’Hare on a commercial flight, like a common schmuck, Hertz wouldn’t give me the car, even though they clearly had it to give. Basically, I wasn’t rich enough to rent the car Hertz had allowed me to reserve, so they weren’t going to let me have it. Which, I don’t know. Seems like a real dick move on Hertz’s part, and doesn’t incline me to use them ever again for anything. The dude at the reservation counter seemed to think so too — he checked to see if anything else was available, but otherwise there was nothing he could do. I was out of a car.

And once again, no one else in Chicago — the entire city, as far as I could tell — had a one way rental available. Which seemed ridiculous. It’s the third largest city in the United States. You would think it would be possible. But clearly not.

At this point, because I was frustrated and mostly to grimly amuse myself, I clicked on the Lyft app on my phone and entered my home address to see how much it would cost to take one to from O’Hare to my doorstep, a journey with a grand total of 301 miles.

Turns out it would cost about $330. Which, as it happens, was only a little bit more than what it would have cost for that one-way rental that Hertz wasn’t going to give me even though they had the car.

I considered about it for a minute, and then thought, why the hell not, and scheduled the ride. The worst case scenario in this situation is that no one would take the fare, and I would be no worse off than I already was. After a few seconds, I was matched with a car, and I went out to meet the driver.

I had a suspicion that the app might not tell the driver exactly where I was going, so when the driver — Victor — pulled up, I double-checked with him.

“I want to be absolutely clear what you’re getting into,” I told him. “I’m asking you to drive me to Ohio.”

“The state?” he asked.


He thought about it for a second, consulted his own Lyft app (which hadn’t, in fact, told him the destination, just that it was more than 30 minutes away), and then looked back to me, and sort of shrugged. “I like long trips. This could be fun.” Then he popped the trunk for my luggage.

And you know what? It was fun. Victor, in addition to being a Lyft driver, had been a news editor back in his native country, so he and I talked about writing and history and travel and other subjects, listened to music and otherwise had a pretty enjoyable time over the roughly five hours it took to get me home. When I got home I tipped him hugely, gave him one of my books (The Collapsing Empire) and signed it for him, and otherwise thanked him for getting me home, and doing it in such a pleasant fashion.

And then I collapsed, because fuck, it had been a long couple of days trying to get home. It’s ridiculous that the longest and most exhausting part of a transatlantic journey was the last three hundred miles, on US soil, but of course it was, why wouldn’t it be. This all confirms my opinion that O’Hare is possibly the worst of all major US airports, and it’s certainly given me the opinion that Hertz should be my last possible option when getting anywhere. On the flip side, I feel more positively about Lyft. I generally use standard cabs when I can, but Lyft is my backup when it’s not feasible. They and Victor came through for me yesterday, and with flying colors. I appreciate it immensely.

In the post-trip Twitter discussion, there was some observation that my decision to take a Lyft all the way home was something not everyone could do, or would feel safe doing. And I can’t argue that. Being able to spend a few hundred dollars to get home via a Lyft simply because one doesn’t want to wait for a rescheduled flight is not something that everyone gets to do. Neither is being able to do it without having to consider whether it’s safe to be in some stranger’s car for five hours, and who will travel three hundred miles with you to drop you off at your house. It’s all true. Welcome to my privilege! I acknowledge it. And also, my privilege in this case would have meant nothing if I hadn’t been fortuitously paired with a driver who thought something like this would be an adventure, rather than just a pain in his ass. I am lucky all the way around this time.

But inasmuch as I am lucky in these respects, I now have a pretty great story of how I took a three-hundred-mile, five-hour Lyft ride because the thought of being stranded at O’Hare one more minute than I really had to be was too much to bear. And since it was part of a business trip (I was at a book festival in Spain, after all!), it’s even tax-deductible. As far as ridiculous travel stories go, this ended up as a best case scenario.

And, of course, best of all: I got to go home. I missed it and everyone there. It was good to be back, however I got there.

87 Comments on “My 300 Mile Lyft Ride From Chicago to Bradford”

  1. I was stuck in O’Hare once, coming back somewhat injured after a ski trip out west, with snowstorms all over the US rerouting me not quite back to NY. If I could have, I would have rented a car and gladly driven the 12 hours myself, too. Hell, I would have BOUGHT a car and driven it home.

  2. About a dollar a mile. Not bad for a good conversation! Bravo for standing up for your rights! Consumerism in the best sense of the word.

  3. Sounds like Hertz is both incompetent and arrogant. Back in the day, Hertz had a smaller humble competitor named Avis. Their advertising slogan was, “We’re number two, but we try harder.”

