The travel agent we use for business travel got back to me for a recent trip and explained that she had upgraded me to a mid-size car instead of the compact I had requested. “Between you and me, I think mid-size is really a compact. Anyway, it was only $2 more.” I told her that actually I ask for compact cars because they use less gas. I figured that would be a pretty plausible argument given $4/gallon gas in the United States.
It seemed to work because when the confirmation arrived I noticed that it detailed “compact car” just as I originally asked. When I arrived at the rental counter, I handed over my ID and credit card and said that I had a reservation for the smallest car they had. You know, just a reminder. Of course, the clerk responded with an offer for an upgrade. They always do this, so no surprise. “Only if you plan on paying for my gas,” I responded. He ignored me and went about entering information into the computer. “Space D24,” he finally explained after I had signed all the contracts and initialed all the disclaimers.
I made my way out to space D24 where a beautiful blue Ford Mustang was waiting for me. I asked the help counter and some attendant standing around if there was some mistake, but there wasn’t. I could have made a bigger fuss, it was only going to be a short drive, so I just went on with my business.
Climbing inside the Mustang, I could see why they might have confused the V-6 gas guzzler with a compact. The rear seats are more fashion than function, as most everyone I know actually has legs below the knee cap and there would be no place for them in rear. It’s also hard to see over the bulging hood even with the seat as high as it would go and it wouldn’t matter anyway, because the poor driver is dazzled by all the sparkling plastic chrome trim on the instrument panel.
The thing is, I don’t rent compact cars for gas mileage exactly. I rent them because I really don’t need to drag around extra car for some short business trip. No sense spewing sucking down more oil and spewing out extra gas just because I am not home. I don’t get any extra pleasure driving some luxury or sporty car for a day or two; cars just don’t do it for me. Still, I understand my little environmental gesture is pretty meaningless. The impact of driving a compact car for two days it pretty much wiped out before the airplane taxis even a few feet.
Canvas bags really don’t make that much difference but I bring them to the store. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is even less of an energy savings, but I do it whenever it’s convenient. It’s clear that all these tiny gestures are silly at best, but in combination, maybe they add up to something. And if I do them and people I know decide there’s little stopping them from saving a miniscule bit here and there, then together, maybe we really do make a difference.