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Editor’s blog: Belgium & Czech MX GPs. Rental car fiasco. Hotel in Prague. $9,000 wireless bill

Published December 4th, 2009

So many people think Supercross.com is a giant corporation, with an unlimited budget, …. traveling the world attending big supercross and motocross events, riding motorcycles all the time, and getting lots of free stuff.

Any of us that work at something we like are blessed. And we like what we do at Supercross.com, so we are definitely blessed. But it isn’t everything you might think it is to work in this industry.

We are just like the rest of you ….. fans of the sport …. enthusiasts …. we have families …. we pay bills …. we have struggles …. and we go to work. We are not a big company, we don’t have unlimited budgets, we don’t go to all the races we want to, we hardly ever get to ride, and there is no such thing as ‘too much free stuff’.

Today, I share with you my work trip of August 2009 to the Belgian Grand Prix of Motocross, and the Czech Grand Prix of Motocross. We can call it the ‘awesome’, … and the ‘not-so-awesome’.

Let me sidetrack for a minute though. I’ll never rent a car ever again from Thrifty. No one from Supercross.com will ever rent a car ever again from Thrifty. And we tell anyone we know to never rent a car from Thrifty. I’ll get to the details of that a bit below ….

The ‘awesome’: it’s Grand Prix motocross! The race circuit in Lommel, Belgium is a famous track, mostly because of it’s sand (deep, bumpy, and relentless) … for the American Motocross des Nations team winning in 1981 … and this year’s GP being organized by Eric Geboers and Stefan Everts, former World Motocross Champions from Belgium … perhaps you’ve heard of them : ) What’s not to like about watching a GP in the country that has the most storied history in the sport of motocross, and has produced more motocross world champions than any other country?

And then the track in Loket, Czech Republic. It’s in one of the coolest locations in the world. Deep in the woods, up above the small town of Loket with it’s giant castle … that’s awesome.

And at the GPs, I get to ‘work’ with Antonio Cairoli and Ken Roczen and Max Nagl and Clement Desalle and Marvin Musquin and Josh Coppins and Stefan and Eric and Steffi Laier and Gautier Paulin and Rui Goncalves and lots and lots of other people in the MXGP scene. That’s awesome.

Now, the ‘not-so-awesome’: First, my rental car. Second, finding my hotel in Prague, Czech Republic. Third, my $9,000 Verizon wireless bill.

Rental car. In simple terms, Thrifty sucks. Their customer service is an oxymoron, because my experience is they have no ‘customer service’. None. (As a matter of fact, over the past few months, in my communications with them since I’ve been back home, their USA corporate offices couldn’t have been any worse at ‘customer service’.)

I landed at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany on August 1. It would be just a short drive to the track in Belgium – less than three hours. I was pumped. I had my reservation / rental agreement in hand as I got to the Thrifty rental car counter to pick up a rental car I’d be using for the next 10 days. The total contract? 363 Euros – about 540 dollars.

There were three customers in line in front of me, including a family of 5. But as I watched, each customer ended up walking away from the counter without renting a car, and looking totally bewildered.

It was now my turn at the Thrifty counter. I presented my reservation papers, and the Thrifty employee who was ‘helping’ me also happened to be the manager. He arranged everything, and then said “Your credit card did not go thru”. I said “What? It’s good for $3500 per day, and I KNOW I have at least $3000 available in that account … what is the problem?”

He told me that they are now charging an additional fee … and that I should have read the ‘fine print’ in the contract. The manager was trying to charge my card 3000 Euros at that time (about 4500 dollars). I told him “I HAVE read ALL of the fine print, and I have the entire rental agreement right here with me. The TOTAL is 363 Euros. And you can’t charge my card 4500 dollars, because I don’t have 4500 dollars available.”

So, being the manager, he said he’ll make things right for me. He’ll fix it. That’s good customer service, right? Which is nice, because I was getting a bit worried about being in Europe and not having a car. The manager said “I’ll charge you for just two days instead of 10, and then you come back on Monday (after the Belgian Grand Prix and on my way to Prague for the Czech Grand Prix) and I’ll fix all of this for you, and charge you just the 363 Euros for 10 days. I promise I’ll fix it and make it right for you. Be here Monday by 1:30.”

So I went to the GP, and that was great. Marvin Musquin showed why he would go on to win the MX2 World Motocross Championship, and Tony Cairoli showed the grit that he’s shown all year in becoming the 2009 MX1 World Motocross Champion.

Watch video of the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix here

I rushed to the Frankfurt airport on that following Monday to meet the Thrifty rental car manager by 1:30. I was there by 9am. I wait in line, and, once I get to the front, I find out the manager is not there today. But the customer service agent said “I’ll take care of you. I see the notes here from the manager. I’ll fix it, and make it all right!”

