If you’ve read my blog over any period of time, you know that I am a loyal General Motors man. The four cars I’ve owned over the past two decades were all manufactured under the General Motors aegis – my 1991 Pontiac 6000 (“The 6”), my 2005 Saturn Ion (“Cardachrome”), my 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS (“The Blackbird”) and my current ride, the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze (“Dracourage”).
I’ve chosen DePaula Chevrolet as my repair and maintenance shop, and when I acquired Dracourage, I worked with DePaula directly to take care of all the paperwork. They understood that my previous car – the Blackbird – was pulverized and destroyed in a heinous car accident in North Carolina. Which is why I had to get a new car – i.e., Dracourage.
As many of you know, last June I was involved in a horrible car accident in which my beloved 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS, nicknamed “The Blackbird,” was destroyed. The accident happened in North Carolina; I had to get home to New York. My car was completely undriveable; and in that moment, I had to find a way to get home.
No, I couldn’t walk all the way to New York from North Carolina.
No, I wasn’t about to engage in the age-old tradition of hitch-hiking.
I had to rent a car. And the closest outlet that could get me a vehicle was an Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Benson, North Carolina.
The owners of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car must have seen me coming from a mile away. I told them I needed a car to get from North Carolina to Albany. They told me they had no vehicles available.
I told them that I still needed to get home.
They offered me what they said was their only vehicle available, a white panel-van that looks like it once hauled tools from a construction site. “This is some nice reliable transportation here,” the owner said to me in a drawl that sounded as if he was concocting a plan against Bo and Luke Duke.
I looked outside the Enterprise building. There was a Ford Focus available.
“Why can’t I take that car?” I asked.
And thus I introduce you to Chuck Miller’s Law of Rental Vehicles. “Companies will either upsell you on cars you don’t need, or stick you with cars you don’t want.” And after much hemming and hawing – including having to pay a $100 “one way” surcharge and a host of other fees and add-ons – I was back on the road, headed for home, my wallet $300 lighter for the experience.
It was only after I stopped to get some “I need to contemplate why I’m still alive after that nasty car crash” food, that I looked at the windshield of the Ford Focus.
Wow, It’s got a New York State inspection sticker. So I’m essentially driving this thing back to its home as well. Yep, inspection valid to May of 2016 –
May of 2016? Calendar check. I’m driving this car in June of 2016.
Fantastic. All I need NOW for this vacation is to get back to the great Empire State and have some trooper pull me over, check the inspection sticker, and whack me with a ticket for an expired inspection. Just the features of DWC – Driving While Chuck.
Anyways, I made it home and called Enterprise once I saw home. I arrived on a Saturday. They told me that my car rental was for two days and that I needed to return it on Sunday.
I informed them that I was driving a car with an expired inspection sticker, and told them I could drop the car off at the Enterprise location in downtown Albany – so that I would be able to return home via CDTA.
“Oh no,” the Enterprise representative said to me. “You have to drop the car off at the Airport.”
Right. No. Better idea.
“I don’t know if you’re aware, the inspection sticker on this rental has expired, and I’ve been driving around with a car that could be pulled over at any moment.”
“Okay,” the representative said. “You can drop it off on Monday at downtown Albany, we’ll give it to you for an extra day.”
Well, this beef blog isn’t primarily about Enterprise. I dropped the car off on Monday, contacted my insurance company for procedures on what to do in this situation, and he informed me that if I saved all my receipts for the trip home, I could turn them in for reimbursement from the other insurance company whose party caused the accident.
Okay. This is where it gets as complicated as calculus.
My accident was caused by three different cars, each with its own policy carrier. The camper in front of me – the one who dropped the bicycles from the rear of the camper and crashed into me – is represented by GEICO. The RV in back of me – who clobbered me at 70 miles per hour and slammed me into the other lane – is represented by The Hartford. And the Ford F-150 – who clobbered me into the guardrail – is represented by USAA.
The first two vehicles – Bicycle Camper and RV 70 MPH – were issued tickets at the accident, for failure to secure load and / or failure to keep proper distance. So I contacted both of those insurance companies.
