Friday, August 19, 2005

Ebony and Ivory not an Enterprising Mix

From Charlie Johnston at the Illinois Leader. His account of an experience with himself, his daughter, and his son-in-law. This is amongst some Illinois politics.

I am a fortunate man. When my daughter, Christie, hit puberty she went into a particularly wild and self-destructive phase. It lasted until just a few years ago. Whatever it was that came upon her vanished almost as mysteriously and suddenly as it came.

Not too many months after she had come back down to earth she started dating a marvelous man. Shortly after, they got engaged. I thanked my lucky stars.

After the thugs and bums she had cronied with for so many years, I was not optimistic about her chances of ending up with a hardworking, responsible man.

Dee (short for Diallo) was a little nervous about meeting me. Christie loved to tease him about the fact that I am conservative, Catholic, and Republican. Black folks are a little uncertain about their reception in such quarters, but never more than when they are dating the conservative, Catholic Republican’s daughter.

It didn’t take me long to see that Christie had found the right guy. It didn’t take Dee long to figure out that somebody had been lying to him on what to expect from conservative Catholic Republicans.

The two of them came down with me for Thanksgiving with the family in Alabama. I stayed with them on weekends while I was in the process of moving back to Lake county from western Illinois.

Though our family relations are warm and affectionate, that is not what this story is about.

On Wednesday morning I was flying back from an out-of-state trip when Dee called me. His sister was being transferred to Florida and needed to drive down to arrange for the apartment and a few other errands before going out permanently.

He had gone with her to rent a car at Enterprise in Libertyville where he has often done business.

But he was tapped out on his credit card and they wouldn’t accept a debit card because of the distance involved. They told him if he got another family member to secure it with a credit card that would be fine. He asked if it was okay if it was his father-in-law. That would work, he was told.

So he and my daughter came over after I got home. Because it was closer to me and I had a lot of work to catch up on, we went to the Enterprise in Mundelein. Everything was fine there and we had secured the car, but it turned out they had to do an oil change on it and it would not be ready until the next morning. The sister was planning to leave that night.

So we cancelled and said we’d go to their franchise in Libertyville, which was open later. When we walked in, the manager took a look at Dee and me and informed us that his sister would have to have her own credit card to be listed as an additional driver.

We explained that it was their shop which had instructed Dee what to do earlier in the day - and that the Mundelein shop had rented us a car, which we would have taken had it been ready before closing. He wasn’t having any of it. He explained their policy, which was completely different than what had been said earlier in the day - and which was utterly inconsistent with Dee’s previous experiences in the same store.

Something finally dawned on me as we were getting nowhere in this discussion. "Let’s go,” I told Dee, his mother and sister. “I don’t think this has anything to do with policy.”

I told the sister to come down to Mundelein in the morning and we would get it taken care of. We went to the Mundelein office. The fellow at the counter naturally wanted to know why we hadn’t gotten the car at Libertyville the night before. I told him wryly that I thought we had encountered a little racism.

As it turns out, the guy at Libertyville is his boss. So he called to check and was instructed not to rent us a car. He apologized, but there was nothing he could do. Dee’s mother called Enterprise corporate office. After a few moments I asked to speak to the man on the phone. I explained to him what had happened.

He smarmily said to me, “Well, racism is a serious charge. I’ve heard about the credit cards and licenses, but when did anyone say it was because of race?”

That angered me. “I did not say your people were so stupid as to actually say it out loud. What I’m saying is that after my son-in-law did what your people told him to do, when he walked in with a white father-in-law, the rules changed.”

I don’t know how much of that the guy heard because he hung up on me. Interesting corporate public relations strategy.

So we went to their competitors, Budget, in Libertyville. I told the woman behind the counter exactly what we were doing and asked if that was okay. All she needed was a valid driver’s license from the sister. Within 20 minutes, Dee’s sister had her car and was on her way.

I asked the manager at the Libertyville Enterprise later to see the policy in writing. He did show me a sheet that said additional drivers must qualify just as the person who rents the car does. So perhaps it was a comedy of errors and there was no ill intent.

But anyone familiar with the Jim Crow era is also familiar with broad laws and corporate regulations that were selectively applied only to black folks.

What I KNOW is that Dee has handled rentals from the same company in that way previously (though not for out of state travel).

I know that Dee did not come up with this plan, but was instructed to handle it this way by employees at Enterprise in Libertyville.

I know that there was no problem except the timing of getting the car at the Mundelein franchise.

I know that no hint of a problem arose until after the manager at Libertyville saw that this black man’s father-in-law was white.

I know that the Mundelein franchise reversed its prior approval on instructions from the manager at Libertyville. I know that, explaining the situation up front, it took us 20 minutes to get the car at Budget in Libertyville. Was it racism? These are the facts - you make the call.

Oh, and there is one other thing I know: I will never do business with Enterprise Rental Cars again.

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