Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Melted Asphalt Insurance

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published July 30, 2015] © 2015 

Our sons have long since been paying for their own cars and insurance but when we got our annual automobile insurance bill this week, I could only wonder if we were still paying for their youthful vehicular indiscretions. 

My husband, Olof, was actually pretty sympathetic about some types of adolescent vehicle mishaps. As a college student, he remembers working as a delivery person for the father of one of his friends and backing the man’s vehicle into stationary objects not once but three times. Finally the friend’s father, Mr. Knickrehm, took Olof aside and explained to him that he needed a better reverse strategy than backing up until he heard breaking glass.

When our older son, Rory, was 17, Olof donated his VW Golf to him, teaching him how to drive its stick shift. For Rory’s inaugural solo drive with the car, we were treating Rory and 15-year-old Henry to dinner at the Mandarin House while we had a dinner party at home. We were not even through the cocktail hour when Rory called. As he attempted to get out of a tight parking place, he backed into a brand new red Lexus putting a pencil eraser-sized hole into its wrap-around fiberglass bumper.

As anyone with a teenage son knows, you do not report these events to your insurance company, or you’ll be paying for that bumper 20 times over in higher insurance rates. Olof and I and Rory went to the man’s house the next day to survey the damage which frankly you needed a magnifying glass to see. But damage is damage, and we paid the owner for the repair. Rory tried to reimburse Olof from his summer job savings but Olof said he wanted to pay Mr. Knickrehm’s generosity forward. First backup incident was free.

A year later, Henry got his driver’s license on his 16th birthday, and a mere two months later, got nailed for driving 20 miles over the speed limit on West Muirlands Drive by a policeman waiting for just such miscreants as our lead-footed son. Henry was outraged, insisting he was going to court and claiming entrapment. Olof, bemused, said he’d pay the fine if he could videotape the proceedings. Henry thought about that for a minute. “You don’t think that’s going to work,” he astutely observed.

I don’t know if minors can have a lawyer plead them out of speeding offenses but regardless, it wasn’t happening at our house. Olof went with Henry to juvenile traffic court where they were subjected to a long wait and endless videos about the perils of speeding, drugs, etc. “I think this is part of the punishment,” Henry whispered to Olof. Henry got traffic school and a fine which in this case he had to pay. No first time free on moving violations.

Fast forward a few years to the spring of Henry’s freshman year of college. He thinks he smells gas when he takes his car out for a quick errand one day, but it’s mid-term exam time; he’ll take the car in to be looked at next week when exams are over. So the car sits there for another week in the unseasonably warm April weather.

Alas, when Henry next gets in the car and turns the key, the pool of gasoline that had been accumulating under the car explodes. As Olof pointed out to Henry later, he seemed to have forgotten that the root word for ignition is “ignite.” Fortunately Henry didn’t even try to grab his wallet and phone on the seat next to him, just leapt from the car as fast as he could. Within seconds the car was a fireball with flames forty feet in the air, setting off every car alarm in the parking lot. The flames torched the car parked next to his as well, never mind melted the asphalt.

That night, Henry called the house, mentioning to me when I answered that he’d had a “minor engine fire” and needed to speak with Olof. There was a lot of head nodding on Olof’s part during this call. “You’ll need to work Mom into this story over several days,” advised Henry, I learned later. “Otherwise she is going to totally freak.”

Freak would be an understatement. Obviously, the only important thing in this story was that Henry made it out alive. He was fine. Personally, I’m still recovering.

Then, of course, there was the insurance claim. When we added the kids to our policy, who knew to even check whether it covered melted asphalt.  Advice to parents: check melted asphalt coverage! This was obviously a claim that wasn’t going to be settled privately especially when two torched cars and some serious repaving were involved. So every year when we get our automobile insurance bill, I have to wonder:  are we still paying for that parking lot?


Insurance photos you hope never to take

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

They Regret Any Inconvenience

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published July 23, 2015] © 2015 

After our flight to Boston was delayed in 30 minute increments for eight hours only to be cancelled, it occurred to us that the reason TSA confiscates guns and knives isn’t just to thwart terrorists but to protect the gate agents. 

