The Frankfurt airport is roughly three hours from Ulm and reachable by planes, trains and automobiles. Trains are great, but I think Murphy nearly guarantees purchasing train tickets to coincide with airplane arrivals equals delayed or canceled flights. Thus for the arrival of Die Eltern, I opted to procure a rental car and fetch the parents by automobile rather than with Deutsch Bahn. I think Murphy can still claim a victory with this one, though.
The fine folks at Avis.de accepted my reservation for a five person, VW Passat or equivalent and upon my arrival, graciously provided me with this, a Citroen Picasso:
Note the optimism by which it is named, as if by invoking the name of one of history’s greatest artists would somehow, some way fix this. Perhaps we should take a look at the inside. Note how safety and style were optimized by placing all pertinent information at the center console, so the driver is forced to look away from the road, while allowing all passengers the option to see the car’s status.
Needless to say, I was underwhelmed. And even less excited when they told me the car was “brand new, no scratches, be careful!” I had to trust them on that last point as apparently with new cars and five new inches of snow, the customer is expected to find the car and scrape it off on their own. It was a…questionable interaction all around. However, I had an automobile, a long grocery list and approximately 15 hours until I needed to leave for Frankfurt, so off I went. And to be honest, for the first three hours in my possession the car behaved admirably, toting groceries, a miniature Christmas tree and more Ikea treasures with no complaints.
The next morning I arose at 430 and was on the road by five. Die Eltern were due to arrive at 830, I was told to allow for three hours driving and they still had customs to go through, so I thought I’d be good to go. Imagine my surprise when at 430am the flight status showed a planned arrival of an hour early. I mean, obviously I wanted to see them as soon as possible but seriously Lufthansa? You gave yourselves an extra hour to ensure there was no chance of having to mark that flight “delayed”?
So I hoped the airport was comfortable and had good coffee, because with the pure ice on the roads, I sure wasn’t getting there by 730…or by 8…or by 9. As my mutant car and I puttered along the A8 I noticed my first truly legitimate criticism of the vehicle…the wipers didn’t actually contact the windshield. Which, although annoying, was generally remedied with copious amounts of washer fluid. This would work for approximately…1 mile, until I had to flip on the fluid again. Thus it wasn’t entirely surprising when the fluid completely ran out an hour in, conveniently near…nothing. Armed with nothing but fizzy water, a mediocre survival kit and a total lack of German auto language, I pulled into a rest stop and waited for the trucker nearby to finish peeing on the ground so I could ask for help. With a lot of hand motioning and some super Christmas goodwill on his part, he filled up my wiper fluid and I was on my way.
By this point, I’m doing ok. A little frazzled, but I should get there someday, right? Sadly by this point, the car had turned against me and in retaliation for my negative thoughts on the wiper performance, decided freezing the wiper fluid spouts was the best course of action. So now I’m driving down the road, I know I have fluid, and yet the damn stuff just won’t work. Do I care anymore? No. Am I working on my angrily sparse automobile German for when I take the terrible pile of metal back? Yes. We continue limping along, fielding concerned calls from a confused husband (“You’re not there yet? Is everything ok? Why isn’t the car working?”) who graciously let me vent to him and all co-workers in a 10 foot radius. And eventually the Frankfurt airport does come into view, along with the maze of parking garages and exits and a thousand other people trying to do the same thing, but likely in their native language.
I park a thousand miles away from the terminal. Kick the car, curse a bit and walk away. Wander confusedly around an enormous airport with plenty of “departure” signs but very few “arrival” indicators. Wonder how I will ever manage to track the family down. Reassure the husband I did make it, even if I haven’t actually found anyone yet. Finally, eventually find them.
And so began the ridiculously wonderful Christmas adventures.