Monday, May 4, 2009

"A Cop Saves Me A Thousand Bucks"

This will be my first tribute to a member of the L.A. police force in more than three hundred and twenty posts. Sorry, officers, it won’t happen again. (This phrase seems to roll trippingly off my tongue. Is it experience, perhaps?)

I’m coming out of a therapy session, feeling better about myself, or at least more conscious of why I don’t. I walk to the street where I’m parked, and I immediately notice that….

Some idiot has slammed into my car.

There’s a note tucked under the driver’s side windshield wiper. I quickly alter my perception. Some thoughtful person has slammed into my car.

Turns out, the note is not from the offending driver. I revert to my original perception.

The note is from a witness. They describe what happened, giving a full description of the assailant’s car.

Not only that, but

They include the assailant’s license number.

Turns out it’s a handicapped license plate. I alter my perception once again. Some handicapped idiot slammed into my car.

And driven away without leaving a note!

So what, I’m thinking, I got the goods on them. I’ll contact my insurance company, they’ll track down the assailant, their insurance company will cover the damages, which will include my thousand-dollar deductible payment.

It’s going to be okay.

I call up my insurance agent, report the accident, passing along the pertinent information, most notably the assailant’s license number, which I hoped, emanating from the smaller handicapped classification, would be easier to trace. Sure, it would be a drag getting my car fixed – there was a mutilating gash in the driver’s side door – but at least, I wouldn’t have to pay for it.


A week later, my insurance agent reports back. They were unable to trace the license plate. This seemed bizarro to me. I mean, how many police shows have you seen: “Did you get the license plate number?” “No.” “Too bad. We coulda nailed the bastards.”

We had the license plate number. But we didn’t nail anybody.

Wha’ hoppin’?

I get this big song and dance from my insurance agent, who’d obviously attended a seminar where they’d been trained by specialists in the big song and dance. Seeing no hope in pursuing my claim, I do what I always do in these cases.

I give up.

For a while.

I’m still angry, because my insurance company dropped the ball on tracing the license plate. Though my insurance will cover the damages, I am now on the hook for the thousand-dollar deductible. (Not to mention the almost certain increase in my insurance rates.)

It’s maybe a month later. I get this idea. I emerge from my “Cone of Surrender”, and take decisive action. I can’t believe what I’m doing. Or that I’m doing anything.

I call the police station whose jurisdiction includes the street where the accident took place. A female police officer picks up, and I start to talk.

“I don’t know if you do this, but I’m kinda helpless here,” I begin, attempting to garner sympathy, which, when it comes to getting people to help me, is the only arrow in my entire quiver.

I tell her my story, ending with my insurance company’s inability to trace the license plate, and wondering if there was any way the police department could assist me.

The officer’s response is immediate.

“I’m sorry, sir. We are not permitted to do that.”

I then do something I almost always never do. Instead of mumbling, “That’s okay” and hanging up,

I persist.

“The thing is,” I forge on, surprising myself enormously, “if we can’t identify the driver, I’m going to be stuck with the thousand dollar deductible.” Adding redundantly, “That’s a lot of money.”

There’s a long pause. Then the policewoman does something entirely unexpected, and possibly illegal.

“Could you hold on a second?” she asks.

I hold on. Less than five minutes later, she returns with the information.

“That’s so great!” I effuse, quickly adding, “Can I send you something? Some flowers? A basket of muffins?” The woman has just saved me a thousand dollars. She’s more than entitled to a few muffins. And maybe some preserves. And a small jar of olives.

Not allowed, I was told. What could I do? I dug deep for a “thousand dollar ‘Thank you’”, and hung up, eternally grateful to an angel in blue.

I call my insurance company. They take it from there. My car is fixed. I don’t pay a thing.

What’s this story about. “Never give up”? “The policeperson is your friend”? “Handicapped people are not immune from vehicular malfeasance”? I don’t know. I just know I feel really good passing it along.


growingupartists said...

