Renting a car? Keep your guard up

alamo contractBefore leaving on a road trip to the South recently, I called my car-insurance company to check whether I should get any added coverage on a rental car. I don’t rent cars often, and I’m wary when I do. Rental companies are notorious for pressuring you to buy add-ons that seem essential to your financial well-being in case of an accident. I like a bargain, but trying to decipher the meaning of rental contract at the counter is anxiety-producing.

I always need a reminder about the “collision-damage waiver” provision. Should I accept it or decline, and who is waiving what? It turns out that accepting it, and paying $10 to $20 a day, means that the rental company will waive its right to make me pay for collision damage. That would be a relief. However, my insurer told me that the collision coverage on my 2014 Mustang would extend to a rental car. Credit-card companies often offer collision protection as well. Decline the collision-damage waiver, I was told.

After doing a few price comparison searches online, I found that Alamo offered a rate significantly below other major companies. For an eight-day rental, I could save about $200 over the competition. I was skeptical about the price but told myself Alamo might have some geographical dominance that gave it a price advantage.

I arrived at the Alamo rental-car desk at the Atlanta, Ga., airport alert and rested after spending the night at an airport motel. There was no line at the counter, and the clerk was smooth and efficient. I said I wanted to add my wife, Carol, as an additional driver, which I couldn’t do online. I was irritated Alamo imposed a $9.99 a day fee. I didn’t recall paying a fee when I rented a car from a different company a year ago.

I declined the collision-damage waiver, which I had also done online. I declined “optional extended protection,” whatever that was. When the clerk handed me the contract to sign, the bottom line was $280 more than the online price. The additional driver accounted for $80 of that sum.

“What’s the extra $200 for?” I asked as I showed him my online estimate.

“That’s for liability insurance — $25 a day,” the clerk responded.

He pointed to the contract, which said: “I acknowledge that unless I accept supplemental liability insurance at the beginning of rental, Alamo provides no liability protection or any other kind of insurance which covers me or the rental vehicle.”

I had never encountered this before with a rental car company. I recalled nothing about liability insurance on the online form. That probably explained why Alamo’s online price had been so much lower than the other major car rental companies. A liability lawsuit, long shot though it was, could be extremely expensive. I hadn’t thought to ask my auto insurer whether liability coverage would be provided on a rental as well as collision.

Should I pay an additional $200 for peace of mind? Should I interrupt everything and try to reach my insurer? Should I go with my hunch the $100,000-$300,000 liability coverage on my Mustang would carry over to this rental as did the collision coverage?

I went with my hunch, which proved to be correct when I got around to calling my insurance company after the trip. I saved $200 while enduring only mild, occasional anxiety for the next eight days.

Even so, I wasn’t thrilled to get an estimate at the airport counter that was $280 more than I had been given online, nor happy that the clerk had automatically added the liability coverage to the contract. Did he think I wouldn’t notice the discrepancy between my online estimate and the final price or wouldn’t object?

I guess the experience was a useful reinforcement of the buyer-beware principle.

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Bringing a lot of baggage on Southern road trip

I brought a lot of baggage with me on my road trip through the South last week. For one thing, I felt compelled to tell my wife, Carol, to stick to the speed limit because I definitely didn’t want to be pulled over by Southern cops on some rural stretch of highway. My head is still filled with televised images of civil rights workers in the 1960s being beaten, hosed and dragged off by cops.

In the summer of 1964, my view of America grew dark with the killing of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Two of them – Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – were white New Yorkers like myself. The third, Michael Chaney, was a black from Mississippi. Their brutal deaths at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, aided by local law-enforcement officers, made me realize at age 19 that Southerners would kill to preserve their segregated society.

I put those images and memories alongside unpleasant stories from my sister, who had lived for two years in Huntsville, Alabama, and tales of a black college roommate who was pursued by whites while driving in Georgia. The combination convinced me the South was no place for me, and, except for south Florida beaches, I steered clear of it for most of my adult life.

When Carol and I were invited to my great-nephew’s wedding and a family basketball game in Wilmington, N.C., we decided to push our comfort zone by taking a road trip from Atlanta to the coastal cities of Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., before driving north to Wilmington. After making our plans, nine churchgoers in Charleston were killed and the fight over display of the Confederate flag at the State House in Columbia intensified. We hoped we weren’t headed into a racial war zone.