This is what I received.
From Bicycle Camper’s insurance company – “Mr. Miller, because the RV hit you from behind and crippled your car, we do not feel that we are responsible for your rental car or other expenses. Thank you for contacting GEICO.”
From RV 70 MPH’s insurance company – “Mr. Miller, because the camper in front of you caused the accident in question, we do not feel that we are responsible for your rental car or other expenses. Thank you for contacting The Hartford.”
That’s right. Two insurance companies are playing “Hot Potato” over reimbursing me for $300. And while Allstate (my insurance company) already paid me for what was left of the Blackbird (based on what some girl named Kelly wrote in her blue book, and I don’t think she likes Chevrolets that much), that $300 reimbursement still hung out there like the diseased branch of a tree.
That was three months ago.
In fact, as I write this blog post, the whole matter of remaining reimbursements has gone to insurance arbitration.
This is what bothers me. Two insurance companies whose policyholders caused an accident that destroyed my beloved Blackbird are passing around a $300 reimbursement as if it was printed on malaria-infected paper. I don’t care who pays it – I don’t care if it’s GEICO or the Hartford or even Progressive (as long as Flo shows up with the check), or even if GEICO and the Hartford go Dutch and split the check between them.
All I know is it cost me at least $300 to get home from a very scary car accident.
And I want my $300 back.
I don’t care if the money comes out of a stag’s hide, or if I have to skin a lizard to get it.
Last weekend, I received several brochures and mailings from various law firms in North Carolina. See, North Carolina was where my car was destroyed in a stretch of Interstate 95. Yeah, I’m still dealing with the trauma of nearly dying because of some other drivers’ carelessness. I still have trouble sleeping. And although I’ve acquired a new car (still without a nickname), it almost feels like I’m not yet back to 100%.
So I looked over the North Carolina law firms’ mailings. Hmm. They must have gotten my name and address from the police records; in fact, two of the mailings have copies of the police accident report attached. Three of the letters address me as “Dear Charles.” The fourth addresses me as “Dear Friend.” One of the letters has the Christian symbol of the icthys – the fish – on the letterhead. Another law firm sent a brochure talking about how they would fight for my rights. I checked. No, it wasn’t the law firm of Mike D, King Ad-Rock and MCA.
Well, they want to fight for me. Maybe one of these firms can help me get a settlement for my car. I mean, right now the Blackbird is nothing but scrap metal and a steering wheel. And replacement cars don’t come cheap.
First thing in the morning, I call one of the law firms. They immediately respond back, they’ve cross-referenced my name with the police accident report.
“And how badly were you injured, sir?” the intake paralegal asked me.
“My car was destroyed. I’m lucky to be alive.”
“Yes, but did you suffer any injuries? Broken bones? What hospital did they take you to?”
“They didn’t take me to any hospital. I survived without a scratch. But my car was destroyed – ”
“You didn’t have any injuries, sir? Oh that’s too bad…”
“I mean, thank God you survived that accident, sir…”
And it was at that moment I realized that these were personal injury attorneys. They would receive more money for representing someone who was injured or killed in an accident than they would if someone was unhurt and their car was destroyed.
Ugh. Hang up the phone. Oh, that’s too bad. Too bad for whom?
Look, I realize that there are plenty of people who would like to see me with a tombstone over my face. Heck, there’s probably a “when’s Chuck gonna die?” betting pool going on, and I probably pissed some family member off by not coming back to the 518 in a body bag.
And it was the same for the other three law firms that contacted me. All big glowing full-color brochures and whatnot, but when I told them that I wanted restitution for my destroyed car, they would only talk to me about whether or not I had an injury.
“You know, sir, sometimes soft tissue damage could take weeks or even months to develop.”
Right. And horse manure takes hours or even minutes to stink up the place.
As it was, I already wrapped up the damage to my physical property. The fatal injury to my car. And with that, I will receive a check for its remaining value.
I keep thinking back to June 3rd. I should have died that day.
And it seems like there’s plenty of people who are sorry that I didn’t die that day.
