It was a small accident and no, thankfully not in the aircraft but in my car. The other morning I was on my way up to the airport, which is one hour north of my house by car, to get the ship and fly it to a maintenance base which, ironically enough is right back here in Pensacola, about twenty minutes by air. I had left plenty early, and there was no real rush.
Avalon Boulevard runs north from I-10 and dead-ends into Highway 90 just west of the town of Milton, Florida. Avalon is a highly-trafficked road, and there are two right turn lanes at that intersection. From both you can make a right-on-red. I was in the right-most lane, number two at the light, stopped behind a Ford Explorer SUV in front of me. I saw his brake lights go off and the truck began to move out. Assuming he was taking off, I turned my attention to the oncoming traffic from the left, and released my brake to move up into the Explorer’s spot. …Only the driver of the Explorer had decided that there really wasn’t room and stopped. As did my Jeep when I ran into the back of him.
We pulled over onto the grass by the side of the road to assess the damage: None at all to my car and a small bruise to the Explorer’s plastic rear bumper cover. I apologized right away, admitted that it was my fault and offered to pay for any repairs if he wanted to do it that way. He said he’d rather file a police report and report it to his insurance company. I said that was fine; that’s why we have insurance.
We chatted while we waited for the police. The other driver, let’s call him “Howard,” seemed like a nice, understanding kind of guy – older than me, maybe early sixties. And he looked like he was still in the military or recently retired from it by his brown shirt/brown pants/black shoes (a fashion faux pas in some civilian circles), however I couldn’t see any emblems under his windbreaker.
I admitted that should have been more attentive, but he admitted that he started to go but decided that there really wasn’t room when he tried to go. Hey, accidents happen. We talked a bit about our jobs. That was when he mentioned what a rush he was in to get to a meeting at a college nearby where he was to give a presentation.
A state trooper arrived after about thirty long minutes. She walked up and stood at the very rear of the Explorer (which was much closer to the pavement than my car), giving it a quick glance. She could clearly see that there was no immediately-apparent major damage to either vehicle. I know that she had to be thinking, “Now, what...?” No-nonsense almost to the point of being brusque, she fired off some quick questions.
Trooper: “Good morning, guys. What happened?”
Me (Pointing to my car): I hit..." (pointing to his car) "...him”
Trooper: “Anybody hurt?”
Trooper (to me): “You got insurance?”
Trooper (to Howard): “You got insurance?”
Howard (indignantly): “Of course!”
Trooper: “Okay. Any damage?”
At that point, Howard kind of…well, exploded.
Howard: “Of course there’s damage! Look at that!”
The trooper glanced down and saw the bruise. I thought I could actually hear her sigh. Her cell phone rang. She looked down at the Caller-ID and did not answer but suddenly seemed very eager to dispose of us. “Okay,” she says. “Look, in cases like this you guys will file a driver-to-driver report and we can get you on your way quickly.” She then retreated to her car and came back with said form. Taking our licenses and insurance cards, she filled it out.
She handed us each a copy of the form and advised us to fill out the rest and send it to Tallahassee, along with notifying our respective insurance companies.
“Does this form say who is at fault?” Howard asked pointedly.
“No sir,” the trooper replied. “In cases like this where the damage is under $500, we do not determine fault.”
At that point, the situation turned bizarre. I won’t recount the entire “he said/she said,” but it consisted of Howard arguing at length with the trooper that the damage to his truck was waaaay more than $500, probably more like $1,500…maybe more! He contended that she should designate yours truly as being at fault. She repeatedly told him that she could not do that. Back and forth, they went at it long past the point that I would have put a stop to it if I was her. Howard’s voice was shaky, which indicated to me that he was highly upset about the whole deal, something he’d sort of masked up to the time the trooper got there.
To her credit, the trooper maintained her composure and a professional demeanor. I have had my troubles with policemen over the years, but this trooper was as good as they get. She didn’t talk down to him, and she was unfailingly polite. She was undoubtedly good with a billyclub too, and I thought Howard was about to find out.
