When I was growing up, our insurance man was our friend. He was tall, blond, and most importantly, from a child's point of view, had only one eye. He'd lost the other in the War.
I remember him coming by once after a drunk driver hit my mother's new car. An uninsured drunk driver, living in what would now be called a welfare hotel. Then, it was private charity. My mother was a school teacher, and divorced. This was the first car she'd bought in ten years.
"Don't worry," Mr. Woodman told her. "You're insured. We'll take care of it. That's what we're here for."
Which turned out to be true. That was what they were there for. Though what my own insurance company, Triple A, is here for, I have yet to discover. And what the Infinity Insurance Company is here for -- the company of the driver who hit my car 17 days ago now and counting -- well, I begin to understand.
It was a straightforward crash -- my car was stopped in traffic on a side street in Santa Monica, the other car plowed into the left rear and bent the axle, witnesses took pictures, the other driver cried, apologized, admitted guilt, gave info, the police were called but never came, and after two hours' wait, both cars were towed away.
Seventeen days ago.
End of story, so far.
Because I am still without a car. In L.A., mind you. Infinity hasn't even sent an assessor over to see our car, to begin an estimate. And Triple A Insurance, which thanks us regularly for our twelve years of loyal "membership," has just said, "Well, it's not our issue," and has done nothing.
"But can I at least rent a car?"
"Maybe," says my own insurance company.
"Yes, sure, if it's reasonable," said Mick McClusker of Infinity. "Rent it and we'll reimburse you."
"Will they?" I ask Triple A.
"Will you?" I ask Steve D'Ambrosio, McClusker's supervisor at Infinity, according to their message machine.
"Maybe not," he says. "If I don't get co-operation from our insuree's" -- that is, the people who hit us -- "then I will deny coverage and pay nothing."
"What?" I said. Was I hearing correctly?
"We insure a lot of bad drivers. We've got a lot of exclusions. If we can find one, I'll deny coverage."
He liked that term. Used it twice, in the first person, "I'll deny coverage."
"But what about us?" I was practically in tears by this point.
"It's your duty to move on," said Steve D'Ambrosio of Infinity Insurance.
That is a quote. Word for word. On Friday afternoon, around 4 P.M. Two weeks to the day since our car was towed to a yard in West L.A., where the kind people are still not charging us storage. A week to the day since I drove a borrowed car back to my family in Santa Barbara and took the train home, a lost day, not to mention gas and train fare.
"What do I do?" I asked a friend.
"Get a lawyer."
Which is what I intend to do. Or at least call a lawyer friend -- I'm lucky that way. I know someone. He might not charge me. We have worked together, founding a girls' school here.
But when did things get like this in America? When did you start needing a lawyer in America to get insurance benefits for which you have paid?
"Car insurance, home insurance, health insurance -- all they do the minute you need them is try to figure out how not to pay." This from a friend here who recently needed all three, and knows. She too has a lawyer friend, so got what she had paid for, after much ado.
But what if you don't? And why should we need a lawyer to get what is rightfully ours?
And whom do we call? Our Congressperson? The police? Some federal agency? And for what, realistically? For what?
Not that this isn't on my agenda for Monday, after the lawyer. But I am one of those activists, plus, by the way, stuck without a car at home.