I took a few more photos, then ate some breakfast at a nearby eatery called the Funky Pelican. I asked the server for the local morning cuisine, as I could eat bacon and eggs back home. She recommended I try the shrimp and grits. I’m glad she did.
I went back to the car and swapped cameras – this time pulling the Nimslo for some three-dimensional film photos. Since there were birdies on the beach – mostly they were swiping bait from the fishermen – I waited until I could catch a bird and shoot it.
And you know by “catch” I meant photograph, and by “shoot” I meant photograph. Right?
Oh look, there’s a little black bird on the pier. Stay still, little black bird.
Come on, Nimslo, do your best. Get me a shot of that little black bird.
Got it. Okay, now I need to get this person’s name and have her sign a release form so I can enter this picture in competition season 2017 and …
Oh, crap. She walked away. Dang it. Seven other lifeguards in red swimsuits. No fair.
Oh well. I may not be able to enter this photo in competition without a signed release…
But it still looks nice on the blog.
On Wednesday, I drove to Daytona Beach, checked out Daytona International Speedway – took a tour of the grounds, almost saw Danica Patrick there – and then drove over to the white sands of Daytona Beach. For an additional $10, you can drive on the beach sand, just like the stock car drivers did in the old days – although now you must maintain a 10 mph speed limit, have your lights on (at high noon, no less) and keep one side window open while driving.
I continued forward. Okay, Leica Green, it’s your turn to shine.
Oh look, someone built some sand castles with a little plastic pail. Man, this feels great. I asked the family of sunbathers next to the sandcastles if I could take a photo of the sandy artworks. They said yes, and then handed me an iPhone so they could get in a picture as well.
“That’s a neat old camera you’ve got there,” one of the family members said to me.
“I know,” I smiled. “It is a neat camera, isn’t it?”
Dang, those lifeguards at Daytona Beach are strong, aren’t they? I’d better not joke about if this lifeguard was previously selling shoes and working in a shopping mall… #blottohumor
Back to the car, and this time I brought out the Rolleiflex. Yes, I’m going to shoot with every camera on this trip if I can.
I still wanted to capture some ocean birds in their environment. And unfortunately, these birds were a bit camera shy. Although they did enjoy eating bait from various beachgoers. And by “bait,” I mean Cheetos. No lie. These seagulls and pelicans and whatnot were more than happy to chomp on junk food.
I did get this shot of one bird soaking his little birdie toes in the surf.
Damn that’s so peaceful and serene. And I’m just feeling great. Smiling like I just discovered milk chocolate.
On Thursday, I started to head home, but first I made a pit stop at St. Augustine Beach. I picked up dozens of little beach shells for future projects. I’m always thinking of future projects, I don’t know why…
But now it’s time to bring my Russian ultrawide Krasnogorsk FT-2 camera into the mix. Come on, Raskolnikov, do your duty…
Wow. If I keep getting shots like this, I might stay in Florida and never come home.
A few steps around the beach… I grabbed the Rolleiflex and took a few more photos on the pier itself.
//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsAnd, of course, you know this final photo from my trip. My final photograph, which among all my treasures from this Florida vacation, this is the one that I’m going to enter into competition. I don’t even care that of the seven cameras I brought to this trip, this photo came from my eighth camera.
Yep. I’ve decided that one of my entered photos in Competition Season 2016 will include my BlackBerry PRIV’s camera.
It all happened on Interstate 95 in North Carolina.
And it seems so surreal to write and talk about it now.
But if I don’t get my feelings and thoughts down in a tangible fashion now… it’ll feel like a bad nightmare.
Two days earlier, I was in Daytona Beach as part of my Florida vacation. You can actually drive on the white sands of the beach itself. And as I parked my 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS, colloquially nicknamed “The Blackbird,” on the sand, I took a cheeky picture of the car.
I’m driving home. What a wonderful vacation I had. I really needed this to get away from all the stress and strain of my life. And now it’s Friday morning, and I’m chugging along I-95, somewhere in North Carolina.
