Traveling Salesman, Minus Dwight & Michael

Posted by on September 12, 2011

Part of my job here in Australia is sales, which I find somewhat amusing since that’s one of the things I thought I’d never do in my life. Fortunately I’ve watched The Office so I know how to do sales right. In fact, my first sales trip was a bit like an episode from that TV show.

This was my first time trying out GoGet, a car sharing service which just so happens to have cars parked across the street from our flat. Very convenient. You swipe your smart card on the windshield, the car unlocks, and the ignition key is waiting for you inside. You’re automatically charged based on how long you use the car, and how many kilometers you drive. When you’re done you bring it back to the same parking spot, ideally on time.

Nearby GoGet car in its special parking spot

Smart card reader in the dashboard which unlocks the car

Within the first 5 minutes I had drivers honking at me. I’m not sure if it was my slow, erratic driving, or the windshield wipers which I kept turning on every time I tried to turn on the blinker since the controls were opposite. This brought back memories of Herbie, my Honda Civic of college days which would activate the windshield wipers randomly. Aussies, it seems, aren’t afraid to honk when they’re annoyed.

It had been over a month since I’d driven any kind of vehicle, and that was back when I lived in a country where they drive on the “right” side of the road. Whenever you drive in a new country there are unfamiliar signs and traffic patterns to get used to, and of course roads you’ve never been on. But I think driving on the other side of the road is perhaps the biggest adjustment to make.

I managed to make it on to the fast-moving harbour bridge without much incident and was immediately presented with a confusing array of lanes to choose from: one was painted red (which I think was for busses), a couple split off at one point for no particular reason, and some other lanes seemed to be used for oncoming traffic at certain times of day (I was hoping that time of day wasn’t now). Then I saw warnings about unmanned toll booths. I was somewhat reassured to hear a beep as I passed through the toll booth area, hoping this meant my crossing was legal, even though I didn’t have any idea if my car was paying for me or not. When I got to the other side I was again presented with confusing lane choices, but I somehow happened to pick the right one, leading me on the futuristic-feeling raised highway above the Circular Quay train and ferry station below. I must confess I spent more time than I should have staring down at my iPad which was tracking me on google maps. My entire journey would have been much harder back in the dark ages before GPS.

The first dive shop I visited was already familiar with our products and how to order them, so there wasn’t a whole lot they needed help with, though I was able to show off our cool underwater video light which they hadn’t seen. I also bought an insanely expensive (because we’re in Australia?) scuba tank from them for use in my pressure pod (more on that later). Perhaps the most significant part of my visit was being taught a new Aussie word: dunny. I made the painfully obvious mistake of asking where their restroom was. As soon as the word came out of my mouth I knew I should have said something less American, like toilet. They laughed at me (in a nice Australian sort of way), and the guy told me I really should have asked for the dunny, which is sort of slang for outhouse. I guess it made sense in this context since their “bathroom” was outside in a different building.

I was glad to see that my smart card was still working as I got back to the car to head off to the next dive shop (as much as I love technology, I also have a nagging sense of distrust for it). I arrived early and lugged my weapon-sized Pelican box of demo gear inside.

My gun case. At least that's what the Australian customs officials were convinced of when I entered the country. You can't blame them for thinking that.

All my demo gear.

This particular dive shop didn’t actually have much of a connection with our company yet, so this was more of a “real” sales encounter. Fortunately I didn’t have Dwight or Michael to mess things up, so it all went fine. Maybe also because I don’t know anything about sales so I basically just talked candidly about our products, and answered questions. This was a rather big dive shop, and I’ve already received some follow-up response which is encouraging. I guess the only complaint I encountered was that our dive computer doesn’t have “Aussie” but only “English” as an option in the settings.

For whatever reason most of my problems happened on my way home. I guess what started it was going to Costco. Because of this rare situation of having a car, Katie and I decided that I’d stop by the one and only Costco in Sydney on my way back so that we didn’t have to lug a huge backpack full of Costco goods back on the bus and train like we did on our first visit (it’s quite far from where we live). Having never driven in the area, my calculations (despite help from Google) on how long it would take me to get there were way off, and so I arrived with about 25 minutes to shop.

Twenty-five minutes is never enough time to shop at Costco. Especially when the exceptionally small parking structure is completely filled and you spend precious minutes trying to park. And then you wait more precious minutes for the elevator (er, I mean lift) to arrive only to find out it’s not working. Then you walk inside to find the busiest Costco in the world (mostly filled with Filipinos, by the way), and some of the worst crowd control I’ve ever seen. So I was madly running through the crowded Costco trying to find what we wanted, all the while watching the minutes go by. By the time I got to checkout I knew I was going to miss the deadline for returning the car, so I frantically started to figure out how to extend my booking to avoid the late penalties. At first I tried GoGet’s website on my iPhone, which as it turns out lets you do just about everything EXCEPT extend your booking. You have to do that by calling a phone number. What!? That’s annoying. Especially when you have terrible phone reception. Don’t ask me why I could use the Internet but not make a phone call. All the while people were cutting in front of me in the checkout line, something which the person behind me was quick to point out (but I have to add that it was again done in a mostly polite Australian manner). I must have tried calling over a dozen times without success, and finally gave up. I was in such a hurry that I left my shopping cart behind and ran with all my groceries down the long ramp (the lift was still not working) and back to my car. Fortunately I did remember to pay.

