I was passing through Richmond on a clear summer morning, en route to a Jonesville pickup. Motoring along, I recalled that Jonesville is not technically a town in its own right but a part of Richmond. Don’t quote me on this, though — I could have it wrong, and I wouldn’t want to rile up the proud Jonesvillians.
Sal was a retired insurance adjuster going to the hospital for outpatient hernia surgery. Later that afternoon, if all went according to plan, he would buzz me for the ride home.
My taxi work can be divided into various categories and subcategories, and this fare fell into the niche of “folks who normally drive but are scheduled for a procedure that precludes getting behind a wheel postsurgery.” I’m like an ornithologist when it comes to my various subspecies of customer. This one we could identify as Taxillus fletcherallena.
Sal resided on an exceptionally steep dirt road running north off Route 2. I had never taken it before, nor was I sure I’d even noticed it. The few homes I passed were relatively new; a road such as this would never have been developed before the advent of reliable four-wheel-drive vehicles. Sal’s home was up a long driveway, and he was waiting outside when I pulled up to his house.
“Nice place you got here,” I said as he got comfortable in the front seat.
“Thanks,” he said. “Yup, I built it myself in the ’80s.”
“So you were an experienced construction guy?”
“Not really. I just used a handyman’s encyclopedia I got hold of.”
“That’s amazing,” I said. “I built a desk once, and that didn’t come out all that great, even with a shop teacher supervising my every move.”
“So you still want to hear my adjuster stories?” he asked, brimming with enthusiasm. On the phone, he had told me that he had a ton of great insurance stories with which he could regale me on the way to Fletcher Allen.
“I would like nothing better,” I replied. “Bring ’em on, Sal.”
“OK, a guy in North Hyde Park dug a series of ponds, which he stocked with trout. Folks would pay to come fish — like ‘fishing for dummies,’ I guess. Anyway, there was a stream that fed the ponds, and upstream a couple of beavers were constantly building dams that would occasionally flood some town roads. So the town fathers first tried to kill the beavers, which ain’t that easy, apparently. Then they tried dynamiting the dams, which worked, but you know — busy as a beaver, right? The critters rebuilt the dam in, like, a week.
“So the men somehow got a backhoe up there and went at it. They were making progress until the whole hillside collapsed, sending a torrent of water downstream, which completely flooded the guy’s trout ponds. I attended a settlement meeting where he had video footage of the deluge devastating his fish. It was like a tsunami! Man, the town was screwed.”
“That’s a good story, Sal.”
“You bet it is. How about this one? On Route 4, the four-lane stretch between Rutland and Castleton, a couple passes a jacked-up Ford moving a little slow, and apparently pulls back into the right lane too close for comfort. The Ford driver goes ballistic, total road rage — tailgating, flashing his lights, honking. The couple were understandably terrified, but the guy wouldn’t give it up. Finally, the wife says, ‘Let’s pull over and take our medicine. Maybe the guy will calm down.’
“So they ease onto the shoulder, and the Ford pulls over, like, 25 feet behind. The Ford guy leaps out of his truck and charges toward the couple. But in his rage, he’s forgotten to shift into park, so his own truck runs him over, busting both of his legs before ramming into the couple’s car. Needless to say, they got a nice settlement. I myself appreciated the instant justice.”
“That is hilarious,” I said. “A lotta good action and a terrific crescendo.”
“Then there was this couple driving to work at dawn on 91 between Barton and Newport. The radio’s playing quietly, and the wife’s driving while hubby is dozing next to her. Well, the wife dozes off, and their vehicle — a Jeep Wrangler, if memory serves — glances off one guardrail, careens across the highway and smashes into the other. The wife isn’t wearing her seat belt and is ejected from the car, which is still heading down the road. At this point, the husband wakes up and looks over to see no wife in the driver’s seat!”
“Holy crap!” I exclaimed, totally into the story. “What happened next?”
“The Jeep flew off the highway into the rocks, and they both eventually died of their injuries.”
“Oh, jeez — that kinda takes the wind out of that story, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right about that. Anyway, how about one more?”
“Absolutely, brother — hit me.”
“All right, I’ve saved the best for last. Toward the end of my career, I was managing a bunch of other adjusters. This one adjuster — LL, we called him — was a sad sack. Things just never went right for the poor guy. So we had a claim by this guy in Stowe we wrote home insurance for. He had rented a storage unit that apparently got flooded and wrecked most of his stuff. Well, home insurance doesn’t cover rental units, so we knew he was going to be denied, but he was a good customer and wanted somebody to come look at the damage.
“So I send LL to meet with the guy at his storage unit at 1 p.m. that day. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes, because, as I said, the claim isn’t covered under his policy. It’s getting late in the afternoon, and nobody’s heard hide nor hair from LL. Finally, at close to five, I get a call from him. ‘I was standing in the storage unit with the policy holder, and when I affirmed that we weren’t going to cover, he stormed out and slammed the metal garage door behind him. There’s no light in here, and I’m locked in.
“‘LL,’ I say to him, trying to suppress a laugh, ‘Why’d you wait so long to call?’
“He says, ‘Well, I knew I’d never hear the end of it from all the guys.’ That cracked me up, because — you know what? — he was exactly right. He never did hear the end of it.”
When we arrived at the hospital, Sal said, “Some folks think insurance adjusting is a dull job, but I guess you can tell I miss it. It’s a career where you meet tons of people and get all kinds of great stories.”
I smiled and said, “Tell me about it.”