Hmm… there’s an RV in front of me, and there are some bicycles attached to the back of the RV. Not sure how secure those bikes are, so I’ll just keep a healthy distance between me and him.
And then, all of a sudden…
The bicycles fell off the back of the RV, right into the road. Five car lengths ahead of me.
Think fast, Chuck. Slowly apply the brakes. You don’t want to have anyone hit you from behind, and you don’t want to hit those bicycles… which are coming straight at you.
Can’t swerve to the left. There’s traffic.
Can’t swerve to the right. There’s road signs that could slice through my car like a knife through a steak.
Come on, slow down, slow down…
I hit the bicycles head-on. Nothing I could do, just –
I felt a car slam into the back of mine. I could feel my car start to crumple. Shards of glass flying around my head.
A second hit from behind. Apparently the first car slammed me so hard, it turned me into the left lane of traffic – where I got clobbered again. One of the cars that hit me from behind was a Ford F-150.
I looked around. Driver’s side window smashed. Driver’s side mirror destroyed. Back window decimated. And the trunk – the trunk was now in my back seat.
Oh my God. I got hit from behind and from the front – at the same time.
Stay in the car. Don’t get out. Wait. Help will arrive.
Heart is pounding. Racing. My fingers are trembling, holding onto a glass-strewn steering wheel. Nothing is moving.
I looked around. Am I okay? Quick check of my hands. Five fingers on each.
Paramedics arrive on the scene. They can’t get me out from the driver’s side. I move over to the passenger’s side and exit the car.
And it’s only then… only then… that I see the magnitude of what happened.
That’s what’s left of the Blackbird.
Paramedics take me into an ambulance. They check my blood pressure. The readings are so high, it could ring a bell on top of a tower and give a kewpie doll afterward.
All my cameras were in the back seat. They were spared. My luggage and my laptop were in the back seat as well.
Drivers of the other vehicles come over to make sure I’m okay. “There’s nothing you could have done,” they said to me. “You’re blameless in this accident.” “We hope you’re all right.”
The officer on the scene issues tickets to two of the drivers – to the RV driver for not securing his load properly; and to one of the cars behind me for not keeping a safe traveling distance.
But my car…
My car is absolutely destroyed.
This was the car I bought in 2012. I drove it to Atlantic City and to Niagara Falls. I drove it to Prince Edward Island and to Boston and to Syracuse and to Florida.
This was the car I purchased and paid for, completing the loan three years ahead of schedule.
This was the car that was supposed to be my “forever” car.
And I think … the Blackbird gave its own existence to save mine.
Now it’s a matter of phone calls. Arranging a rental. Calling my insurance. Getting the police report.
Things I never thought would cross my mind on what was supposed to be a relaxing once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
And now all I want to do is go home.
Everybody out there. Please listen to me.
Take a moment and hug your family members. Hold them tight.
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone. I’m only writing this blog post right now because, for some totally inexplicable reason, I was spared in a car crash that should have taken my life.
Today is a new day. And at some point I’ll start looking for a new car.
Three years ago, I acquired a 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS. The car, later nicknamed “The Blackbird,” has been my prime automotive chariot ever since.
I’ve already eclipsed 100,000 miles on the odometer, and I’ve maintained all the car’s necessary maintenance – oil, tires, shocks, brake pads, etc.
Now, as I complete my third year of ownership of this General Motors supercar…
It’s time for the big overhaul.
And on Black Friday, while everybody else was shivering outside of department stores and waiting for sales on $100 flatscreens…
I was parked in front of DePaula Chevrolet, waiting for the company’s big white garage doors to open.
See, once a car reaches that 100,000 mile race tape, some things must be updated and upgraded and fine-tuned and replaced. My shopping list for the Blackbird included, but was not limited to:
Cleaning the fuel service – or, as DePaula calls it, “Using specialized equipment, our technicians will quickly and effectively clean intake manifold, ports, intake valves and combustion chamber, install injector cleaning additive in tank, this service may restore lost poewr, performance and will reduce harmful exhaust emissions.”
