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Madeleine Begun Kane,
Humor Columnist,

Madeleine Begun Kane

Sometimes a hotel stay doesn't go quite as smoothly as you'd like. I'm not talking about a room that isn't as nice or clean as you expected. I'm not even talking about lost reservations, a lousy view, or finding a dead body under your bed. (Although discovering a corpse under your bed, which actually once happened to a Florida tourist, should definitely get you a discount. ) I'm talking about checking into a luxury hotel with a perfectly fine car and having it destroyed before you've had a chance to unpack.

This brings me to a recent Los Angeles Times story about a Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel guest who arrived in a $175,000 Ferrari 355 GTS and who may never get to drive it again. The parking valet apparently was so excited by the car, he took it out for a spin. Unfortunately, the employee crashed the car into a palm tree just 30 feet from the hotel entrance, turning the Ferrari into what may be a total loss.

The story doesn't say what happened to the palm tree. Nor does it tell us what I really want to know -- how the hotel broke the news to the Ferrari's owner. Posh hotels are known, after all, for their discretion. Perhaps the manager left a voicemail asking him to call about a minor problem. Or maybe the message was a more upfront: "Sir, we did a bad, bad thing."

On the other hand, hotel staff may have taken an upbeat approach. Something like: "Good news! We've decided to comp your parking fee."

A few years ago my husband Mark and I had an experience that makes me extra-sympathetic to the Ferrari owner's plight. It involved a Massachusetts inn and our aging Camry, a car that was worth just a wee bit less than the Ferrari ... even after that poor sports car was smashed.

Nonetheless, we loved our trusty Toyota. And when we drove it to a country inn for a little R & R that late summer day, we had every hope and intention of driving it home. We were up for a good time, and nothing was going to dampen our sprits. Not even a voicemail message to call the front desk about a "little" water problem in our car.

"We had a storm after you got here last night," the message began, "and there's a little water in your car. If you drive it up to the rear entrance, we'll be happy to wet-vac it for you."

As we later learned, the clerk who left that message deserves a doctorate in understatement.

What was our first hint that our problems went well beyond a wet-vac's talents? Perhaps it was the geyser that came spurting out the exhaust pipe when my husband turned the ignition key. Or maybe it was the frog nesting on the sodden contents of our glove compartment.

I admit it -- I made up the part about the frog. However, everything else is absolutely, and most unfortunately, true.

Okay, so things were a bit worse than that message suggested. Still, there was no need to panic, right? At least that's what we told ourselves, as our Camry was towed to the nearest service station.

"There's probably just some water in your fuel tank," the mechanic said at first. "Check back with me tomorrow. I'm sure your car will be fine." But he wasn't nearly as optimistic the following day. "You're gonna have to tow it to the dealership," he said. "I don't have the right tools and I think maybe the engine got wet."

To make a long story short, the engine and wiring turned out to be soaked beyond redemption. And our old car smell had been permanently replaced by Eau de Sewer. So our Camry was totaled, we drove a rental home, and after some haggling, we collected a small sum from our carrier.

On the upside, we're very happy with our replacement car, a Mazda 626. And on yet another positive note -- at least we didn't lose a Ferrari.

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