  4. My parents did exactly the same thing going north from O’Hare, but in their case it was to get to Minneapolis for a specialist doctor’s appointment and it was weather that caused the delay and then dearth of rentals…glad you made it.

  5. Sounds like you made lemonade out of lemons.

    Coincidentally, I just spent this last Saturday and Sunday trying to get back to LA (Burbank specifically) from Alabama. What was supposed to be about 7 hours total travel time turned into 24+. Not going into specifics, but the airlines seem to suck more and more every year.

  6. Growing up in Wisconsin we used to say when you die maybe you’ll go UP or maybe you’ll go DOWN but either way you’ll pass through Purgatory which is also known as ORD.

    As for Hertz, I no longer use them after a kerfuffle when they failed to scan a car so their computer thought I had stolen it. Won’t go through the details but EVENTUALLY I spoke with a human physically located at that airport who was able to find the car on their lot where it had been sitting since the day I returned it.

    I now insist on getting a piece of paper each and every time I return a rental car in case I ever again need to prove I returned it. E-mail receipts just ain’t the same.

  7. Are you going to get any money back from the massively delayed flight, or do they get away with “we offered an alternative and the customer declined, therefore no compensation?” How much would the flight compensation offset the cost of the Uber?

  8. it only took me half as long to fly from O’Hare to Kalamazoo (a 3 hour drive) as it did to drive from Japan to O’Hare, once, so I guess I got off lucky.

  9. So, including the return trip, he made about 50 cents/mile. Minus a mileage rate of 50 cents/mile (which is supposed to covers gas and maintenance), he broke even. Not including the cost of his time.

    Hope you left a BIG tip.

  10. When I went to a science conference in Maine once, my wife wanted to go with me, having never been there before. She bought her seat on Delta using skymiles. Except she didn’t. When we got to the airport, Delta had lost her reservation. The insisted, in no uncertain terms, that there were no more seats on that flight and she would have to wait for the next one five hours later.

    Turns out when Delta said “No more seats available,” what they meant was “No more seats that we are going to give you in exchange for miles.” In fact, the flight was half empty. There were dozens, if not a hundred unused seats. Delta apparently designates 2 or 3 seats on a plane for skymiles and when they’re gone they’re gone, no matter how full the plane is.

    It wouldn’t have hurt them to put her on my flight. It cost them the exact same amount of money either way. But we both got to cool our heels in separate airports for five hours. I haven’t willingly flown Delta since.

    Of course, she could have purchased the seat, at the grossly inflated same day price. Because, you know, it costs more to operate a plane if you buy your seat on the last day.

    So what did we learn today? American is designed so that your ability to not be annoyed, outraged, penalized, or inconvenienced scales linearly with how wealthy you are. And that’s bullshit.

  11. > Their advertising slogan was, “We’re number two, but we try harder.”

    “Avis: we’re number two. And it hertz.”
    (I read that in Mad Magazine (RIP) back in the day and still remember it.)

  12. Their is a real reason why you couldn’t find a one way rental. It’s called the Illinois Exodus. For the most part Illinoisans are leaving the state in droves, about 1 person every 15 minutes. Plus no one is coming just to the state and staying.

    Case in point; my family just migrated to Nevada from Illinois this summer. 6 weeks before we needed to move we went to the U-haul dealer who had about 15-20 trucks on the lot. When we inquired about a truck to rent out one way, we were informed there were no one way rentals in the state and hadn’t been in a while, and for the foreseeable future wouldn’t be. Like rats escaping a sinking state everyone had already left.

    We ended up getting two small trailers packing what we could and getting out. We had to leave most of our furniture behind and spent what little savings we had on new stuff out in Reno.

    So while Hertz may swallow turds gleefully, there is an actual reason.

  13. Book your flights through an actual travel agent, insist on NOT connecting through O’Hare.

  14. Well, you beat my best of 65 miles. Which was also in Ohio, coincidentally, even though I live in Georgia.

  15. I’ve concluded that the airlines hate Ohio; I live in the DC area but almost all of my immediate family are either in Cleveland or Columbus. I’m also REALLY over driving through central Pennsylvania in winter!

  16. Here’s how you do this:

    1. Tell them you want the car for a round trip. Play the game… set up the return time, the whole works.
    2. Drive to wherever you want to go.
    3. Call the national service number, tell them your plans changed and that you need to drop off the car locally.
    4. They’ll give you the address of a local place to drop it off and add a fee, usually $50-$100, but occasionally no charge.