What we discovered initially is that the South can be rather charming and sure has a lot of Waffle Houses. We stayed at a hotel in Savannah’s historic district and took walking tours highlighting the city’s colonial and Civil War history, culture and architecture. I learned that slavery was banned in the British colony’s early years, partly because there was an abundance of indentured servants working off their debts. Catholics, lawyers and hard liquor were also unwelcome in the early decades. Statues of Civil War heroes in the city’s tree-filled squares faced north, eternally on guard against the enemy.

On the 100-mile drive to Charleston, the blue sky turned to grey and raindrops fell. We got soaked and cold on a two-hour walking tour of this town, which started up in 1663. But the real chill came when we stood in front of the Old Slave Mart Museum and tried to understand the inhumanity of whites selling and buying black men, women and children. From the Charleston Harbor waterfront, we could see Fort Sumter in the distance. The Union-held fort was bombarded by Southern forces in 1861, starting the Civil War.

At breakfast at our hotel the next morning, Carol and I sat at a table with a black woman about our age. She said she was representing her church in Beaufort, S.C., at a conference being held at the nearby Emanuel AME Church. She said she had known the pastor, who was one of nine blacks gunned down there in June by a young white man. She shook her head slowly and said it was all very sad.

A Washington Post story about the church tragedy concluded this way:

As the South’s great novelist William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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First, basketball, then the wedding

Team Clegg: from left, Paul Clegg; nephew Paul; nephew Jim; great-nephew Brendan; and great-nephew Connor.

Team Clegg: from left, Paul Clegg; nephew Paul; nephew Jim; great-nephew Brendan; and great-nephew Connor.

Thirty players turned out to play basketball on my nephew Brendan's wedding day.

Thirty players turned out to play basketball on my nephew Brendan’s wedding day.

Making my move.

Making my move.

Basketball is a Clegg-family sport spanning three generations. That’s why it wasn’t surprising full-court games were on tap the morning of my great-nephew Brendan’s wedding day in Wilmington, N.C., last weekend.

Brendan, a 29-year-old lawyer, had rented an indoor court in Wilmington — the city where Michael Jordan played his high school ball. Thirty players showed up, including five Cleggs and 25 of Brendan’s tall, athletic millennial buddies. Some were high school teammates from Wakefield, Mass., and others were friends from Colgate University and William and Mary Law School.

It looked like a long, tough morning. Team Clegg was giving away about 15 years on average, even with Brendan and my great-nephew Connor, less than two years out of Princeton. Rounding out the team were my nephews Paul, Brendan’s father; Jim, Connor’s father; and yours truly, who is getting uncomfortably close to 70. We did have height, with Jim and Connor, standing about 6 foot 7. Both father and son were high school stars in  Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

I was impressed that Brendan took to the court on his wedding day, risking a fat lip or black eye just six hours or so before he would say “I do” to his lovey bride, Lauren, and face the cameras. He showed no inhibitions about driving to the hoop or battling under the boards. I guess he assumed the gods of love would protect him.

Team Clegg was an upset winner in our first game and then lost our next two by a mere basket each time. We played surprisingly well as a team despite our age differences, setting good picks, making back door passes and displaying well-honed midrange jump shots. I had a good shooting day, but wished I could have given Jim and Connor more help on the boards.

Still, it felt uplifting to be on the court with two nephews and two great-nephews and be able at my age to go three games. These get-togethers make me feel the changing of the guard. At the wedding, recognition was paid to those who were not present, including my brother George, Brendan’s grandfather, who died last year. I grew up as the “baby” in my family of eight children and now am becoming one of the elders at these family functions.

I’m hoping I’ll still be in the game at the next family reunion, when a whole lot more Cleggs are likely to be available for action. Our last reunion drew more than 100 family members. I’m sure the fourth generation of Clegg basketball players is warming up.




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Football fan could use some common sense

Here are a few thought-provoking things from the world of sports recently:

The beating of a jersey-wearing Minnesota Vikings fan by S.F. fans after a recent 49ers home game made me wonder about the wisdom of making yourself a potential target in an alcohol-fueled environment. Sure, the guy had a right to show up at the game dressed the way he did, but shouldn’t he have had the common sense to know trouble might ensue?

When I was growing up in New York City, I took pride in my street smarts. I knew what areas to avoid and what streets were safe. I didn’t stare too long at strangers because that might invite the question “Who you looking at?” and things usually went downhill from there.

