Gimme Shelter with Daniel Gehma: “Stop! It’s Only A Rental”

When traveling for business, it seems there’s often one little detail that gets overlooked. Today I had to be in Phoenix to visit a property with a client, as sort of a fact-finding mission. (“Shade” at Desert Ridge, a former Gold Nugget “Rental Apartment Community of the Year.”) It’s only a short flight over to Arizona, but the community is about a half hour drive from the airport. (Sprawl—go figure.) A rental car was necessary.

Since business has been slow for a while, I haven’t traveled a ton, especially to destinations where a rental car is required, so I guess I’ve lost my edge. I neglected to select my style of vehicle in advance. When I do, I typically select the most economical ride I can manage, including a hybrid vehicle when it’s available, which it often is. Well, on this occasion my reservations were made by others, and this is the element that slipped through the cracks.

“Ewww” was my response when the rental agent handed me the keys to a Grand Marquis. Number one, this is the exact car my dad used to drive, so that was kind of creepy; number two—it felt like the kind of government-issued land yacht that might be piloted by a character on Law & Order, with a gaping maw of a back seat ready to have a perp stuffed into it. Its trunk probably would have swallowed up a smart car. Hard to hide in one of these babies, if you know what I mean.

Well, the crew with whom I was visiting the site certainly noticed, jumped on me like it was some sort of fraternity hazing—mocking me, the erstwhile tree hugger, for transporting myself in the Mercury Valdez. (At least we had two people in it.)

But it wasn’t negative, not in the end. The only reason I got teased for driving a huge car was that I have been known for some time as the designer who walks the walk. It’s been my responsibility to be the Lorax on the projects I’ve been leading, consistently bringing the sustainable ideas to the table to try them on for size. I decided a long time ago that it would help my credibility if I were personally practicing the ideas I was pitching to my clients. They all know about my Prius, and the solar PV on my house, and, for goodness’ sake, that I schlep home the coffee grounds (and filters) from the office to be composted in my organic back yard—it just comes up in conversations. If it wasn’t for all of that, my monstrous rental would have just been chalked up to another day of doing business.

But it wasn’t. It was called out for being inconsistent with my other convictions. And that made me proud.

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects. He can be reached at