  17. Back when my brother was working IT for a hotel reservation center, he was stuck in O’Hare due to weather delays but his bosses really needed him back at work ASAP. They finally told him to use the company card (it was a business trip) to get a rental car and not tell them it was a one-way rental — paying the penalty fee for dropping the rental off at a different location was a better deal for them than waiting a couple days for O’Hare to get the planes sorted out.

  18. Cool story! For future reference though, any round trip rental can be converted to a one way rental if you pay for the optional insurance. Just saying…

  19. Re: The fake round trip rental: It was likely to be my next step, yes. Fortunately it was not an issue this time.

    Re: Travel agent: It was booked through a travel agent, and the logistics of my trip necessitated traveling through O’Hare. Sometimes it can’t be avoided.


    This tip was considerable, in terms of actual cash and as a percentage of the fare. Victor more than broke even for his time.

  20. Cool. Glad it worked out. I have also found that the U.S. part of any return trip tends to be the worst. Last return from Germany it took us longer to get through U.S. Customs than to get from Germany to Iceland. Plus you met a cool person. Much better than a long nap in O’Hare!

  21. Been there, done that. I live 2 hr north of Detroit. My travel people used to send me through O’Hare. If they cancel, I’m in the same spot. I always have them send me through Detroit, now.
    Anyway, a few months ago, I had A flight cancelled in Detroit, and there were no rentals. I also considered Lyft/Uber.
    I finally found a rental with National. When I got there, picked up my car, and was checking out, I had apparently booked a car for the following day. They just changed it, and I was on my way. I’m filing that away for a rainy day. Next time it’ll be ‘accidentally on purpose’.

  22. You’ve got me beat! I took a Lyft from DFW to Austin airport after a canceled flight: Five hours, but “only” 261 miles. We made a couple pit stops to let my driver pick up a road trip buddy and drop her kid off at his dad’s (because I’m not an asshole), then we hoofed it! Best part is, she picked up a ride in Austin that was going BACK to DFW. She made a cool $600 for both trips

  23. pjcamp: This exact same thing happened to me on United Airlines. I stopped flying them for many reasons and this was one of them. I could never use my miles for a seat on United because I think they also only have 2 or 3 seats available per flight if you want to use miles. Plus, if you wanted to use miles,  the non-stop flights that were available for purchase were no longer available when you used miles. I cashed out my miles and canceled my United credit card.

  24. Longest Lyft we did was back from LA to San Diego, we had a couple drivers cancel out, then one didn’t – he thought it’d be fun but it was 10pm and he was a bit grumpy when he dropped us off at midnight.

    Gave him a $50 tip, still cheaper than a night in a hotel in LA (in a hotel you’d (or more accurately my wife) want to stay at). and it was on a work night.

    Glad you had a good driver, and made it worth his while.

  25. The Lyft driver lost a LOT of money. He likely drove back empty. Basic Federal mileage is .58 mile. For 600 miles not 300. He only received about $200 net after Lyft’ s cut. Figure it out. That’s one of many reasons I don’t drive anymore.

  26. Like gadgetdon, I immediately thought of U-haul. Sadly, though, it sounded like one-way via U-haul wouldn’t have worked either.

    Did you consider taking a Greyhound bus home? Or maybe a train? You were only a hop, skip and a jump away from Grand Central Station.

  27. Lyft and/or local cabbies are da bomb. DH and I were on vacation in Britain some 20 years ago, and wanted to see some of Wales, including Portmeirion, where The Prisoner had been filmed. We took the train into Wales, but the nearest disembarkation point we could find was a good 50 miles from the resort. There was some interesting conversation when we announced to the waiting cabbies where we needed to go (“Are you having us on, then?”) but one took us up on it. Turned out he moonlighted as a tour guide, so we got bonus lively conversation on the way. He got a substantial tip.

    One of our friends in LA drives for Lyft, so when we visited a couple of years ago, we basically told him that we were throwing all our business towards him for the week we were there, whenever it was convenient for him.

  28. Ack, I have flights scheduled through O’Hare coming up. Lighting candles for fair weather and no delays so I get there on time, and, I hope, back again. Welcome home, anyway, glad you made it and were able to enjoy the adventure.

  29. I have spent the night at O’Hare. It’s a terrible connection at all times, but particularly in the summer.

  30. Ride share services don’t generally show drivers your destination until after you’re in the car and they’ve marked the ride as started in their app. Otherwise the drivers could cancel on rides before they’ve started, which is tantamount to destination discrimination (not a good customer experience, and rampantly illegal in a lot of jurisdictions).

  31. Hertz is the WORST. We got screwed by them multiple times, and finally flat out refuse to rent from them ever again under any circumstances. I don’t know if it’s that they only care about their biggest corporate clients or just don’t care about anyone, but they have some of the most creatively terrible customer service I’ve ever seen.