Replacing the transmission fluids – or, as DePaula calls it, “Using the latest in state-of-the-art technology, we will install a afe and effective cleaner to suspend harmful varnish and sludge from the transmission valve body, torque converter and lines, install new high-tech fluid with conditioners.”
Checking the coolant – or, as DePaula calls it, “Flush cooling system, pressure test, check hoses, cap and connections, install BG Cooling System Corrosion Control Kit.”
Rotating the tires – or, as DePaula calls it, “Rotating the tires.”
As I waited for the Blackbird to get its services, I discovered that DePaula Chevrolet had updated its lounge area – which was now complete with flatscreen televisions, comfortable lounge chairs, free Wi-Fi, hot coffee and Coccadott’s cupcakes and candy. Woah.
A little relax time, and next thing I know, the service tech at DePaula alerts me to something on the Blackbird that needs attention. Apparently my front swaybars are loose, to the point where if I hit a pothole, I could crack the swaybars and then my front alignment would be mangled. “I have to say this,” the tech Derek said to me. “Have you had these swaybars replaced?”
“Never,” I said. “I think they’re original to the vehicle.”
“Then you must be in the 5% of all Chevy owners around here,” he said to me, “because most swaybars get replaced every 50,000 miles or so, these have held up pretty well but they do need replacing.”
A few more hours waiting at the station. Well, better Black Friday here than Black Friday at the shopping centers, I guess. Plus, I ran into one of my TU blogreaders, Deb Marks, and we had a good conversation about life and everything. Ah, time passes…
And finally, it was time to pay for the maintenance and repairs.
“So, Mr. Miller, I see you have a 2005 Saturn Ion in our computer…”
Really? After all this time… and after I’ve mentioned to DePaula on more than one occasion that my beloved Cardachrome is now in chunks and scraps in an undisclosed junkyard…
“You have 50 loyalty points to this car, would you like to combine it with the 100 loyalty points you’ve earned on your 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS, and we can take those points off your repair bill.”
Well… er… um…
And in that moment, I had this image of a wrinkled, notarized document that said…
“I, the Saturn Ion sedan nicknamed Cardachrome, as part of my Last Will and Testament, do solemnly bequeath and distribute to my beloved former owner, Chuck Miller, my entire estate, including the sum of fifty (50) loyalty points to use at DePaula Chevrolet, with location at 785 Central Avenue, City of Albany, State of New York, to be used at his discretion and redemption, as per stirpes. Signed with the tire print listed below.”
And in the end, the Blackbird is back on the road, ready to travel to who knows where and who knows how far.
That’s the most important thing. Last thing I need is to get stuck somewhere. Preventive maintenance, you know…
By the time you read this, I’ll be on the road with a precious cargo – six of my best photographic artworks – for “Drop-Off Day” at the New York State Fair. This seems to be part of an all-encompassing “drop-off-3-day-weekend” with my three entries for the Big E shipped yesterday, and my four (5) entries for Altamont being couriered to the Fairgrounds tomorrow.
So as I’m driving along the New York State Thruway with my entries… I’m thinking about things. Again. I do this a lot. So bear with me on these things.
I’ve attended back-to-back funerals this week. Last Wednesday was the services for my aunt Dolores. It was a very dignified service and the staff at St. Thomas the Apostle did an excellent job. If I could say one thing about the journeys of my life, it always seems that at some point in time I will find myself at St. Thomas the Apostle for baptisms, for weddings, and for funerals. Such is the way of the world.
The next day, I attended a funeral service for one of my teachers at my high school, Ahmed Naqi. This was my first experience attending a funeral at a mosque, and although I couldn’t understand any of the imam’s commands or prayers, I did understand the devotion and piety and spiritual strength of the attendees as they prayed for the soul of a good man. The whole experience of two very emotional funerals left me, for lack of a better term, spiritually drained.
I’m 6,000 miles away from the big 100,000 mile marker for the Blackbird. With that in mind, I’m looking at replacing anything and everything in terms of the car’s belts, fluids and the like. If I can keep this car going for another 53,000 miles after that, I’ll have surpassed the mileage achieved by my first car, the 1991 Pontiac 6000. It seems so long ago that I owned that “beater with a heater.” Almost a lifetime and a half ago.