So, the agreement we came to was – they charge me 900 Euros for the entire 10 days, and then when I return the car, I’ll be refunded the difference of 537 Euros. Awesome. Sounded great.

And then I had the rest of the money in my account for the next week or so for food, gas, etc.

I continue my drive to Prague, Czech Republic. I was looking forward to it, because so many people during the past few years have told me ‘You must visit Prague – it’s one of the most happening cities in all of the world right now!’

There is more to the rental car story … but the next order of business – as I’m getting into Prague now, was finding my hotel. Finding my hotel was ‘not-so-awesome’.

So, (actually this part is awesome) before I left home I got a reservation at a brand new, luxurious, 5 star hotel in Prague. I couldn’t wait! I was excited! I’m going to party in Prague! If you paid for the hotel directly by walking into the lobby & booking a room, you’d pay about 900 dollars per night. But I was lucky enough to get some promotional deal (again, a brand new hotel, so they were doing some promo to attract new customers) and got the room for about $50 per night. I was pumped. 5-star hotel for $50 a night!

I’m now driving into the center of Prague. It is 2pm. I knew I was close to my hotel too. I had my maps printed out, I had a good GPS system … but I couldn’t find the hotel! I was starting to get a little frustrated, because I’d follow the maps and the GPS instructions, and I’d end up somewhere …. but definitely not my hotel!

I stopped at a few gas stations, and asked directions, and showed them the address of the hotel. Each and every one of the people I asked said almost the exact same thing: “You are very close! It’s maybe only 2 or 3 kilometers at the most!”

I stopped at about 20 gas stations to ask directions. I got to know Prague quite well. But I was getting really frustrated. Each person told me the same thing: “Oh – you are very close! Maybe only 2 or 3 kilometers!”

I called the manager of the hotel and asked for her assistance. She was nice. She said “Have you seen the giant statue in the middle of the old town area?”

I said “Yes”.

She said “Oh – you are very close! Maybe only 2 or 3 kilometers! Come down the main street a bit more, turn right, and then you will see the signs.”

I did that. A bunch of times. It took me no where near anything that resembled a hotel, nor anywhere I wanted to be. I was starting to get very, very frustrated. I have now been driving around in circles, in Prague, for about 5 hours. It’s getting dark. I’m …. not happy.

So, I get a brilliant idea! I’ll call a taxi, and have the taxi driver lead me to the hotel!

I get a taxi driver. I show him my map and directions. He says “Follow me – I know right where it is – it’s just 2 kilometers from here my friend!

Yeah, right.

I followed the taxi, going down many of the same streets I had already been down a number of times. Finally, after about an hour, he pulls over, gets out of his car, and says “I’m sorry. I give up. I cannot find this place. Good luck.”

I call the hotel manager. Now she is upset because I haven’t made it to the hotel yet! She says “Where are you? Why are you not here?”

I told her “I am lost. Very lost. Extremely lost.”

She suggested maybe I should stop at a gas station and ask for directions. (Really? Brilliant idea!)

So, I spent the next few hours doing the same things – asking people directions, reprogramming the GPS, getting to know Prague very well, and still being very lost and not finding my hotel. I finally just pulled over and parked. I was incredibly frustrated, mad, hungry, disappointed … and not really sure what to do next.

The manager of the hotel calls me and says “Are you on _______ street?”

Well, I don’t know. I don’t know where I am. There are not a lot of street lights, and there are not a lot of street signs. I really didn’t know exactly where I am, or what street I was on. And now SHE is getting extremely frustrated.

It’s now midnight. I’m still driving around, really, really ticked off. The streets are empty. I’m just …. driving around. I think deep inside, I just had this feeling that if I kept driving around, knowing that I was really close, I would eventually find it.

At one big intersection, where there were no cars on the road, and I had the green light – I did a u-turn. I’m just going up and down different streets …

The hotel manager calls me again and says “Have you seen the Hilton Hotel in the center of town? We are very close to that hotel, and we work with them – they will give you directions to reach us. It is only 2 or 3 kilometers!”

I pull into the Hilton, because I know EXACTLY where that is – it’s the one I’ve driven past a few dozen times. Walk in the lobby, explain to the front desk, they give me directions, and tell me “You are very close! Maybe only 2 or 3 kilometers!”

I follow their map, and instructions. I’m back into the same areas and neighborhoods I’ve seen before, and let’s just say – there ain’t no hotels around. I walk into another gas station, show the girl behind the counter the paper I have with the hotel name and address, ask her if she knows where it might be, and …. she yells something at me in Czech which roughly translated means ‘Buy a map you loser!’