    Avis, on the other hand, has generally been great. They have taken care of problems on multiple occasions, including when I accidentally booked a car at a completely different airport than I actually was at, and they jumped through hoops to make it work anyway. And were really, really gracious about me being an idiot.

  32. Living in st louis, i have learned the hard way to try and get intl flight out via toronto YYZ if at all possible. but the return trips, i often have no choice. my nemesis is not ohare (#2) but bostons logan, the one where the gates are as far apart as possible. Returning from iceland, i spent more time in logan airport than i did on planes, including the one from iceland, and the one from logan to lambert STL. I was to the point of tears. IcelandAir, even though it was not their fault, saw me literally laying on the floor, and comped me a hotel room. god bless icelandair, and another reason to hate tom brady (bills fan so im allowed to make preposterous tom brady accusations).

  33. Yeah. You’ll probably become some sort of ad for Lyft. I wonder what’s in the air this year, though. I was in Florida in February, we spent a few days at a Disney resort followed by a week cruise in the Caribbean. On our day to fly back, our flight (Frontier, never-again-airline) canceled with zero support and a next-flight’s-in-5-days-good-luck-f8ck-you and after finding all the flights either got us back to Detroit by way of Baltimore and about 12 hours of flight time from Orlando the next day or cost $1200 each, 4 of us decided to rent a car and drive straight back. I don’t really want to do it again, but it makes for a decent story.

  34. Things like this happen to me and people I know so often that I assume certain companies are *trying* to fail, but – magically – they never do. Glad it worked out for you in the end.

  35. My wife’s had terrible experiences with both Hertz and Avis. She travels a lot for work, and both Avis and Hertz decided to try to accuse her of damage to different rental cars, even when she had proof she’d already returned the car to the agency before the alleged damage occurred. At one point, she even had to get Amex (corporate card she uses for rentals/hotels) involved, because the car rental agency flatly refused to believe that my wife wasn’t responsible for the damage. In desperation, my wife called Amex, explained the situation, Amex looked at their records, their records jibed with hers, so Amex basically told her that if the rental agency tried to pester *them,* Amex would gladly tell them to go pound sand.

    My wife never heard another word, and now she rents exclusively from Enterprise.

  36. Gaaa – what a saga. I am glad you reached home safely, but yikes, that story is enough to make me swear off travel for a lifetime. To say nothing of the similar tales recounted in the comments.

    I enjoy BEING places, but I hate-hate-hate getting to and from them. Nearly all of my vacations are taken within half a day’s drive of home, simply because I refuse to subject myself to treatment such as you describe. We are going way, WAY outside my comfort zone to attend WorldCon next month, and I was already dreading the travel (which begins and ends in ORD). Now I am even less eager to embark. I am sure that the con itself (assuming we manage to get there) will be great fun, but I really start to wonder if it will be good enough to be worth the travel.

    In theory, at some point, treating one’s customers that way ought to start impacting companies’ bottom lines to the point that they’d learn from it and change their approach. In practice, though, it seems that if anything, they’re getting worse instead of better.

    A staycation is sounding better all the time.

  37. I was wrapping up a trip in Japan and nervous about getting from Tokyo to Narita Airport in time (it’s a ways out of the city), so I set up a scheduled Uber the day before to pickup. I don’t like Uber in particular and rideshare in general but everything worked a bit differently in Japan, and as someone whose Japanese isn’t great scheduling an Uber was easier to deal with than a cab.

    This is boring, so here are the two things that made it worth sharing:

    1) I was off by a zero in mentally converting ¥ to $ and ended up ordering an embarrassingly expensive Uber, something I didn’t realize until I was in the car.
    2) Holy _shit_ I got what I paid for.

    The driver came up in a typical black livery car, handsome young guy, but he was dressed like out of central casting, black chauffeur’s hat, fitted black suit and slacks, fuckin’ _literal white gloves_. (I still didn’t know what I had paid for and just wrote it off to Japanese Uber being, uh, very different.) He speaks impeccable English and Japanese, insists on packing my two bits of carry-on luggage into the trunk, asks me when my flight is leaving and with which airline, gets the door for me and shuts it for me.

    That’s all very nice. But this isn’t yet what I mean by “what I paid for”.

    The start of the ride’s pretty normal. City travel, questions about radio preferences, a little chat about my trip. Would I like a bottle of water? Oh sure, thanks.

    Once we get through the city streets toward the highway, he tells me that it’s a festival day in Japan, so the traffic will be bad—gridlocked in the loop around the city full of people traveling to Narita and driving around Japan—with no real way around it.

