Posts Tagged 'Insurance Claims'

Waiting in Line

The father ahead of me kept glancing toward the back of the store while Sandy scanned his items. His son stood at the back of the cart looking at the vast number of purchases.  I waited to buy toothpaste, facewash, some cereal (the alternately healthy-sweet Raisin-Bran Crunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch), a 12-pack of Cherry Coke Zero and a traveling toothbrush holder for the trip to North Carolina tomorrow night for Josh’s wedding. I admit, my supermarket line choices have always been suspect, at best.

I had this issue, too.

The father to the son: “Tell her we have to go. Doesn’t she know that? Tell her we’re already up here paying for things.” This kid who’s maybe 13 whipped out his cell phone to deliver the message. Progress. When I was his age, I’d have had to go searching for my mother through the aisles, inevitably distracted by some basketball cards or the magazines – I remember an affinity for Sports Illustrated for Kids – and by the time I’d returned to the check-out line, my parents would be standing there waiting for me now, my mother having found whatever towels or salad-dressing or unappetizing food I didn’t want to eat that she’d been looking for a minute ago.

The father seemed really impatient, and I felt kindof sorry for the boy, in his black-white-and-red basketball shoes/blue basketball shorts/slightly-different-toned blue LA Clippers t-shirt. He’d clearly dressed himself in as close to an actual basketball uniform as he could. His unfashionable insistence on preserving the mono-chromatic symmetry of short-and-jersey made me feel a particular kinship with him. He was probably frustrated by anything that kept him from playing basketball, but that could be a nostalgic projection, too. The father picked out a three-pack of multi-colored Fruit-of-the-Loom boxer-shorts from the conveyor belt as it inched forward in tiny spurts. “Not these,” he said to Sandy, like she’d sneaked them into the pile. He handed them to the boy. “Go put these back. Just put them…anywhere.” I wondered if he coached the boy’s junior league basketball teams or if he was the kind of no-nonsense father who thought sports were a waste of time. I didn’t see where the boy put the boxers.

Up walked the mother and she immediately started loading the mountain of the store’s filled official red-on-frosted-white plastic bags back into the cart. She looked at me like it had been a really long day already, and it was only about 3:30, which the father announced like they were behind his official-and-implied-but-probably-unstated schedule. “I’m sorry about all this,” she said.

“No, it’s fine.”

“We just had a fire and we lost everything, so.”

“Oh no! You know, I used to work for an insurance company. I used to handle this type of thing all the time.”

“Oh yeah?” she said and kept loading bags, while the father asked whether that was the particular clothes iron they wanted to get or not. The boy had been looking at the trinkets they always have near every checkout, I think he knew he had been relieved of duty now that the mother had come. He came and stood at the side of the cart. “We even had to buy him a new PS3,” she said. “We’ve never bought this much stuff before.” The total was something around $324, and I’m not sure if they bought the iron, which the father said was either about $49 or else $79, I don’t remember.

“How’d it start?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” the mother said, her eyes searching. “The fire department just said it was accidental.”

“Is your insurance company taking care of you?”

“Yeah, they are! They gave us $10,000 today to start. The fire happened yesterday. We’re staying in a hotel, now.”

I’d heard her exact tone so many times before, working for insurance companies. Few situations feel more helpless than a massive fire. It’s a little different when they know the cause. There’s a sense of understanding, that there’s a defined reason for what happened. The fuse-box shorted or the toaster malfunctioned while the children were using it or it was a grease fire or someone left the candles burning near the drapes. Having a reason starts to restore a sense of control over your life, it gives you a picture in your mind of what went wrong and what you can, if nothing else, hope to avoid in the future. I can’t imagine how infuriating not-knowing would be, I’ve just heard it over-the-phone. On April Fool’s Day of 2008, back in Kansas City, I handled a five-level house-fire in a claim that went on for over a year. The cause of the fire was highly suspicious, and the owner kept trying to get us to pay to remodel his whole house, instead of rebuild it. It was a total fucking nightmare of estimates and revisions and multiple contractors and unending contents and storage units and revisions and supplements and finally, when he kept asking for more money and extended deadlines, my supervisor and I made the guy and his contractor come into our office, sit down, and explain to us what he’d done with the money we’d already paid him. It was one of the few times me and that particular supervisor were in complete agreement. He was a nice guy, though.

“Good, I’m glad they’re treating you well,” I said.

The mother smiled and loaded the last of the bags. They conveyor belt slid my things forward, and Sandy scanned them. I haven’t done insurance in almost a year, but tomorrow I have an interview for a full-time position with a company I was a temp for, for eight months last year. I saw the family-of-three in the parking lot, and I almost went over to them to remind them to keep all of their receipts and to be as detailed as they could possibly remember on their contents list. They were almost done loading everything, and the father was hurrying them along and already getting in the car, himself, so I let it go. I hope everything works out for them, and I hope the boy gets to play basketball again sometime soon.


Just Doing My Job


I had a claim similar a couple years ago. Not fun.

There have been a slew of recent storms here in the midwest. Rain and hail and wind along with it, a sortof 70mph-and-up  courier service for all sorts of property and car damage. Which means my job just got busy. We staved off the onslaught for so long, I thought we might get away clean. No chance. Not only have there been just as many storms this year as last, they’ve all arrived together with a tidal wave of claims. With severe storms in certain areas, we’ve sent people to work them for weeks at a time, which means the rest of us pick up the slack here at home, and because of my schedule, that’s been my job. It has meant some long drive time, going out of my traditional territory and into some rural areas. Handling so many claims in the suburbs, I’d forgotten what to expect. Things are just different once you get far enough away, is the best way to put it. Don’t ever underestimate your job’s ability to give you fodder for writing. 