I decided to start driving in the hopes that I would miraculously get home in time, or finally get through to extend my booking. At this point I looked down at my iPhone to see “No Service” which completely baffled me since I was now outside and I knew I had service earlier. I tried some basic troubleshooting (while driving my car, which is not such a great idea), and finally got it going by powering down the phone completely and “booting” it back up. Android fans are allowed to be smug at this point.

I immediately started calling GoGet but they were (oddly enough) having difficulties with their phone system so it kept kicking me out. By this point I decided I’d best pull off to the side of the road before I caused an accident, and I spent a good while trying to get through on the phone. I finally managed to extend my booking, 5 minutes before my time expired. Fortunately no one else had booked my car for the next hour.

During this whole time due to traffic, wrong turns, and finally just pulling over, I had only made it a couple kilometers away from Costco. It was way past lunchtime, and I had skipped the Costco foodcourt due to my time crunch, despite having been looking forward to that all day. “But hey, now I have an extra hour on my booking, so why not go back to Costco for lunch.” That was my thinking, so I did and enjoyed a piece of pizza. I even picked up a very berry sundae on my way out since I deserved it for all my hard work.

Back on the road, things started going downhill again pretty fast. This was despite the added entertainment of the windshield wipers going off every time I tried to use the blinker, since apparently blinker habits are hard to change. Traffic was terrible, making me regret that return trip to the Costco food court since I was now worried for a second time about getting the car back in time. Then I realized the gas gauge was at 1/4 tank, and the rules state you can’t bring the car back with 1/4 tank or, you guessed it, more fines. Fuel costs are supposed to be included in the use of the car, so if you do have to fill up they provide a gas card for you to use. That sounded great, except I couldn’t find one in the car. So, another call to GoGet. This time my phone worked first try! A friendly agent told me I had to pay with my own money, and get reimbursed. Ok, whatever.

I was just about to pull into a gas station when someone out of nowhere cut in front of me, and I slammed on the brakes. I barely avoided the collision, but my very berry sundae turned into a very very big mess. It was no longer between my legs, but now splattered all over the floor of the very new GoGet car. Huge mess. Plus, I hadn’t been able to eat much of it yet. Dude, this stinks. I guess that would be an understatement.

Fortunately the gas station had a windshield washing station, so I spent quite a while cleaning off the floor mats in the car with water, and using up a tree’s worth of paper towels. This was all done rather frantically as I was now even closer to missing my second car dropoff deadline.

With the mess taken care of, I fumbled around in the car to figure out how to open the gas tank door, and then ran inside and waited in line to pay since the gas pump didn’t have a way to pay. Then I realized that here in Australia you pump first, then pay. At this point I couldn’t help but start laughing at my situation since it seemed everything was going wrong, and there was no end in sight. So I ran back out to the car and started pumping, hoping that I wasn’t pumping diesel, and then wondering if maybe I was supposed to be pumping diesel. It was at this point that I noticed the car behind me, who had pulled up moments after me. They were done pumping, and were just sitting there watching me. Was it for the entertainment value? I didn’t know, but I knew I had more important things to worry about. I ran back into the service station for the nth time and paid. When I got back to my car to leave one of the guys in the car behind me started yelling at me for taking so long. Huh? Why in the world was he waiting for me? He could have backed up and driven around me this whole time. I mumbled something about not knowing he was waiting for me, and tried to pull out of there as fast as possible.

Traffic was now even worse. A quick check on Google maps indicated there was no way I was going to return the car in time. I couldn’t believe I was going to miss my second deadline, but there was nothing I could do but call up again, and extend my rental again. Of course, not too long after extending my rental for the second time, traffic cleared up. I ended up getting home only 5 minutes after my second deadline, which means I wasted like an hour of rental time (you can only rent in blocks of 1 hour). But this was still better than the fines of bringing it back late.

By this point I was just happy I hadn’t crashed the car, which was the only thing I could think of that would have made the ordeal worse. But overall I actually was quite upbeat about my day. I guess that’s partly because I enjoy adventure and the unknown, but even more so because the dive shop visits went well.

One Response to Traveling Salesman, Minus Dwight & Michael

  1. Mom Peckham

    Thanks, Daniel! It was even better reading it than hearing it over the phone.
    Love, MOM

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