I’ve been enjoying the Sirius/XM satellite radio in my car, especially the old-time-radio dramas and comedies and westerns on the Sirius/XM Radio Classics. If the schedule works out the way it should, I’ll enjoy episodes of Our Miss Brooks (Eve Arden in a hilarious sitcom about a high school teacher), the Phil Harris – Alice Faye Show (bandleader Phil Harris and his wife, movie bombshell Alice Faye, in their own domestic comedy), and a Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar marathon (Bob Bailey in the transcribed adventures of an insurance investigator with an action-packed expense account). Good stuff. Combine that with a Gunsmoke episode, a sci-fi story from X Minus One, and an experimental broadcast from the CBS Radio Workshop, and it’ll be a fun trip today.
I’ve been rebuilding my white tower computer system for the past week. It’s involved reformatting my entire C: drive, upgrading to Windows 10, and reinstalling all my software. Luckily I was fortunate to store my photos and writings and music and other materials on ancillary hard drives, so they weren’t lost in the crash. It’s just been a pain in the tuchus to get everything reinstalled. And when I figure that I’ve worked with personal computers going all the way back to the old TERAK standalone desktop computers at Hamilton College, going forward through a Packard Bell 386 laptop I purchased at Sears, and a few second-hand computers bought at various locations throughout the Capital District – none of which are around any more – if we were talking in the language of science fiction, I’m currently on the Tennant edition of my tower, having just regenerated from my Eccleston edition. Please do not ask me to explain this, or I will club you upside the head with a sonic screwdriver.
There was a recent article in Forbes magazine about the National Basketball League of Canada, my winter employer. It was a very positive and fair article about the league and its accomplishments. And I should mention that the league’s Commissioner, David Magley, is a former member of the Albany Patroons. I’m telling you, being a Patroon is a good thing for your future career.
If someone had said to me fifteen years ago that I would go from a Nikon CoolPix 800 camera to nearly a dozen digital and film cameras, I would have thought they nuts. Just goes to show you what happens over time. Then again, I wouldn’t have brought six artworks to Syracuse today had I known all this.
You know how some people can fall down the Wikipedia rabbit hole? My rabbit hole is YouTube. I start pulling videos for K-Chuck Radio and next thing I know, I’m watching a documentary on electronic tabletop football. Yeah.
I’m driving by Hamilton College, my alma mater, right now. Dear is thy homestead, glade and glen… okay, enough of that. I realize that one of my pictures, The Walkway, is among the six that I’m bringing to Syracuse this year. It’s also the first photo from dear old Ham Tech that I’ve ever entered into competition.
This photo was taken with my first “gifted camera,” a Rolleiflex Automat MX that was donated by my good friend Teri Conroy. I’ll probably see Teri when she brings her Wunsapana Farm llamas to the Big E this year. As for “gifted cameras,” I’ve received two more in the past year – a beautiful Leica M3 and a sturdy Argus C3, both rangefinders. Next year, I believe that those cameras will produce images that will be competition-season worthy.
It’s a beautiful day today. Beautiful days are good things. They’re rare and precious, and they disappear before you’re finished enjoying them.
Time to keep driving. I’m almost at Syracuse now. Turning Stone Casino is just ahead. No. Not stopping. At least not this time. Maybe on the way home to give me a “driving break.” That, and I have to decide if I really want to make a charitable donation to the Oneida Indian Nation or not. Maybe I’ll just enjoy the wonderful world of Sav-On gasoline.
In about a week or so, the local Hess gasoline stations will convert to Speedway gas stations. What does that mean? Most likely… no more Hess toy trucks in our area. Serious bummer.
For the first time in what feels like forever, I’ve actually skipped watching a Marvel movie on opening night. Yep, I didn’t go out to watch the new Fantastic Four movie. And that’s odd for me, because I love the Fantastic Four. How times have changed.
All right, listen. I’m going to keep driving. But I want everybody to have a good day today, get some sunshine and enjoy the beautiful summer.