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Rent-a-Truck

Then I hit my first pothole, which caused the truck to jump at least a few inches in the air and almost ripped the steering wheel out of my hand

By Novella Carpenter

THE WEIRDEST thing about renting a big—like 24 feet long—truck is that they let you drive off the lot without signing away your first-born. With just a $170 hold on my bank account, I was able to back the truck up and roar onto the highway with nary an instruction for driving the beast, except from the rental man, who told me, in broken English, "It drives just like a car, except bigger."

OK. And I did have to initial some cartoons that illustrated various terrible things that might happen when driving a rental truck, like low-clearance munches, longer braking-distance skids and tipping the load when packed incorrectly. Then the hauler was mine, for 24 hours anyway.

I had Howard Stern blasting for my trip to pick up some very large items down south. Cars, SUVs and even tow trucks looked tiny in comparison to moi, and I noticed that other drivers, normally the type to never give an inch during a traffic jam, waved me over with fear in their hearts. People were scared of me. I was scared of me. Then I hit my first pothole, which caused the truck to jump at least a few inches in the air and almost ripped the steering wheel out of my hand, and I figured out that rental companies are positively insane to rent such big trucks out to the general public.

After a sweat-soaked day on the road, I thought of everyone who might rent a truck, and I mourned for them. Don't repeat my follies. Here are the 10 rules.

1. Watch out for trees! When you're parking, careful, say, of that 125-year-old maple that is the pride of your grandmother. You could potentially take off entire limbs with the girth of a truck called Big Yellow.

2. Don't listen to Howard Stern. His radio show is so disgusting. I got so caught up with his Michael Jackson coverage that I almost flattened a Lotus.

3. Never back up. You can't see anything! You look into those mirrors, but you can't squeeze reality from their reflective surfaces, and the next thing you know you're thinking, "Why did I study biology in college? Should I have chicken salad for lunch?"

4. Don't cruise down residential streets. Somehow I took the wrong exit and ended up roaring down quiet, tree-lined streets while parents grabbed their children and I tried to calculate what 5 tons or less means. It means: not you in a 24-foot rental truck loaded with a bunch of crap.

5. Don't drive over 55 mph. I don't care if a triple-decker semi smokes you with diesel fuel—they're professionals, and you're not.

6. Drive in the far right lane. A trucker honked at me because I was lingering in the middle lanes, and that just freaks out everyone on the road.

7. Don't eat. I was rooting around in my bag for the sweet promise of a peach when I hit a bump and almost lost control of the truck (again). Wait it out.

8. When unloading, turn on those flashing emergency lights.

9. If a man named OK comes by and offers you help unloading your truck, take him up on it, give him plenty of water and a 20 but don't be surprised if the next day he shows up and says he had to go to the hospital for back pain and wants more money.

10. Find a gas station before you get in the truck. I found myself searching desperately for a station without a stupid roof. Ask the rental guys where the closest, safest and possibly cheapest filling station was.

After I returned Big Yellow, they took my payment, and I noticed behind the desk a color photocopy of a crushed truck. It looked like the driver had taken the truck under an underpass that did not meet the 14-foot clearance requirement. The rental guy looked at the photo and shook his head. I shook my head. "I can't believe how dumb some people are," I said, and I was talking about myself.


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From the July 6-12, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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