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My folks and I recently argued (in a friendly way) over whether Progressive’s “snapshot” is an actual thing you can hold or simply a service they offer. My parents said it was just a part of a policy—an abstraction. But the commercials show this dongle-like plug-in that keeps track of the insured’s driving habits. I contended that the snapshot was actually a good, and that it would be false advertising to show a good, while it was simply a service they offered. Well, we were both right, depending on how you view the thing—that an insurance company would actually sell something you can hold is novel enough.
This device isn’t peculiar to Progressive—other insurance companies have their own answers to it. I was confirmed in my suspicions that they were not, in fact, falsely advertising a good for a service—at least, not in legalistic sense. But the general impression that the commercial creates associates Progressive with other hard work, the results of which are the production of goods.
Progressive recently rolled out a commercial that showed aprons, accompanied by a piano ditty that would fit nicely along any Spielbergesque tearjerking scene. They show a procession of aprons in various settings: Hanging outside a barn, in a restaurant kitchen, in a forge, in a luthier’s shop, hung on a vineyard hand(?), working at sunrise in Winecountry, etc. All who would wear these aprons make goods or creatively shape them into goods—and they tend to work for small businesses to boot. The commercial wants you to conflate these notions of goods and services, with the added insinuation of being friendly like a small, mom-and-pop business.
An insurance company doesn’t really do that, and they aren’t really a small business. Sure, they commissioned these dongles from somewhere in East Asia. They give you this dongle so they can spy on your driving via your car’s digitized brain, and the insurance company adjusts the meter on your risk quotient accordingly. You drive well, you can save money. Seems like a good enough idea; but we might as well ask whether the government’s surveillance programs will get us to behave better. (After all, if you’re late for work, or up to no good, you can always unplug the snapshot.)
Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that this program will lead to better driving, which would be good. But is it really honest to associate this dongle and apron thing with hard work that produces goods? How a car insurance company functions is a hybrid between a bank and a credit rating agency (and indeed, failed company AIG was a default insurance company). Instead of assessing lending risk and accordingly adjusting interest rates—the costs of having money to use—a car insurance company assesses the risk of you driving a car and adjusts your premiums accordingly. They don’t make anything. Like a bank, they sit on a pile of money paid in by members, and dole it out to garages and customers who need it while raising their premiums. They take their profits and invest them in other corners of the FIRE sector. They employ a workforce that produces affects in weary and traumatized customers, but that workforce doesn’t wear aprons. Then there are the agents who assesses the damage, but they don’t wear an apron, either. They are photographers who, along with the mechanic, settle on a price to fix your car.
The Asian people who build those snapshot dongles probably do wear some sort of apron. But they don’t really work for Progressive.
The snapshot they make jots down your speed and distance covered. With that information, someone interested enough can typically gather where you’ve traveled. Depending on your habits, that may or may not bother you, but it’s safe to assume that the data mined from your car’s brain could wind up on some bureaucrat’s computer screen without the courts batting their eyelashes. Just saying.
Again, though, the dishonesty is in the symbolism of the apron, worn by Flo, who sells boxes of insurance, bundled as if they were a cords of wood. It suggests they produce something of value to the economy. In reality, they are a just one of many snakes on the head of the FIRE-hydra that suck the life out of people. Part of the cost of being alive, I guess, is overpaying somebody to fix our cars when the proverbial turd hits the radiator fan.
Now, these body shops also overestimate the cost of making a car roadworthy. Typically, half the repair costs go into getting it up to code again, and the other half in making the car look pretty—e.g. repainting the whole thing so the new paneling fades out at the same rate as the old. (If this is actually a serious concern of yours, then our schools have failed to interest you in anything of substance. You are a sad, shallow, pathetic person and I pity you.) So you pay a lot of superfluous costs. “Totaling” implies a whole loss of an automobile, but an insurance company totals a car out at 75% of its value, because it often would cost them a lot just to put you in a rental car while your car is being repaired. So a totaled car doesn’t have to resemble a squashed aluminum can—it often doesn’t need to have much damage at all to be “totaled.” Mechanics overshoot their estimates (not judging—they still gotta eat), the insurance companies overpay, and then extract their repayment from your future insurance premiums, while giving car companies another sale.
