Adventures in Mountainside Driving

Photo of the mechanic taken by his mom

A travelogue:

The handsome grandson, a Naval officer stationed in Sicily, is functioning as a tour guide par excellence for his mother and grandmother, happy tourists. We are enjoying the incredibly beautiful Sicilian hills and mountainsides en route from Catania to Cefalu, on an incredibly beautiful Sicilian afternoon.

The roads, it is worth noting, are narrow and winding and tend toward steep inclines. Sicilian drivers, it’s further worth noting, can best be described as Oh, what the hell. Intersections are for the stout-hearted, survival goes to the victor. Solid white lines are simply gauntlets thrown down as a dare. I have no idea how a Sicilian driver lives to be middle-aged.

But the handsome grandson, who learned to drive in Manhattan, hardly notices. He does, his grandmother is happy to see, forgo high speeds and motorized challenges. Sicilian drivers in the hundreds owe their lives to his brake pedal. Ours is a pleasant, casual drive.

We three slowly become aware of an extraneous noise — think snare drum — from somewhere underneath the flooorboards. It is the sort of noise that would be unwelcome on any sort of motorized journey; but it is particularly so in a VW Golf that is, ahem, not exactly new. A clicking sound, slightly metallic.

As if by magic, a turnout appears while we are remarking on the interesting new sound. The Golf swings out of the way of daredevil Sicilian drivers, and stops. The daughter and grandson hop out; the grandmother figures there’s enough trouble without her getting out to supervise.

The handsome grandson’s skills — at least those known to the grandmother — run to linguistics, or journalism, or all things nautical; his undergraduate degree was in Chinese, forheavenssakes. Mechanical engineering has thus far not been his career path. However. The daughter and grandson slowly circle the now-silent Golf, spending a lot of time on their hands and knees peering underneath. The grandmother tries not to eavesdrop; she has great confidence in her progeny — but blood pressure issues. Bits of conversation are, however, overheard.

“Don’t you have any duct tape?” the daughter asks. “Duct tape can fix almost anything.”

“Yeah, I should’ve brought some along,” says her son. “But I think I have something else that could fix it.” Whereupon he rummages around somewhere and emerges with a tool that looks very much like a toenail clipper. He disappears from view. Muffled conversation between mother and son continues, accompanied by small mechanical maneuvers.

All seems to be going well. The grandmother is heartened. The mechanic and his assistant eventually get back in the car, but he is heard to utter the words any passenger fears most:

“I don’t know if it’s going to hold . . .”

It held.

When your insurance company ruins a good day

“We’re calling about your claim,” the pleasant voice said; “about the hit-and-run collision you were involved in on March 17.” This is a really bad way to start your day. While I was still catching my breath the pleasant voice mentioned my car rear-ending the other car but then leaving the scene of the crime.

I knew, of course, that I’d not been in any collisions recently – the last being over a year ago when a 16-wheeler turned right from the center lane as I was turning right from the turn lane. The 16-wheeler won that one. But as my reaction had been swift; only the front of my car and the rear portion were demolished while I managed not to get demolished in the driver’s seat.

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This is critical back story to the current episode: I lost my beloved, snazzy green 2000 Volvo S40. It was immediately replaced by a slightly less snazzy silver 2001 Volvo S40 with about 100,000 fewer miles and with my bank account about $4,000 lighter.

But my new old car was thoroughly repainted and sort-of like new, and my learning curve (I’ve declared myself too old to deal with gadget-filled computerized new cars) remained flat.

Hearing one’s insurance representative declare you were involved in a hit-and-run collision is, nevertheless, unsettling. I assured him they had the wrong car, that I didn’t think I’d even driven anywhere that day. That my trusty Volvo S40 lives in a locked garage in a building with 24-hour security and really doesn’t go out rear-ending other cars without my permission.

Would this not have been a good time to say, “Oh, sorry; we’ll fix that”? I felt so. Instead, I was referred the “the adjuster of my claim.” Then I was asked to make a recorded statement, after which I was asked to email photos of my car from all sides. Which I did. Thanks to its having been all painted and spiffed up when I bought it, the little silver auto was quite emphatic about being without a scratch. I, though, was not undamaged. Beginning with the spike in my blood pressure from the original call, continuing through a trip to the garage to make sure I wasn’t crazy, recording my statement which felt like pleading innocent in a court of law and doing a photo-shoot in the garage – there went my day.

Eventually I received a copy of the “pending” file with assurance that it would soon be “settled” and nothing would appear on my record. It noted that the Vehicle Identification Number of the car involved didn’t match my car’s VIN, and – by the way – the car involved was green, so clearly not my car. This is “actually quite common,” the adjuster assured me, which was not reassuring in the least. Since no one seemed inclined to answer my emailed questions, I finally called the adjuster to ask.

The accident happened in Oakland, across the Bay from San Francisco and you couldn’t pay me to drive across the Bay Bridge. None of the streets in Berkeley or Oakland make sense to me any more, and BART does. How did the other insurance company (the one covering the car that was rear-ended) get my insurance information? “Oh, the driver of the other vehicle probably wrote down a license number one digit off, or something; that happens all the time. We were just doing our job.” Would it not have been simple to check the VINs and immediately know the car involved was not my car? “A lot of times we do not have the VIN on file . . . We were just doing our job.” I wanted to check out my now secret suspicion that my old car had somehow been put back together and sold to a careless driver in Oakland, but by this time I did not want to hear once more that my insurance company – which will remain nameless here to avoid further damages – was just doing its job. Does its job not involve trying not to drive its clients nuts?

Apparently not.