    But I didn’t hire a normal Uber driver. I hired the fucking pizza delivery driver from Snow Crash. He _makes_ a route.

    After briefly ducking onto one exit of the loop and waiting through a few minutes of traffic to gauge exactly how fucked it is (extremely), he out of nowhere snakes through three lanes of the blocked up traffic, relentlessly and aggressively like a New York cabbie but at 0 Kelvin vein temperature, blank and emotionless, yet measured enough in his cut-off fuckery not to be uncomfortable _to me_, in order to find an exit back into city streets.

    Then he proceeds to just fucking _gun_ it down narrow alleyways, through stop signals, in and out of a parking garage, like he was my getaway driver and his earpiece had just chirped that I’d been flagged by fucking Interpol. He skips 40 minutes worth of unbypassable traffic in 20 minutes. I’m clenched for 15 of them as he drives more aggressively than anyone I’ve ever been in a car with (and I’m married to a native Bostonian). At one point he goes up a curb cut and drives down a stretch of fucking _occupied sidewalk_ to get around a parked delivery truck. The one time he stops at a red light, he skrrrrrrts right through it before it turns but as soon as it’s clear.

    We’re still 10 minutes behind his schedule, however (I’m still fine to make my flight), so once we _do_ make it onto the highway to Narita… he drives the _length_ of the it _averaging_ about 180 kph. Weaving through 80-100kph speed-limit traffic like it’s nothing. Gunning it on the few unobstructed stretches so hard that I’m literally feeling pinned to my seat. Passing taxis, shuttles, trucks, sports cars, fuck em, bye, later, we’re getting to the airport on schedule god DAMN IT. My water bottle has collapsed in my grip and my jaw hurts. I’m convinced that the car is going to be pulled over and I’m going to go home via deportation after an interrogation to find out what crime organization I’ve been pressed into being a mule for.

    Meanwhile my impeccably dressed fucking Uber ronin doesn’t break a sweat, he looks fucking bored actually, and I’m sheepishly peeking over the front seat from the back to see, oh, ok, sure. Yeah. We’re going 190kph now. OK. OK. This is fine. OK. The only time he comes close to slowing down is at a toll booth and he still abruptly swings across a lane just to cut ahead a few spots and shave another 20 seconds off this airport speedrun trial.

    Naturally, thanks to his incredibly illegal efforts, we wind up at the airport ahead of _his_ schedule. By the time I peel myself out of the back seat in a cold sweat, he already has my bags out of the trunk, polite and deferential as ever. I offer to tip him the yen in cash that I still have left and he refuses it, wishes me a safe trip, and gives me his card with his personal mobile number on in case I realize later that I left anything in the car (aside from the 6-8 weeks of my lifetime that got squeezed out from being in the back seat of a fucking Tokyo Drift b-roll shoot, and that completely crushed water bottle).

    That is the only thing I still remember about that fucking trip, swear to God. I don’t even remember why I was in Japan in the first place. Five stars would recommend again

  38. Not a slam on you John – as you say you more than compensated Victor – but what does it say about Lyft that their rate to you is less than the IRS per mile rate?
    Without generous tips, forget earning a wage, their drivers are driving every mile at a loss when they backhaul empty – which apparently happens a lot. Lyft don’t need to guarantee the minimum wage (as a tipped employee would get), yet pocket 30% of the gross. They’re essentially relying on a steady supply of ignorant drivers and generosity from riders. There’s something very broken here.

  39. To Greg, “THOSE AREN’T PILLOWS!!!!”
    Ha! Yes, thought of that movie immediately when I heard about John’s experience with Hertz.

  40. How is the scene of Tom Hanks in Splash, getting into the taxi, not on Youtube?
    Alan: “Cape Cod.”
    Alan: (hits glass)
    Cabbie: “Hey, watch the glass bud… Cape Cod, that’s only, oh, three hundred miles. You got the money?”
    Alan (holds up wad): “What do you think this is?”
    Taxi: SCREEEEE! (takes off)

    Sounds like you had a better version of this, and I’m going to have to prepare myself to get screwed on air travel…

  41. I have lived in Chicago my whole life. All 44 years of it. And I still can’t fathom why people travel to this shithole, much less want to live here.

    But, the foods awesome.

  42. Hmmm, used to happen to me all the time flying into NY Kennedy. No one-way rentals to Albany NY. Just told them I was driving into Manhattan and return to Kennedy. Accidentally dropped it off in Albany every time. Never got a any complaints.

  43. I love Chicago. One of my all time favorite cities. But O’Hare is an airport I fly too, not though. See also: Heathrow.