Which brings me to a curious phenomenon: A great many people believe that, when it costs more to repair their cars than the Bluebook value of the cars, it must be time to buy a new car. People advise this to others when no insurance company is involved—say, when you forget to put oil in your engine and it seizes up and throws a rod. It’s a mantra that repetition has validated, I suppose, but I’m not sure why people blithely throw out this advice. You may or may not want to fix your old car; but for the price of fixing it in a “totaled” scenario, you’re not going to be able to buy a new car. You can buy a used car or lease one, but you’re not going to have a car in perfect condition. If you lease a car, then you’ll never own it. If you’re not familiar with cars, you’ll be taking whatever the salesman or mechanic says about your new car on faith, and not by sight. In fact, they’re banking on you not knowing much about cars. Your ignorance keeps the economy going strong.
If you own a real lemon, then it’s probably time to buy something that doesn’t break down all the time. But broadly applying an insurance coverage principle to everyday car repair confuses yourself with a company that’s trying to make money off of you. For instance, nobody will pay you premiums for insuring your own car. You have no extraneous income or money pool to draw upon, other than a loan from a bank. So don’t mistake their situation with yours. And while you’re at it, don’t mistake a FIRE company for a farm, a vineyard, a forge, a flower shop, a luthier, or a moped designer. If you regard them as akin to any profession, regard them as a bank that employs ex-mechanics as photographers, and machines that take snapshots of your driving.
Frankly, I prefer the insurance commercials that employ talking animals.
I was about run over today on the way to the supermarket. I was signaling a left turn and yielding the right of way to a Chevy Tahoe turning right into the same aisle. Instead of turning right down the lane, he veered right across the parking spots and slowed down to a halt, trying to cross the lane.
I cautiously turned in as he idled there. But as I continued, he started again, and I braked hard to avoid him. And then he stopped, right in my way.
Appalled at this, I cursed this inconvenience, and then muttered something less dramatic, but still ostentatiously philosophical, like
the face in the window, who did not acknowledge my ontological status as a human being….
(….blah blah blah, as if the codger in the Tahoe were some kind of Nazi, relegating me to sub-human.)
Still, a gesture would have been nice. He could have nodded or demurred—something, anyway, to let me know that he knows I’m there below him. I was facing his side (the left side) of his car. He was looking at me, or through me, I couldn’t tell, but there was no communication there.
And so he drove on and I drove on and we parked. I steamed down the grocery aisles for the next half hour, until I settled and finally found what I was after.
At the checkout, all the lines were stacked, so I chose just any old lane and leaned there as things crept along.
An assortment of banal tabloid headlines, something like: “Britney Bingeing and Purging to Lose Twenty-Five Pounds”
Behind me, an old couple were unloading their groceries onto the belt. She nagged at him to grab a divider.
“Where is it?”
“In the slot.”
I reached out and gave it to the man, who was unable to find it. (To his credit, he was old, and the black divider was resting in a black slot with the white stripe down. So it kind of blended in, I guess.)
As I passed it to him, I realized it was the codger who’d cut me off, or, as I had mused, denied my existence. My irritation recommenced to see this man, this coot, who oughtn’t be on the road, and certainly not in such a bruiser of an SUV.
“You must be the guy who knows the ropes around here,” he said to me.
“Yeah,” I managed, “but I’ve never made friends with that self-checkout. I’d rather deal with a human being.”
“Got that right.”
I looked at him a little closer and confirmed it was him. But as I looked at his face, I saw that his left eye was shriveled, or absent, and the lid was closed over it. His good eye didn’t look much better, but at least it was there. But I guess there was no way in hell he could have seen me out in the parking lot.
And so I simmered down and chatted with him. He was a hilarious old bastard. I didn’t mention the miscommunication in the parking lot. Maybe he did recognize me. I couldn’t be sure. But he saw me that time, and I wasn’t angry anymore.
Jerry lay in her lap and with her fingers she combed his hair which twisted with pubic tundra below. She gave him looks of adoration. He looked across the room at his pager, which quivered beneath a crumpled shirt, turned his head to kiss her naval. Then he got up and threaded his legs into his boxers.
“You’re not staying the night?”
“No, I gotta work.” He snapped a match for her cigarette and shook it out.
“At the garage?” She exhaled a double-barreled plume at him.
“It’s two in the morning.”
“You were just gun’ go to sleep anyway.”
The one mechanic in Decatur who worked a graveyard shift, and… who’d ever heard of such a thing? Such a hard worker. Like a got-damned doctor. She remembered a rhyme about him:
There was a man from Decatur
Who still cain’t afford a potater
He slept on a cot
While his wife was got
By her rabbit foot vibrator
He was with Juanita these days with the intention of marriage. For now, he had to cuddle up with a newly spliced Audi and God knows what else waiting for him at the shop.