Our police department is great too. I think it's such a tough job and they are used to being given a hard time by everyone, that to have a civil conversation with anyone is a surprise.

Great job, Earl! Now, you've reminded me of a very important thank you note I must write today.

A. Buck Short said...

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, but equally important groups: the law enforcement officials who investigate and prosecute crimes – and the insurance companies who won’t. These are their stories – but really that of a talented comedy writer, whose solid resolve not only allowed him to see justice done, but to relate the entire story with restrained embellishment and without ever even once employing the term “perp.”
Earl! Mah Heeeeero! This same thing happened to our daughter in San Antonio this year. Crawling home after 14-hr. rounds at the hospital at three in the morning, stopped at a light. Rear-ended by some low-life in a $50,000 Mercedes. In this case, both drivers actually being present, and so dog-tired as to be oblivious to her own safety, she emerges from her Camry and exchanges license and registration information. Other driver says he wants to pay for Haley’s damage himself rather than report it to his insurance and see his rates go up. She calls the next day, guy is still investigating, will get back to her. No word. Over the next week leaves 5 – 6 voicemail messages, none answered. Calls our insurance co., gives them the guy’s license number, address, etc. Turns out the gentleman apparently doesn’t have insurance. Who drives a $50,000 Mercedes with no insurance and won’t answer the phone? Sales rep. for a drug cartel? Bottom line, insurance co. determines it is not worth their while to go after the guy, and Haley is stuck with $500 deductible for being hit by an uninsured driver.

Now I'd like a favor. Because the effort certainly isn’t ever going to see much other daylight, and because I doubt I’ll ever have another opening to share it with a pro, I hope you will indulge an inverse example of police/private citizen involvement. It’s a couple of passages from a script I actually submitted to a Richardson, Texas judge as a form of community service to get out of a traffic ticket. Considered an appropriate penance, since the ticket had been received at the end of a 21-hr. road trip with screenwriter and then president of the WGA, Dan Petrie Jr. The personal Albert Brooksian rant at the end is really the result of a “thoughts on the staircase” series of moments, but accurately encapsulates both the situation and about 80 pages of “nonstop true-life action” leading up to it. Not ideal dramatic structure, but please remember this was written to persuade both the judge and officer Little (his real name) that it had been the week from hell and they needed to cut a guy some slack. Hence the title:

*****************TIME SERVED*****************

FADE IN: EXT. BUCK’S HOUSE/CARPORT, DALLAS,TX - NIGHT - HIGH ANGLE A green Jeep Grand Cherokee sits in the left bay, lights on, passenger door open. Beside it, a red Toyota Supra sports car, passenger door also ajar. A police cruiser from the neighboring city of Richardson is behind in the driveway, lights flashing.

SUPER. “Based on a true story.”

As the CAMERA ZOOMS IN, we see the officer conversing M.O.S. with a casually dressed middle aged man. The man, who will later be identified as BUCK SHORT, appears fidgety. Lights flicker on in neighboring homes. A woman in housecoat and slippers observes from the corner of her neighboring yard.

SUPER. “The names have been retained as potential witnesses.”

BUCK: (V.O.) All in all, one could say Saturday’s location tour with Dan Petrie, Jr. went reasonably well... until approximately two-fifty-three the following morning.

-------------APPROX. 80 PAGES LATER-----------

EXT. WOODALL ROGERS/CENTRAL EXPRESSWAY MERGE - NIGHT - TRAVELING The traffic coming up from I-45 speeds by at between 80-90 m.p.h. It takes Buck nearly three minutes to vector the Jeep over into the right hand slow lane. And this only after being afforded entry by a serendipitously present gentleman incongruously dressed like a NASCAR official waiving him on with a yellow checkered flag.


SUPER. “2:53 a.m. Sunday Morning”

The Jeep pulls into the carport. In the rearview mirror, Buck observes the opening scene’s police cruiser from the neighboring city of Richardson, lights flashing in the driveway behind him. Both he and the officer emerge from their vehicles.