If I came home with a black eye and told my folks I had been walking south of the Queens Village train station, they would demand to know why I was hanging out in such a place. There would be no support for my constitutional right to walk freely in America. Being a jerk got you no sympathy.

They had no use for thugs and bullies, of course. But their responsibility was to raise a good child in a hard world. Eyes heavenward and feet on the ground, as the local priest would say.

I hope the cops arrest the S.F. fans who assaulted the Vikings fan, but I also hope he learns something about the ways of the world. It’s a useful lesson, not only for sports fans, but also for, let’s say, college sorority girls who go looking for a good time at beer-fueled frat parties.

  • ••• •••

In San Antonio, Texas, two high school football players were suspended from school after deliberately smashing into an unsuspecting referee during a game. An assistant coach who may have provoked the incident was also suspended.

Video replays of the incident have been viewed more than nine million times on YouTube, drawing outrage from even casual sports viewers and stirring calls for harsh penalties, including criminal charges and suspension of the school’s football program, according to a New York Times article.

What astounds me most about the incident is the readiness of high school athletes to attack an adult official. That’s a line I couldn’t imagine crossing in my high school basketball days. The worst behavior I can recall from other players was protesting a call too strenuously and getting hit with a technical foul.

Was this an isolated incident or does it reflect an unsettling breakdown of respect for authority?

  • •• ••• •••

In New Jersey, Rutgers University suspended its football coach, Kyle Flood, for three games and fined him $50,000 this month after an investigation confirmed that he had improperly contacted a faculty member in an effort to preserve a key player’s eligibility.

In a statement, Flood had the nerve to contend that he was looking out for the academic interest of players. “I care deeply about my student-athlete’s academic performance,” he said. “As the head coach, when I recruit players, my responsibility to them and their families is to do all I can to make sure they leave Rutgers with a degree and are prepared for a successful life off the football field.”

What a guy!




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He didn’t look like a murderer

While reading a book review recently, I saw that the novel was set in the small seaside town of Moclips, Washington. I was immediately taken back 40 years to one of my first encounters with true evil.

Back then, I was a reporter in Bremerton, Washington, a city of 30,000 an hour’s ferry ride from Seattle and mostly known as the home of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. One day in 1975, the courthouse was abuzz with talk about a local man named William Batten. He had been convicted a few months before of three felony counts of abusing his stepchildren. Although Batten had been committed in 1967 to a state psychiatric hospital as a sexual psychopath, reports and testimony at sentencing indicated Batten was a minor risk to the community and would benefit more from psychological counseling than incarceration. Judge Jay Hamilton put Batten on probation and allowed him to go to Moclips, where his parents lived. The judge’s action struck me as appropriate.

Now, Batten was back in our local court on charges that he had violated the terms of his probation. What had happened? Batten had been arrested and charged with stabbing to death two 19-year-old women on a beach near Moclips. Their semi-nude, bloodied bodies were found on a deserted stretch of the beach several days after they had been killed. Law-enforcement officers found a utility bill with Batten’s name on it at the scene. After his arrest, Batten confessed that he had initially given the women hitchhikers a ride to the beach. Later, he returned to the driftwood shelter they had erected and managed to tie them up. When one of the women started screaming, he stabbed her to death and then killed the second woman to prevent her from being a witness.

At the probation-revocation hearing, a visibly upset Judge Hamilton sharply questioned a psychological counselor who had written an upbeat assessment of Batten’s progress just a day or so after the killings. Batten had reported to his counseling session and seemed far less tense than he had been in earlier sessions, the counselor had written in a report sent to Hamilton.

Batten, a nondescript-looking guy, said nothing at the hearing. It was hard to imagine the guy standing meekly in the courtroom not only as a knife-wielding, violent killer, but also as a stone-cold murderer. After lashing out and stabbing the two women repeatedly, he went back inside the shelter when he heard one of them moaning and finished her off, he told police.

I felt for Judge Hamilton, a sharp, no-nonsense judge who had made a reasonable decision that went terribly wrong. The fact that trained counselors couldn’t see what was inside Batten’s head didn’t count for much. Hamilton had released Batten on probation and had to deal with the public consequences when the story appeared in the Bremerton paper and other media outlets.

The judge revoked Batten’s probation and sentenced him to the maximum term of three 10-year prison terms to run consecutively. Batten was later convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. According to an online article on serial killers, Batten remains a suspect in the 1969 disappearance of a woman he had dated.

After that court experience, I felt more humble about my ability to size up people on the basis of initial appearances.

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