Smile Politely

Guaranteed Reservations

When I moved to Champaign back in 1994, I went to a U-Haul in order to reserve and rent a truck so that I could transport my belongings which, at that point in my life, consisted mainly of books, CDs, tobacco, alcohol and unpaid parking tickets. When the day came to move, I returned to the U-Haul to pick up the vehicle but was told that they did not have the truck that I had reserved. After spewing out a bucket or two of colorful words at the U-Haul manager and threatening to call the States Attorney and the Better Business Bureau (which I did), I somehow managed to find another place that rented trucks and got myself and my things moved to Champaign.

After living here in C-U for a while, I thought it would be nice to take my mother out to eat for Mother’s Day at one of our fine local eating establishments. I really like ribs, but my mother likes healthy things like salad and salmon, so being a thoughtful son, I called Famous Dave’s Barbecue and made a reservation. When we showed up that Sunday to claim our table, we were told we would have to wait an hour and a half. “But we had a reservation!” I protested. “Sorry, we overbooked,” was the answer.

These events in my life and other similar ones have led me to believe that the word reservation has been undergoing a change in the English language. I used to think that when I made a reservation, it guaranteed me a table in a restaurant, or a car at a rental agency, or whatever it might be that I wanted to reserve.

Obviously, this is no longer the case. The word reservation is hollow. It’s as empty as the old Dog-n-Suds out on Town Center Boulevard.

This dwindling in meaning for the word reservation has been happening for at least seventeen years. In 1991, an episode of Seinfeld aired called “The Alternate Side” in which this dialog occurred between Jerry and a rental car agent:

       Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have
                  my reservation?
       Rental Car Agent: Yes, we do. Unfortunately we ran out of cars.
       Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have
                  the reservation.
       Rental Car Agent: I know why we have reservations.
       Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car.

Recently, I drove past the U-Haul at the corner of University and Fourth Streets and I noticed that they had posted on their sign “Guaranteed Reservations — Only At U-Haul.” Guaranteed Reservations? Isn’t that just about as redundant as saying “corrupt Republican” or “good sex?”

U-Haul’s sign sadly illustrates that the word reservation is now worthless and needs to be qualified by the use of other words such as guaranteed.

So thanks, U-Haul, Enterprise, and all you other rental establishments and restaurants for sucking the meaning out of a perfectly good word. And don’t be surprised the next time I use one of your services if you discover that my money isn’t there when it’s supposed to be. I’m going to start making a distinction between payment and guaranteed payment.

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