BUCK: (groggy and bewildered) What did I do?

OFFICER LITTLE: (professional and courteous) I don’t know if you realize you were speeding. I clocked you at fifty-six on Coit in the forty-miles-per-hour zone between Dumont and Beltline. Where are you coming from?

BUCK: Work.

OFFICER LITTLE: (not quite believing) Can I see your license and proof of insurance.

Buck is dumfounded, then completely loses it while looking through the Jeep glove compartment for his insurance certificate.

BUCK: I don’t believe this! I just lost another Saturday to twenty-one hours of unpaid overtime trying to get a picture made in Dallas. That’s eighty this week -- rest stops take me up to eight-five. The good news -- in a couple of weeks I can get triple overtime -- because three times nothing is still nothing.

Hands the officer the insurance certificate after adding the license from his wallet.

BUCK: But y’know what? I was actually feeling great about it -- was feeling great about it all, until approximately three minutes ago. I started at six o’clock this morning. Just put on three-hundred-fifty uneventful miles from Dallas, to Denton. In the Fort Worth Stockyards, I stood in the hot sun for thirty interminable minutes to experience a staged western gunfight involving some of the worst acting in Tarrant County. If I had one of those Colts I would have shot ‘em both. The guy with me said never mind that, if I could get him one of the guns he wanted to shoot himself. Three wardrobe changes and I have engine carbon under my fingernails. I am dog tired, my back hurts, I haven't had a good crap since Thursday, and I am still trying to digest a chicken fried steak -- without noticeable success.

OFFICER LITTLE: (calmly, writing out the citation) Uh….

BUCK: Then… after twenty-one hours and three hundred and forty-nine miles without a single moving vehicular incident, I find the pleasure of making your acquaintance in my own driveway... cited for having been clocked at the felonious speed of fifty six miles per hour... in a two block stretch... four blocks from my Barcalounger... at three in the morning... with not another car on the road except my own and apparently yours, Officer Little. Break out the ankle monitor.

Lights begin to appear in neighboring windows. Dogs bark.

BUCK: Fifty-six miles per hour. That’s ten below the average speed at rush hour-- when there really is a danger of hitting somebody else. And I was with a guy who wrote four cop movies. Three BEVERLY HILLS COPS and TURNER AND HOOCH. Whoops, I forgot about THE BIG friggin’ EASY. All of which did quite well, I might add. And I’ve got another six or eight hours to put in tomorrow to make up for the time I lost all week screwing around with Windows 98.

OFFICER LITTLE: Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to calm down.

BUCK: And then you bird dog me home to my own driveway in Dallas? Just to put a little icing on the cake? Tell the truth Officer Little. If you didn’t have to think two or three times about whether or not this was a righteous collar, wouldn’t you have just pulled me over at the light I was stopped at between here and the scene of the crime? Or was nabbing the perp in an exotically foreign municipal jurisdiction after a five mile per hour chase down a pothole-filled alley just too much of an adrenaline rush to pass up?

OFFICER LITTLE: We need to be sure you haven’t been drinking, and it doesn’t look like you have been.

BURKE: Well, come back in an hour. So, what? Now because there’s no third act, you’ve got to write me up for the next best thing? The pursuit? Well let me help you out here. Have a look at these bar stamps on the back of my hands that you seem to have overlooked. That’s right; I scouted more than half a dozen watering holes with this guy, without a single alcoholic beverage. You know why? Because I’m the Goddamned designated driver. With all due respect, it’s three o’clock in the morning. Why aren’t you angle-parked someplace munching Krispy Kreme donuts? How about it, Officer Little? Take a bite out of Kreme.

Joe said...

I may have the phrase Handicapped people are not immune from vehicular malfeasance. etched somewhere.

Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you got the cops to run that plate number for you... you're like a funny, Jewish, Jim Rockford.

Anonymous Brian