He pogosticked into his greasy jeans and grunted. “Don’t worry so much.”
There she lay on her side, knock-kneed above the covers, resting her temple on the heel of her hand behind a thick mop of black hair. He could tell there’d be little shrift for this. She stood and wandered in front of the mirror, one hand hiking and pressing the bed sheet to her collarbone and the other pulling the hair from her face and into a ponytail. Jerry buttoned his shirt hurriedly.
She shuffled over to him and took over. “Here.”
He looked up from his shirt after she realigned his shirt buttons. “Thanks.”
She turned, but he caught her arm.
“I said thanks.”
She let the bed sheet drop and stood akimbo in front of him. “Well go on then…” with a wave of her hand, but then a deliberate “but if you were up for… another…” and he’s harder than folding a fitted sheet on his ass kicking out of his jeans and underwear belt flopping change jingling on the floor with three buttons torn off his shirt and inside her again.
Jerry’s car sputtered at the Sonic drive-in. He had been working for three hours since he left Juanita Ruth’s. He set his coffee between his stiffening legs, tore open a packet of sugar and emptied three creams into his coffee, backed out casually and drove to the garage.
Back at his bay, his partner eyed the Audi. “The rear doors don’t line up like they’re spose to.”
“Should I call Barry, tellim it ain’t worth it?”
Jerry winced. “No. Gimme a few hours–just need to coax it.” The car looked shitty, but he figured a new coat of paint, bump out a few dents and she’s golden.
“How much ‘d this one go for?”
“Mm dunno…five, six hundred tops.”
“pff…How much we makin on this one?”
“I dunno. Maybe a couple grand.”
“You know, that’s gonna go for at least twenty-five.”
“Yeah.” Jerry walked underneath the Audi and drew the crack between the front and back doors into his line of sight. “Well, this one is off by about… mmm… three eighths. I’m tryin to get it down to one. That oughta be good enough. No one’ll see it. Hell, they hardly come off the lot that good anymore.”
“You got a new title?”
“Nah, Claude’s takin care of that.” Jerry could smell the green he was about have. Something to look forward to. Things had been slower of late, but earlier that year he’d been making four thousand a week. Now the process was longer. He had to paint the Audi now, which was a new requirement. “Gotta fade out nice and even,” his boss told him.
Before Judd Collision had hired him, he’d been a regular mechanic—that is, he struggled to get by. He managed it by working nights down at the Walmart stocking milk. Probably why his wife left him.
When he accepted the job at Judd Collision, he knew what he was getting into. Well, some of what he was getting into.
In the nineties, the State of Alabama remained curiously silent on the matter of totaled cars and their titles. There was no law on the books that said you couldn’t get a new title for a totaled car. In other states, you have to get a rebuilt-wreck title for a chopped car and provide the buyer with pictures detailing its damages. And in other states, the going price for a rebuilt-wreck is half price.
Of course, a full-scale “total,” in the traditional sense, implies that a car’s worth has been compromised by its repair needs. As it happens, a wrecked car’s estimate only needs to be two-thirds of its value. Consider: A recently wrecked client will go for the most expensive repair on their insurance—it’s just a fact of human nature that you want things done right, and higher prices are good indicators, right?—and the garages and body shops will insist on getting a new paint job to keep the entire car the same color, as the paint must fade evenly. Moreover, the costs to get the car in shape, structurally or otherwise, aren’t the only expenses. There are expenses of keeping the client in a rental car, which can get pricey considering the age of the client is often under twenty-five.
But in Alabama, there was little accountability. You could get a new title and sell the thing and the customer would be none the wiser. That was the racket and it was one hundred percent legitimate. And tens of thousands of totaled cars from all over the world were brought to one man: Barry Judd. Or to everybody under him, simply, The Boss. More often than not, when his name was invoked by one of his Delta thugs, his name sounded like “Bozz” which was sometimes perverted to “Buzz.”
He had many names.
Jerry worked for the Bozz, though he hadn’t seen him since he was hired on. Bozz lived in Birmingham, where he ran his other businesses; not least among these was a car dealership. Jerry and Steve were just a couple of gravyless body guys when Buzz recruited them. And so they kept their heads down and did what they were told, because to them, not broke was rich.
The Bozz was related to Jerry. Distantly anyway. That’s how he’d landed the job.
As Jerry winched the car down. Alice Cooper snarled on the radio.