I’m ready to give up. I’m just driving down streets hoping. I see a giant Ikea building, with a huge, empty parking lot. I pull into it. I call the hotel manager, and tell her “I’m at the Ikea .. in the parking lot – can you send someone here to help me find the hotel?” And she replies “Most of us that work here don’t drive – we all use the train. And none of us know where the Ikea is.”

I’m a kilometer or two away, and they don’t know where the Ikea building is? It’s the biggest, most well lit building I had seen in all of Prague!

I sit in the parking lot. Totally dejected. I feel like a failure, because I can’t do something that is really simple – find a hotel that I have the address to, … and I have a GPS with me.

I have just determined that I’m going to spend the night in my car. Go the next day and stay at the Hilton – no matter what the price. At least I know where that is.

The hotel manager calls me back and she says “I have found someone that knows of Ikea – don’t move, and we’ll be there in less than 5 minutes.”

Nice!

About 30 seconds later ….. a police car comes up behind me. Two police officers get out and walk to each side of my car. They were very young, and spoke English very well. I explain to them that I’m really, really lost. I showed them the hotel address. I showed them my GPS. I showed them my maps and all the notes I had from people giving me directions. It was all going good, I’m pretty sure they believed me …. and then they said “You are coming to our offices so we can understand this better.”

It’s now after 2am. I’m following a police car in the Czech Republic to go to their ‘offices’. Really? I started thinking as I was following them “Where ARE we really going? Am I going to get arrested? What IS going to happen???”

We go into their offices. They ask me to explain again. I tell them I’m really, really lost. I’m trying to find this hotel (as I show them the map with the name and address of the hotel). They talk to each other in Czech, then ask me an occasional question or two, and it seems like THEY are trying to figure out what to do with me.

One cop finally tells me “We saw you make a u-turn at a traffic light a couple hours ago. We are going to give you a ticket. Then you go.” (They explained to me it is illegal to make u-turns in the Czech Republic. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know.)

Then, my phone rings again. It’s the hotel manager. She’s mad. She says “Why did you leave Ikea? Where are you? Your room is ready! Why did you leave the Ikea???”

I put my phone down, and asked one policeman “Would YOU like to talk to this lady at the hotel? Maybe YOU can help me to find the hotel after I receive my ticket.”

So, the cop and the hotel manager start talking on my phone. It’s probably about $4 per minute to talk, since my phone is US-based, and I’m in the Czech Republic. They ended up having a nice, long, jovial conversation! They are laughing, and although I can’t understand what they are saying, I nervously laugh when I hear them laugh – although I don’t know what the heck I’m laughing about. However, I could pick up on some phrases they were saying, like ‘stupid American’ and ‘dumb American’. And they just keep on talking! For about 30 minutes!

Finally, he hands me my phone and says “You can turn it off. We will take you to the hotel. Just get in your car, and you can follow us.”

The police get in their car. I get in my car. Then two more police cars come out of nowhere, and get in front of the first police car. I’m tired. It’s close to 4am now. I’m not sure what’s going on …

Then all three police cars turn on their sirens (incredibly loud), and their police lights (neon blue! Top, front, and back!) and start driving. I guess I’m supposed to follow them?

Then …. I get it. They are giving me a ‘police escort’ to the hotel! It was incredible! It was like my very own parade! No ticket – but a police escort! Lights flashing, sirens blaring. It was unbelievable!

And, of course, the hotel was about 2 kilometers away!

(Sidebar – I did finally find out why no one could ever find this hotel, including the taxi driver, my GPS, and all the people I asked – it is literally a brand new hotel, inside a new shopping center, on a brand new street that not very many local people even knew existed : )

The police pull into the front of the hotel, sirens still going, lights still flashing … and I’m feeling now like it’s drawing just a little bit too much attention to me. I get out of my car, walked over to all of them, thanked them …. and they all pulled away – laughing hysterically!

I get into the hotel, and this place is luxurious, … totally opulent. Over-the-top. Awesome. Incredible. And, at 4:55am in the morning, as I enter the lobby, I get a standing ovation from a group of hotel employees lined up to greet me! They were all quite ‘entertained’ at the customer that took almost 15 hours to find their hotel.

Hey – I was feeling good again – I made it! The rental car thing was taken care of – I’ll get some sleep, and hit the town of Prague the next night. All good!

As I’m checking into my room at the front desk with the hotel manager, she says “I need your card to pay for any incidentals”. Great. I had maybe $1800 still budgeted for this trip on the card, and basically all I had left to pay for was gas (very, very expensive in Europe) and food.

She says “Sorry, your card didn’t go thru.” I’m embarrassed, not sure what to do, tired …. but she was nice. She said “No worries for tonight. Just go to bed, and we’ll deal with it in the morning”.