I wrote recently about how Olof and I only travel these days if we really want to get some place. The knee room is ever smaller for the 6’3” Olof. The coach seats on long distance flights are brutal for someone like me who had polio as a child then had her spine rearranged several years ago by a drunk driver.

So when I contemplated attending my 50th high school reunion on the East Coast and visiting friends on Martha’s Vineyard beforehand, Olof and I agreed we would only go First Class in spite of the cost.

Our previous attempt at First Class was a $6,000 Business-First ticket (First Class to East Coast, Business class internationally) to the UK on United for a surgically-recovering Olof. On the day of travel, weather was great, plane was there – but no flight crew. By the time the flight was cancelled, United’s premier coach passengers had already been upgraded to all the First Class seats that day. Olof’s only domestic option (besides waiting two days) was a non-reclining middle coach seat in the last row of the plane next to the bathrooms seated with a woman humming gospel tunes on her iPod. Poor Olof suffered horribly (on multiple levels).

But, we decided, that was just bad luck. Although actually, our flight before this most recent one had been bad luck too. Our United flight to San Diego lost pressurization at 30,000 feet and was diverted for an emergency landing. But that wasn’t even the bad part. 150 seriously traumatized passengers were shunted over to United’s glacial CustomerCare (oxymoron) desk which is the real life embodiment of the Nine Circles of Hell. It’s ten minutes to re-ticket each passenger, partly because of agent ennui but mostly because there are no seats. Every flight flies full, or over-booked. You start to wish the plane had gone down.

On this most recent trip, we arrived in Chicago at 11:30 a.m. on our First Class San Diego to Chicago to Boston to Martha’s Vineyard itinerary only to find that our Boston flight posting a two hour delay due to “maintenance.”  (No weather delays.)  The only First Class seats left were on the last flight of the day leaving at 7:15 p.m. which we booked as backups. At 6 p.m. (see 30 minute increments, above), we’re lined up to board a long-awaited replacement plane. But we don’t board. Oh no!  The new plane now has “maintenance” problems too! (How????? It just landed!!!!) Another two hour delay is posted. So we hustled some 30 gates to a different concourse for the 7:15 flight only to find pandemonium (two different flights trying to board), no gate agent, and finally the news that our confirmed seats had been given away (presumably to upgrade passengers). Only option: stand-by for coach. We’d left our house at 4 a.m. Still in Chicago at 8 p.m.  #hateUnitedwithapassion

Not surprisingly, our original flight with its medley of mechanically-challenged aircraft was cancelled. But no! Now even the stand-by flight was delayed! After more than eight hours at O’Hare, we ultimately flew in coach middle seats 15 rows apart, watching the folks in First Class eat our dinner.

Of course, they’d taken our carry-on away from us since the overhead bins were full. Arriving in Boston after 11 p.m., it took a half hour to wring our bags out of them. Five hours and $265 at the airport Marriott later, we were back at Logan for our rebooked flight to Martha’s Vineyard.  Twenty-eight hours door to door.

So here’s our thoughts about United:   

(1) Is it asking too much that you maintain your frigging airplanes?  Throughout the concourse during the day, we heard endless apologetic announcements regarding “brief” maintenance delays through gate agents’ lying skeevy teeth.  

(2) #worstinvestmentever   Somewhere in United’s fine print should be a disclaimer that a First Class ticket is merely a pricey lottery ticket that may or may not result in First Class travel. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, you’ll fly stand-by in coach - if you even fly at all.  

 (3) Given (2), can we take our First Class United tickets as a charitable deduction? 
(4) Explaining to customer service that you bought these pricey tickets for health reasons merely gets you an expression of “So die already.”
(5) Trying to sort this out after the fact is another exercise in futility. United’s customer service refund site has no “Bought First Class but flew coach” option. In fact, United is offended that you want a refund. After the UK fiasco and much haggling, United reluctantly parted with $300. (Airline math.) Current trip: unresolved. 

(6) Would it kill you folks to reserve a couple of First Class seats for people who actually paid for them? United starts upgrading its premier coach passengers FIVE DAYS before a flight. Has First Class become strictly an upgrade class unavailable to civilians?