    It’s just too damn big.

  44. Honestly I drive for Uber and Lyft people don’t realize it’s cheaper to take us specially if you are party at the real for I need to go within a 4 to 6 hours away especially if it’s a family on a budget it would be cheaper to utilize either one of the services because you pay a flat fee for all passengers in the car say for instance if it’s a family of three that they were to take a flight it’ll cost them $1,200 but if they would have take a Uber or Lyft it would be extremely cheaper to utilize the car share service because you would pay less than $400 for all parties in the car and we take you to the door.

  45. Well, I’m really glad you made it home and that you had a great time getting there. I know the frustration of dealing with people who have no common sense or enough guts to rent you the vehicle, regardless how you flew in. Just a thought for the next time you have to take a long trip with Uber/Lyft, cancel the ride once the driver agrees & pay them what you would have paid Lyft. You see, I had a 2 1/2 hour drive that Lyft paid me $70.00 for, but the rider paid $103.00 to Lyft. For what? They set up the ride and charged you. Why did they need to keep over $30.00? I haven’t figured that one out yet, but I’m guessing that’s why they’re rich and I’m not. They didn’t pay me for the 2 1/2 hour trip back either. Uber/Lyft take a lot from the drivers, that’s how the make their billions and we scrape by. Kudos to you for paying for the fuel, giving him your book & a hefty tip. The only way he would have gotten paid for his return trip would have been if he set his destination as his home and accepted rides along the way. I’m sure Victor didn’t mind though, even if he just drove straight home. It’s passengers like you that make the job worthwhile. Thank you for your kindness, especially in your frustrating situation.

  46. Just last month, I needed to rent a one-way rental car, picking up from JFK and dropping off at IAD. When I checked couple of days before my trip, National had cars available. I was flying standby and I didn’t want to book in advance. I thought I’ll do the rental reservation when I get on the flight. Unfortunately, it showed zero availability for the same day pickup with drop off at different location. It showed availability, if I booked for next day pickup or any day after that. For the same day pickup, it showed availability if the drop off was JFK. I took a chance, booked for the same day pickup and drop off at the same location (JFK) the next day. When I was checking out, I asked the agent to change the drop off to IAD. The agent did the change without any fuss.

  47. I’m a Lyft driver in Denver and I love riders like you. During the National Western Stock Show setup I had a last who lost the transmission in her brand new truck. The Dodge dealer couldn’t find a one way rental to Grand Junction for her so they tried Lyft. After having two drivers cancel on arrival they got me. Picked this poor lady up and ran her through the mountains for 5.5 hours just so she could get home and pick up her old truck to drive back to Denver. There dealership tipped me the entire cost of the trip because the other drivers cancelled. It was fun, and not the only nice long trip I’ve had. I’ve also done Boulder to Cañon City, Westminster CO to Sidney NE and DIA to Casper WY. If I have the time available I’ll take the long trip every time.

  48. I don’t trust Uber or lyft or even taxis. I would have just probably got a room and waited even if I had the money.

    Anyway, I’m glad you made it home.

  49. No Lyft content or comment, I just like how scrolling Scalzi’s comments up and down the page reveals portraits of him that are only visible through the light green background.

  50. 600 mile trip for 300 dollars???
    After Lyft’s cut he’s left with about 180 at most, after gas and toll this guy is going home empty handed and tired, the fact that u paid for gas and toll doesn’t change the fact that Lyft and uber drivers are getting ripped off by the man, it’s sad very very sad I can imagine this man had made no money that day and thought he would come out on top of this one.
    Honestly I dont even think it’s TRUE I’m a Lyft driver and more or less I get about a dollar per mile while Lyft more often than not doubles what the driver gets so 300 dollars for a 300 mile trip is more or less what the drive would have gotten and still after gas and toll its not worth driving 600 miles for 300 dollars.
    Most likely this guy didnt get up to work the next day, his car must have been in need of a rest and so did him, I think this guy lost a lot a whole lot but at least you guys had fun right!

  51. Suck it up uber/lyft. Not a bad rate, deal out the high cut. $200 just to keep the cash flowing and the gas pumping. Day in and day out, month over month, what one has to do to compete with the fools running it into the ground makes one wish for $5 a gallon because our meter fare is set standard.

  52. I worked in the travel industry for years, and this doesn’t surprise me at all.

    Hertz plays the game; the membership game. It’s not even about being rich, it’s about using their service more and more. An average shmuck they don’t have a “relationship” with they’ll treat like garbage, either not realizing or not caring that these are also repeat customers.