Howard’s stated concern was that if we both just reported it to our insurance companies, his rates might go up since Florida is a no-fault state. (He should have taken me up on my offer to pay for the damages without going through our insurance companies, but that was off the table as soon as he called the cops.)
And I think…I’m not entirely sure, but I got the impression that ol’ Howard wanted me to have some personal consequences for hitting him. I mean, I was contrite, but maybe I wasn’t contrite enough. Admittedly, his truck was pristine. I thought it was brand-new, but it turned out to be a 2001 model with 130,000 miles. He’d obviously taken very good care of it. I know how people are about their vehicles, and I felt badly for him. Howard evidently didn’t want to just turn the event over to our insurance companies and let that be that. I think he wanted the trooper to give me a ticket for…something. As luck (mine) would have it, the trooper wasn’t buying it.
I should have realized sooner that Howard was more upset than he was letting on. He made several cell phone calls to family, business associates and his attorney while we waited for the police. In each one, he opened the conversation by saying, “I’ve been in an automobile accident.” Not, “…a little automobile accident,” and not even, “I had a small fender-bender while driving to work.” Each time, he had to explain that no, it was not serious and no, nobody was hurt. And each time, I wondered why he let the party on the other end assume the worst right off the bat?
“Well you’re not being very helpful!” Howard finally snorted in a very derisive tone. The trooper glanced over at me and rolled her eyes – the first little crack in her veneer. I stifled a chuckle. “Sir,” she addressing him, “I am being as helpful as I possibly can be. I’ve told you what I can and cannot do. I’ve filled out this form for you. I’ve told you what you need to do next. I cannot do any more than that. Good day!”
And with that, she turned on a heel and strode to her car. Remember the opening credits of the old t.v. show, “Magnum P.I.” where Tom Selleck is in the Ferrari on the side of the road, and he punches it and roars out onto the pavement and away from the camera with two giant rooster tails of grass and dirt spewing from the rear wheels? That is how the trooper left the scene of our “accident.”
I apologized again to Howard and gently suggested he not let this ruin his day (too late for that!). He shook my hand, got in his formerly-pristine Ford Explorer with the newly bruised bumper and disappeared down the road.
I did go up to the airport, get the ship and did fly it back here to Pensacola. After taking care of some business with the mechanics, I called a friend to give me a ride back to my house (as my car was still up at the other airport). We pulled into my driveway around 9:30. I was going to go inside and call my insurance company to report the accident. Before I could even get out of the car, a white SUV with “PROGRESSIVE” emblazoned in big letters on the side pulled up behind me. They have these roaming claims specialists.
“I was just about to call you,” I said.
“Oh, the other driver’s insurance company already called it in to us,” the guy said, handing me his card and introducing himself. “And since I was in the neighborhood, I figured I’d drop by. Was anybody hurt?”
“Umm, no. In fact, there was absolutely no damage to my car. It was pretty minor.”
“Great! Glad to hear that. Well is there anything I can do? Do you need anything?”
“Ahh, not really. Should I still call this in?”
“Nah, we’ll take it from here. We’ll get him fixed up right away,” he said. “If you need anything, my number's on the card, just give me a call and let me know.”
I was, like, whaaaaat?
Frankly, I was blown-away by this level of customer service. The proof of the pudding will be if they actually do take care of the Howard’s truck, and if my rates don’t either go up ridiculously or if I don’t get summarily cancelled. My rates are very low to begin with, so I’m not really worried about an increase – unless they quadruple or something. But so far, I’m very happy that I chose Progressive Insurance. And to think that I just did an online search to see who was the cheapest and picked them.
So...big, long story about a tiny, little accident. And before you say it, yes, I'm happy my little accident occurred before picking up the ship and not after. That would have ruined my day for sure.