We got no class.
We got no principals.
“She looks alright,” Steve decided into his coffee mug. “I’m gonna go get some sleep.”
Jerry nodded. He wiped his hands on a grease rag, his brow on his sleeve and dragged his feet to the bathroom to Lava up.
When he emerged, two suits were outside paying a tow driver. The vehicle in tow looked to be what once was a blue Pontiac GTO. It’s front end was compacted like wadded up tinfoil, and the busted windshield lay in its bent-up hood like scattered pearls.
“She’s a tight little mother,” said one of the men. “But when a driver cain’t handle her, then…” He smiled a little at his partner.
“Mhm…think there’s any engine damage?”
“Hell if I know. We make the wrecks. We don’t appraise ‘n fix em.”
“Do y’all have the claim yet?”
“No. Say, you bin up all night?”
“Take a load off. She ain goin nowhere… you slavin sumbitch.”
“I was about to anyway.”
“Well go’ne then.”
So he did. As he pulled away, he watched the tow truck lower the GTO onto the asphalt. What a waste of a beautiful car. His uncle Buzz had orchestrated this, another profitable racket. The two suits who’d wrecked the car were both ex-NASCAR drivers, who squeezed regular drivers out of their cars and money.
Now, Buzz had two irons in the fire, so to speak, which gave him a nice little empire: Auto sales and insurance fraud. He collected on both, that is. And the wrecked car in question had the marks of a staged collision. It once contained a human being, who was driving in the far right lane behind who he thought was an honest person in a beater car. Next thing he knew, another car pulled even with this human being, and the beater car ahead of him stopped abruptly, causing the human being to rear-end the beater car.
The human being in the GTO happened to die, and evidences of death lurked for Jerry beneath the carpeting. The blood had been wiped but not too well. It was not supposed to happen that way, but this foolish driver had had the gall to keep a rather large metal statue of St. Christopher mounted on his steering wheel. Which, upon impact, punctured the driver’s jugular, killing him in seconds.
Such was the nature of the business from which Jerry pulled a paycheck. “If you don’t like these principals, I’ve got others”—or so the saying goes….
Enough has already been said, perhaps, since the beginning of civilization, but allow me to tell you a few things about
Dante Alighieri placed the fraudulent in the eighth circle of his Inferno. There are only nine circles—ten if you count Limbo, which some people do. In the circle of the fraudulent, there are a series of ten ditches, or pockets, called Malebolge. Dante took thirteen cantos to negotiate the Malebolge, which amounts to roughly 40% of the poem, so there was short shrift for the rest of the damned (no shrift for any of them, actually). Each ditch of the Malebolge contains specific types of fraudulent souls: seducers and panderers, flatterers, simonists, diviners, grafters, hypocrites, thieves, evil counselors, schismatics, and falsifiers. Beyond the Malebolge lies Satan himself, with his triumvirate of traitors beneath him lodged in ice. Dante had much interest in fraud, or in punishing them, or both.
Seven hundred years later, a woman named Jessica Smith walked into a church service and sat down on the back pew. She joined the church. At a women’s prayer breakfast, she stayed late and told her life story to the pastor’s wife. At the age of eighteen, she was engaged to the love of her life. The wedding was planned and paid for, but a week before their wedding, her husband fell off a motorboat and the propeller shredded him to a pulp. Devastated, she fell into a great depression. As if that wasn’t enough, a month later, Jessica had a stroke. As the doctors were about to unplug her, she woke up and had a vision from God, telling her to work overseas. At which time, she went to college and majored in Middle Eastern Studies. Upon graduation, the first Bush administration hired her to rebuild the infrastructure of Kuwait, where Jessica alleged a third of the women were raped by Iraqi soldiers.
After her stint in Iraq, Jessica returned to the U.S. and became passionate about the civil war in Sudan. At this time, she set up a project, called IMPACT Sudan, dedicated to educating women and children in ways that their oppressive, Islamic government would not allow. She drew up plans for schools and hospitals, projected financial needs, and so on. Additionally, she was raising money for the release of human slaves, which could be bought and released for around thirty American dollars. She had liaisons in the White House, including Clinton himself and, on a more personal level, Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of the state at that time. She had met with Albright and Clinton, and was working with the UN and other organizations to help the refugees.
Well the pastors’ wife told her husband, and he arranged for Jessica to speak in front of his rather large and opulent congregation. Jessica spoke with passion for and dedication to Christ, moving the hearts of the people to give. As IMPACT Sudan grew, she spoke at more churches in the area. She even developed a board of church members who would administrate the fundraising for IMPACT Sudan whenever she made trips to Sudan to help. It went on like this for about three years.