    The folks they treat well have status with them — or their airline referral friends — or are Agents. Just for working for an Agency, I have silver level with Hertz, and status with a bunch of airlines.

    I really loathe the status; these folks are creating new ways to discriminate based on your corporate brand loyalty, and providing all sorts of ways to game the system.

    I’m also not surprised Lyft provided a cheaper alternative. Compared to taxis, I’ve found Lyft to be both honest and inexpensive. Even when working for agencies and having access to upgraded cars, black car services, etc – we still found it cheaper and more convenient to use Lyft.

    In short, this is exactly what industry experience leads me to think about Hertz, the airlines, and Lyft.

  53. One time after a colossally screwed up flight to (theoretically) Hamburg, we would up taking a cab from De Gaulle airport to Le Havre. 336 Euros. Delta Airlines wound up paying for that one.

  54. Glad you made it home and had a good time getting there. I’m still flabbergasted that you weren’t rich enough for Hertz to be willing to take your money.

  55. Jean C Ruiz:


    Once again: I tipped him hugely, in cash (both in actual amount and as a percentage of the fare), and I paid for his gas and tolls, and bought him lunch. He didn’t pay for anything out of his pocket while we were traveling. I’m pretty sure he came away from the trip with more than $180, because I made it my business to make sure he was fairly compensated for his time.

  56. When I’ve been in your situation I’ve always checked into taking Greyhound. Their bus network is extensive and I’ve found the buses to be clean and comfortable (terminals may be another story, but they’ve improved substantially over the years). A bus from Chicago to Dayton would have been about a tenth of what you paid (realizing that you’re not terribly price sensitive) and only an hour or two longer trip.

  57. There’s a Bill Murray movie here. Only downside is that John Candy should’ve been the Lyft driver.

  58. I am fascinated by how Greyhound never entered the mental picture. So far one comment has mentioned the possibility. They run five buses a day from Chicago to Dayton (or, more likely, Columbus via Dayton). It takes a bit over seven hours and costs about a hundred bucks. Modern Greyhound buses are actually pretty decent, too. The seats aren’t bad, there is a bathroom in the back, and they have wifi. Frankly, I would opt for this before Lyft, where you are taking a crapshoot. It worked out here: the passenger and the driver hit it off and had a grand old time. But it could have been a whole lot less fun. I would rather get my bus seat, put on my headphones, and doze off.

    Or, if you are in a hurry, catch a flight to Columbus. I strongly suspect the problem was that Dayton is a small airport without many flights. There are lots of flights from O’Hare to Columbus, and getting a Lyft or a rental from there would be much quicker. Probably cheaper, too, given that Scalzi paid the Lyft fee, gas and tolls, and a generous tip.

    Of course this is all essentially an aesthetic choice. My point is that there were still ample options for getting home. Different people will choose from the list in different orders.

  59. I flew just last month, for the first time in about fifteen years. It wasn’t horrific. My memory is that flying used to be horrific: hellish airport experiences and torture seats. This goes a long ways toward explaining why I haven’t done it in so long. But this wasn’t bad. I think seat design has improved. I didn’t have the knees jammed into the back of the next seat effect at all, and while another half inch of width would have been welcome, the seats were acceptable. Everything ran on time, or close to it. Check-in was a breeze. Getting through security was fine. It is theater, but this production run has been long enough that they know the show well and it runs smoothly. The airline personnel were, on the first leg, more accommodating than they had to be. I had my eleven-year-old with me, who had never flown. This was on Southwest, with its absence of assigned seating. I was concerned that we might not find seats together, which would stress her out greatly. The gate person let us board in family boarding, which really is for families with smaller children. She didn’t have to do this. So all in all, the experience made me more willing to do it again. I wonder if it doesn’t help that Southwest doesn’t have first class seating. Have a special class of people you have to be nice to, and it follows that you don’t have to be nice to those other people.

  60. You know, folks, a lot of the “why didn’t you do [X]?” questions show some actual not understanding of what my goal here was, which was: to get home in the shortest possible amount of time, with the least amount of effort possible from me. Cost, bluntly, was not the constraint here, as I understand it would be with many people.

    So: Why didn’t I take a Greyhound? Because after all the travel was done I would not have gotten home much earlier than flying. Why didn’t I fly to a different airport than Dayton? Because, aside from the fact that many flights were cancelled the night mine was and it’s entirely possible I would not have gotten a last-minute seat on a different flight, much less for an amount comparable to what the Lyft ride cost, doing so would have entailed someone driving 100+ miles out of their way to get me, which would likely not have gotten me home any earlier than my now-rescheduled flight. Why didn’t I get a U-Haul? Because it didn’t occur to me, but even if it had, that’s still time picking up and dropping off a U-Haul, and checking the rates right now, after taxes, etc, it’s not significantly cheaper than the Lyft would have been (minus the tips). Why didn’t I just lie about my trip being one way? Well, because it didn’t occur to me to lie. I don’t know what this means in this context, but there it is.