(7) Our advice if you need to fly First Class for health reasons? Stay home.



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

**Looking A Gift Dog In The Mouth

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published July 16, 2015] © 2015 

If there’s one problem I’ve never really worried about, it’s my dog’s dental care. That would probably be because I don’t have a dog. Or didn’t anyway. I’ve written about our granddog Winston a number of times before because even though we technically don’t own a dog, Winston, for a variety of reasons, has spent a LOT of his eight years at our house. At this point, we suspect he’s not going back home.

Such are in-bred health problems with English bulldogs that Winston has supported a wonderful La Jolla vet in addition to one in L.A. While Winston was under anesthesia recently to remove a growth in his jaw, our local vet suggested adding a dental cleaning. When Olof heard that Winston would be unconscious for his teeth cleaning, he commented enviously, “Is there any way I could get that too?” Despite incredibly hazardous flying as an Air Force pilot, Olof is not a big fan of sharp instruments in his mouth.
Our vet mentioned when Olof collected Winston that “we” should really be brushing Winston’s teeth at least three times a week. I put “we” in quotes because when Olof reported this to me, I was very clear who “we” were.  “No problem!” I said. “I’ll put it on my list. BTW, if you notice your tooth brush smells a tad kibbley, that’s probably why.”

But this prompted me to research doggie dental care, which I am not disputing is important. Just as with humans, poor dental care can lead to all sorts of health problems.  It’s opened up a whole new world for me, one that I find usually requires a glass of chardonnay. This is especially true when perusing such topics as Picking the right toothpaste for your dog. (It can’t be human toothpaste. BTW, you need doggie toothbrushes too.)
Maybe if we’re going to keep this dog, we should be signing up for ObarkaCare.

Googling How to brush your dog’s teeth gets you lots of understated advice such as Your dog may not go for tooth brushing at first. You think?
Hopefully, the site continues, you can make it a reasonably pleasant experience for both of you. I know I’d have to be on my second glass of wine to consider brushing the dog’s teeth a pleasant experience, and I have no idea what it would take for the dog.

Start slowly, they continue, and quit if the dog gets agitated. If there’s one thing I’m clear on, it’s that I’m not putting my hand into the mouth of an agitated bulldog.

But not to worry: Before long, your dog should start looking forward to the event. I so don’t think that’s happening, considering his general unhappiness with ear reaming and facial fold de-goobering.
Symptoms you should look out for:  (1) bad breath  (2) depression (3) excessive drooling.  (His or mine?)

Your vet may refer you to a veterinary dentist. Ack! No!  We can hardly afford OUR dentist.
If you notice your dog’s adult teeth are crooked, he may be suffering from malocclusion. Don’t even say the “m” word out loud to me! I know all about malocclusion from the orthodonture bills of two kids.

The veterinary dentist won’t give your dog braces, but he has ways to realign the teeth. Sounds like braces to me! (Is there doggie Invisalign?)
Turns out that not a lot of other people want to brush their dog’s teeth either. A friend took her dog to place that does this for $99 (upfront). The dog wouldn’t open his mouth but the place wouldn’t refund her money. I guess the pet’s early obedience training didn’t include the command “open wide please.”

I’m thinking canine dental care could be a problematical pet problem, just as our neighbor found when advised to apply sunscreen to the nose of his cat who had developed skin cancer there. (The video would have gone viral on YouTube.)
“So,” said my husband Olof, as I was recounting my newfound knowledge, “shouldn’t you be flossing his teeth as well?”  I laughed, until I Googled it.  (Tip: NEVER Google information you don’t want to know.) And sure enough, yup, if you really cared about your dog (and you had absolutely no life whatsoever), you should be flossing too.  I did notice a warning sign pop up announcing, Don't floss the teeth of a dog who has a history of biting or growling as you approach his food or other possessions. I think that is extremely good advice. And then they added, To avoid residue buildup in his mouth, use canine popsicles as treats.

Canine popsicles? Does he hold them in his paws? No, I am NOT Googling canine popsicles. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Winston: No, I don't want my teeth brushed