On one of these trips, she was flying in a Blackhawk chopper, when the chopper was suddenly clipped by a mortar and sent careening to the ground. Thankfully, by God’s grace, the pilots were able to land the chopper, and all thirty passengers were safe. God’s work was being done, His will and purpose for Sudan unshakable.
Wait. Did you get that? All thirty passengers. Blackhawk choppers only hold fifteen soldiers, tops. Most who knew better let this inaccuracy slide off their shoulders with a healthy shrug—prolly wasn’t a Blackhawk, but one of them big passenger choppers…she’s just a woman, anyway. However, one woman got suspicious, and this woman had liaisons at the White House too, so she called. Nobody by the name Jessica Smith had ever visited the White House, or had any contact with the president or the secretary of state.
When the board confronted Jessica on these matters, they gave her the option of resigning. She then sent out a letter to all who were on the mailing list, apologizing for “giving misleading information” about her relationships with President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright, and tendering her resignation.
The board investigated further and found that none of the four hundred thousand dollars had ever made it to Sudan. In fact, no one in Sudan had ever heard of IMPACT Sudan. In the meantime, Jessica split. No one knows where she is, but we can bet she’s in a safer and nicer place than Sudan. So much for slaves and refugees….
Then there is the story of Eric Chevalier.
This man had a fierce and insatiable fetish for thick, muscular legs—especially the legs of female soccer players. Perhaps the fetish was rooted in an evolutionary link in his brain, which linked the leg’s thickness and curvature to the strongest, the healthiest, and the best suited for childbirth. Or there was the Freudian approach: as an infant, little Eric took four whole years to learn how to walk, thus prolonging his exposure to his mother’s legs—which were thunderous in their own right—and being the physical quality par excellence that raised a tent in his trousers. Or there was the explanation that, as a child, nobody ever held him. Moreover, in the absence of such security, he only always longed for a strong pair of stems to clamp down on him like a vise during lovemaking. Or whatever.
He would attend high school soccer games across central Texas, garbed in a nylon training suit and holding a clipboard with notes on certain girls. He’d find the best one—that is, the one with the most shapely and thick legs—and tell her he was a scout for the new women’s professional soccer league. He would then contact the parents, who were usually vain enough to believe their daughter worthy of such accolade, and fed them reels of bullshit about a new women’s pro league, which was holding tryouts and training camps, and they need only sign on for a bus ride and send her to the camp….
At which point, if they took the bait, Eric would collect the girls at the destination.
Now, when the FBI found Eric Chevalier, he had collected eleven of these girls (yes, a full squad). They weren’t slashed to ribbons. There were no evidences of abuse, sexual or otherwise. In fact, they were all a happy harem, residing in his palatial home in Mexico just outside of Monterrey.
Of course, Eric was met with a rather bad end, gazing down at beefy legs, but not a woman’s and neither in Mexico nor his childhood playpen.
Insurance fraud can be quite complex. Staged accidents, as already mentioned, were Bozz’s bread and butter. Of course, Bozz also made a legitimate living, so to speak, in car sales. He was known throughout central Alabama as the easiest dealer to talk down. Of course, he dealt mainly American cars, some of which would seize up within a few months after being driven off the lot. He’d shave a few thousand dollars off the sales price of any given car, knowing full well that if he made it appear that he was an honest, square dealing sort of person, the customer would surely bring his car into Bozz’s several repair shops. Which would inevitably happen, and when it did, Bozz’s mechanics were told—and this is the natural tendency of mechanics anyway—to insist on superfluous repairs, gouging and schiesting the customer whenever it seemed they’d be able to.
Buzz’s net-worth, according to what he reported to the IRS, was on average 2.8 million per year. His captains at the various garages earned about that much in reality. One could say that Buzz was well off. He had no children, however. Not that he knew of, anyway. He had a horrible way with most women, and he rarely had his way with one whom he hadn’t paid in advance. Not necessarily hookers, but you know, secretaries.
He attended church at least twice a month at Bella Union Baptist, and was a member on the budgetary committee with a flawless attendance to every business meeting since 1981. Most in the church knew very little of him. He would sit stoically at the meetings, raise important questions from time to time, use phrases such as “well if the Lord is leading him to…” and “I occasionally miss the mark sometimes…”—and this satisfied most who had any interest.