    If I had not gotten a Lyft driver to take me home, it’s possible I would have explored these other avenues. But inasmuch as Victor could do it, I could afford it, it would get me home in the shortest possible time and I would be delivered literally to my door. When that was possible, I was done thinking about it, and heading home.

  61. > Basically, I wasn’t rich enough to rent the car Hertz had allowed me to reserve,
    > so they weren’t going to let me have it.

    Sounds like good story material for one of those Scottish Marxist science fiction authors, like Ken MacLeod

  62. I am totally not suggested that your decision didn’t make perfect sense for you, with your resources and priorities. Chewing on the subject, with an implied “How might I have done this?” is what the internet does.

    For me, taking money off the table as a consideration, the first decision point would have been whether to stay overnight or not. Staying might have been the decision, given that I had been traveling all day, but if getting home sooner were the priority, I would have jumped the 10:45 p.m. Greyhound and pulled in at Dayton before 7:00 a.m. I wouldn’t have messed around with a rental, as driving overnight after a long day does not tempt me. Lyft or Uber probably wouldn’t have occurred to me, and I wouldn’t have gone that route unless I had to, for the reasons I previously gave.

    But that is just me. Your mileage may, and indeed clearly did, vary. And that is fine.

  63. There is something to be said for services where you meet other human beings like Victor.

  64. Being a Lyft /Uber driver myself, the $330 that it cost the rider is not what the driver gets. About $85 or more goes to Lyft. It’s going to cost for gas( hopefully you get great gas milrage). Minus gas is whahat you make after over 10 hrs. if work.

  65. @John: That message will not be heard. Even by your (presumed) fans: The notion of the guilt of Lyft/Uber is too ingrained. Folks ignore that taxi companies, rental car companies, and airlines are also peddlers in misery.

    And while that seems true in the general case, this specific case is far different.

  66. Thank you for the entertaining story.

    And also thank you for acknowledging the privilege that made it possible for you to make the choice you did. Many passengers would have lacked the resources to do anything other than deal with the airline’s indignities.

    I admit that until about a year ago, the notion of booking such a long Lyft ride would not have even crossed my mind; I didn’t know the company accepted such bookings. I finally became aware when my much wealthier brother-in-law had to redo his business travel arrangements from my father’s funeral. His flight from a nearby airport was cancelled, and the only alternative arrangement he could make that would get him to a meeting the next morning involved getting to an airport about 75 miles away. Like you he was unable to book a one way car rental (from a much smaller market than Chicago, so less surprising) but successfully got a Lyft driver to take him there.

    Discrimination based on destination is illegal in many places, but taxi and ride-share companies do need to let their drivers be able to opt out of long distance fares. Drivers may not have the time or remaining alertness for a long distance road trip, or may be driving a vehicle (such as an EV) that is incapable of doing that trip without advance planning.

    Availability of one way rentals depends on demand. If a market is experiencing high local demand for some reason, rental companies do not want you to remove cars from that area because they will have fewer available for other rentals. That also applies to trucks. In the days surrounding September 1 you can’t get a one way truck rental out of Boston for love or money. (All the students are arriving or moving, and even non-students may be moving because apartment leases in Boston customarily expire on August 31. Boston is the world’s biggest college town.) But after September 15 they are readily available, and will sometimes even come with a subsidy from the rental company because they have excess trucks that the arriving students drove into the city.

  67. I might be the only human left on the planet who really, rally loves O’Hare. I’ve had my share of bad experiences but they are always in my mind tied to the airline, or the weather.

    Also, good on you for paying for gas, too. that was above and beyond.

  68. Cool story, bro. But did you tip the guy? After reading the post and all the comments, I’m just not sure.

  69. Been there done that….. I drive for Uber. now four years. I’ve has my share of folks getting stranded or so pissed off at car rentals. I’ve actually done a couple over nights to help out or like Victor have an adventure…..
    UBER-LIFT drivers dont be afraid of be helpful. John needed help, Victor was there. WAY TO GO VICTOR!

  70. I keep hearing that Mercury is in Gatorade or some shit, now I really believe it.

  71. Hmm, a trans-Atlantic flight, then a cancelled connection. Too bad you didn’t wind up riding in van with a polka band with John Candy on the clarinet. Was Smudge home alone?

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