I get to my room, and I had to check my bank account. What’s the deal? Why did the card not go thru? Was I not going to have any money to eat for the next few days? How was I going to pay for gas? WHAT WAS going on?

I check my bank account. Guess what? Thrifty rental car had charged my card twice now. Once for about $2000 dollars, and another time for about $2900 dollars. My account is in the minus. I’m … stunned … bewildered …. screwed.

In the morning, I called my office and asked them to put some money into my personal account, so I could at least secure my hotel room, eat, and pay for gas for the next few days. And I figured I’ll deal with Thrifty car rental when I return the car.

However, I did call Thrifty the next morning, just to remind them of what they agreed to, and to ask what their hours of operation are there at the Frankfurt airport location. Thrifty tells me they are open 24 hours a day at the airport location. Awesome. Once I get back there early Monday morning, everything will be all taken care of. The manager said “I remember you – I’ll take care of everything and it will all be good for you.”

In the meantime, my office puts in some money into my account, I enjoy Prague for a few days, and all is good. I work a few hours in the morning, work a few hours in the evening, and have some fun during the off time.

Anywhere I go with my laptop, I can work. I have a wireless modem thru Verizon. It’s great. I can connect anywhere. For Europe, I called Verizon and had them set it up so it would work correctly for the time I’d be in Europe. The cost for this set-up? $129

On Thursday, I get a phone call from Verizon. “Yes, we are calling about your Verizon wireless modem account – you have run up $4000 dollars over the past few days in data charges from Belgium and the Czech Republic. We just wanted to make sure no one has stolen your modem card.”

Holy @#$%! $4000? It was only supposed $129 for the entire month! And I’m going to use it for less than two weeks! $4000? I told them “Terminate the account right now!”

Again, I’m stunned. This was not how the trip was supposed to go! I’m just …. bewildered. I compartmentalized and thought “I’ll just deal with Verizon when I get home.”

Next, it’s the Czech Grand Prix weekend – awesome. It’s a beautiful area for a race. And I partook of some fine Czech Pilsner too. Frequently. I think it makes my video much more stunning, compelling, dynamic. You can be the judge of that though …

To watch video of the Czech Grand Prix of Motocross you can click here

Monday morning. Up at 1am. Gotta’ jam back to Frankfurt airport and fly back home. And, gotta’ take care of business with my ‘friends’ at Thrifty Rental Car! They are going to ‘make it right’!

I arrive about 5am at the Frankfurt airport. Flight is at 7:50am. Going to return my Thrifty rental car, talk to the manager, get my monies refunded, so everything will be good!

One problem. The Thrifty counter employees are not there 24 hours a day. And they are not open when I got to the airport and returned the car. Nice. I’ll probably be flying over England about the time someone shows up there …

The next day, I’m back home in California. I call Thrifty corporate here in the USA. They say they can’t help me. I must call the German affiliate of Thrifty in Germany, which is called “Terstappen”. Great customer service! You’ll rent me the car thru your USA website … but I can’t call your corporate offices in the USA to get some ‘customer service’ with a problem I’m having?

I call my bank and ask them if they can help. They said they could! They said they can investigate the situation, put some of the payments on hold, and partially refund some of the money until the investigation is complete. Great. They do all of the above, and it’s all good. For a while anyway ….

Five days later, I get my monthly bill from Verizon. Remember that $4000 wireless modem bill? It is now $9,000. $9,000! I immediately call Verizon customer service, and they tell me “In addition to the data charges, you have roaming charges. You now owe us $9,000.”

Awesome. How did something they told me was going to be $129 become $9,000???

After weeks of communication, e-mails, phone calls, letters, etc., Verizon finally realizes the mistake, and reduces the bill to what is was supposed to be. Nice! Thank you Verizon for taking care of a customer with good customer service! We like Verizon!

So, after all that, everything worked out great. I made it to two great races. I ended up only paying what I was supposed to for my rental car. And I found my hotel in Prague.

I can’t wait for the next GP!

Lex

p.s. This story has a p.s. Today, December 4th, 2009, I happen to check my bank account. Terstappen Thrifty Rental car in Germany has struck again! After the research my bank had done, and getting my monies refunded back for me …. four months after the fact: Terstappen Thrifty rental has recharged my account for the rental car. The addtional charges? 2900 Euro. $4,362.00.

Terstappen Thrifty in Germany, and Thrifty corporate here in the USA – you could of won over a customer for life if you just treated someone with a little respect, used good customer service, and charged a fair price for renting a car. Verizon is a perfect example. They kept their word and contract, and used good customer service skills. We will continue to use Verizon, and we tell all of our friends of the great service we’ve received from Verizon. Even the Czech police used good ‘customer service’ when told the truth (how many of you have had a full-on police escort to your hotel in the Czech Republic at 4am in the morning?)


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