I arrived at a wind claim for a customer last Wednesday, after over an hour in the car listening to podcasts. I was on site for about 4 hours (twice as long as a normal claim) and here is how it went. I pulled in the dirt driveway and had to navigate between sections of a massive, fallen tree (about 20 feet across), the middle of which had been excised so anyone could get in or out. Mr. Customer came outside. He was an oversized, pleasant fellow, and since he owned the surrounding 16 acres, and maybe since it was hot (but maybe not) he did not wear a shirt. Nor did he bother to put on a shirt at any point during my 4 hours with him. Not when we went inside, not when we passed his very bedroom to look at ceiling damage. Not when I went onto the roof by myself. He could have slipped on a tank top, would’ve taken 2 minutes. Not even when he and I drove the property looking for trees fallen on fencing. Never.


I’m from a small town in southwest MO, I’ve seen people driving with no shirt, it’s just usually not in a minivan. It’s an odd thing, being close to a foreign unclothed body, seat-belted in next to you. What if we’d got in a wreck and died. Wouldn’t people wonder why this man wasn’t wearing a shirt? Would they wonder why I didn’t ask him to put one on? I wondered that, too, several times. I could never work it in to the conversation. The name of the game, then, is called “Proximity + Line of Sight”. Also, he was a large man.


But maybe the oddest thing was that when we got back to the house, he put the car in park and kept on talking. Then he told me we should just hang out in the van, since it has AC and the house doesn’t. Have you ever talked to someone you don’t know while sitting in their car right in front of their house in the middle of the day when that person had also, coincidentally, decided to forego the societal courtesy of clothing and redraw all rules regarding body coverage? A few moments later, his wife ambled up with their dog, she barked a few words to her husband, and she got in the back seat of the van with their dog. She wore clothes. I managed to extract myself by saying I had to go write up the estimate and paperwork for the claim, which was true anyhow. A while passed, and I got out of my car and found him in the barn. I reached out the customer service packet, but he waved me off; he pointed down the driveway and said, “I’ll be right there. Go get my wife, and I’ll meet you all at the van!” 


And so in the van we sat. His wife in back, me in front, the shirtless fellow next to me, looking through the multi-thousand dollar estimate I’d written. And to say it was strange thing to see and be part of would be an intense understatement, but so would saying I did not like them. They were funny and odd and certainly ripe for a bit of mockery, but it spawns from amusement not malice. I’m not trying to pass any sort of value judgements on them. They are interesting as people not just as punchlines. For instance,  Mr. Customer told me all about his job while we drove the property. About the layoffs they were experiencing that he was fortunate enough to avoid. “For now,” he said, “but we’ll see.” It turns out Mrs. Customer’s mother is in the hospital, so on top of dealing with damage to their home, she has to split time at the hospital and handle all the legal matters for her mother. “She’s senile,” she told me more than once, matter-of-factly. Not sad, not forlorn, just the state of the union in the life of her mother. This was a couple in their mid-fifties, I’d guess. They live out here, away from everyone. It’s the way she prefers it. In my time talking with them, I learned this is the second marriage for both of them. She used to live in Springfield with her first husband, “but he got abusive,” Mr. Customer explained for her. He lived in the city for a long time, but Mrs. Customer wanted to be away from people, so here they are. No regret there, no feelings of missed opportunities. These people, more than most I’ve met doing this job, are the picture of content. They weren’t ignorant. They actually took time to look through the estimate (most don’t) and asked me reasonable questions about it. They don’t seem to view life as though it is hunting them, as though it is to be feared. She’s been laid off, her mother is sick, and she spoke plainly about how hard it was, but these things aren’t consuming them. They teased each other in front of me, and it was almost like a play. They were aware of me as their audience, and they were performing the play of their relationship so that I could see what they did all the time. I doubt they have many visitors.


People are interesting, and they’ll talk to you if you let them. These weren’t the only interesting people I met. I talked for over 15 minutes with an 87 yr old great grandmother with some lightning damage who explained to me how more than 20 people cram into her little house every Thanksgiving to eat her food. She detailed her preparations, she explained the cast of her family, and the notion that last year may have been her last hurrah because she has aches, and she’s not sure she’s up for preparing that much food again. How it takes its toll on her physically, even though it brings her such pleasure, having so much family around. She had intriguing Mexican art on the walls that her son got for her, and she explained the way she came up from living in shanty-houses as a child, not knowing that anything else existed. She told me about a boy in her school when she was a girl, and how she wondered what had become of him, since he acted up and got in trouble. 


I usually time myself. A typical claim in about 90 minutes. But sometimes, I like to just stop the timer, take out my pen and start asking questions. I drop all the policy language and coverage analysis and Recoverable Depreciation explanations, and I become what I am: a writer. What they see as chit-chat I treat like an interview.  I stop collecting data to put in the claims file, and I start hearing stories that make me see this life more clearly. You have no idea how many brilliant, touching, funny little things people have to say if you just ask them. I plan to use parts of these stories as a character traits. I’ll combine them and mangle them and make them thematic, and I’ll contort the details and rewrite them so I like them better and they fit into the universe I want to create. They are spare parts for the rebuilding. But all that comes later. Right now it’s just about talking to people. I think if you’re a writer, you are drawn to people like this, you love people like this. People you pass on the street or see in a restaurant and think, “What’s does today mean for them? What brought them here and where are they going after this?” As a writer, you get to wonder about people; sometimes, you talk with them. I know it’s the best part of my job, and it has the least to do with it anything they pay me to do.

It Has Come to This

February 2019
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