License to thrill? Not really

The back of our poor little van at the scene of the crash in Hoodsport, Wash.By Laura Grimes

We back up our meat-centric blog for a little backstory. Mom’s coming for Thanksgiving and we got meat multiplying in the vegetarian-family freezer, but before I move on to the concussion blast and the traumatic brain injury these circumstances cause the Scatter Family, I first must explain our license plate.

We recently had to buy a new Large Smelly Boymobile.

Actually, let’s first back up to July 31, 2011. It was a gorgeous summer day. The Small Large Smelly Boy and I were driving our beloved van, LSBmobile1, from Port Angeles, Wash., where my mom lives, to Portland, Ore., where we live. Just to clarify, I was driving. The Small LSB isn’t even in high school yet.

July 31 happens to be my wedding anniversary, a day I not-so-coincidentally share with Mr. Scatter. We had a reservation for dinner that night at a restaurant where we first met and where we’ve enjoyed many meals together over the years. Ordering lunch for me there usually means, “I’ll take the special. All I heard was blah blah blah blah PICKLES.” I was looking forward to this.

The Small LSB and I stopped at our favorite places while we made our way across the Olympic Peninsula. Stop 1 meant coffee and a large strawberry smoothie with whipped cream from a chatty barista in a trailer. Stop 2 meant fancy soda drinks from a fish store. We prefer brown bottles. We like to pretend we’re drinking beer when we’re on the road. With the drink holders full, we were set for miles.

We banked along all the curves of U.S. 101, taking in the stunning, peaceful beauty of Hood Canal, and slowed to a crawl as we hit Hoodsport, with vehicles pulling in and out and pedestrians crowding both sides of the highway. I checked my mirrors and braked to a stop at a marked crosswalk so pedestrians on both sides could cross. A pickup truck slammed into the back of the van.

History. The pickup’s horn blared and wouldn’t turn off. Our drinks flew everywhere. Streaky blobs of bright-red strawberry smoothie smeared all over the back of the van. My phone disappeared under a backseat and couldn’t be found until the Small LSB had the bright idea to call it from his phone.

I knew we were going to be sore, but I also knew at that moment we were fine. Instantly, a medic showed up out of nowhere. I checked on my son, I checked on the other people (the medic was taking the vital signs of the passenger, who appeared dazed because he had been sound asleep when the crash occurred), I checked their truck (cracked windshield, deployed airbags, horn off by now, but not much visible body damage).

I exchanged information with the other people. Actually, they were too rattled. I asked for their cards, wrote down everything, and then wrote down all of my information on a piece of paper, asked them to verify it against the originals, and handed them the paper. I’m sure my unfazed, nonfreakoutness had a calming effect on them.

Many, many minutes passed. I stood there for a long time and then it occurred to me to look at the van. Oh my god. I thought it would have a little fender damage, but the back was bashed in. This wasn’t going to be good. I took pictures.

After I felt we had stood around long enough and was assured the driver and the passenger in the pickup appeared to be coherent and OK, I went to the medic and asked if that was it or if anyone else was showing up. I meant law enforcement because I was trying to find out if we could legally leave. He looked at me in all seriousness and said, oh, a whole bunch more people were showing up — more aid cars and an ambulance.

I just stared at him in what I can only imagine was a disbelieving look that likely said, “Are you (expletive) kidding me?!”

As I was thinking we were the innocent victims here who were being good citizens to stop at a crosswalk, we were fine (for now), we were calm and reasonable, our van was driveable, we had done everything we were supposed to do, we had stood around long enough and now we just wanted to take our bright-red-smoothie-streaked bashed-in van and go home, I could hear sirens. Many sirens. The nearby all-volunteer fire department had just emptied out and I swear every single vehicle they owned had its lights going and sirens blaring, pushing past long lines of cars pulled over on both sides of the highway.

Someone wanted to check my eyes, but one glance at my this-isn’t-necessary-do-you-know-what-overkill-is? look, and he dropped it without my even saying anything. I made sure he checked out my son, though.

When the new troops finally settled down and were standing around like everyone else, I tried again. What happens next? They were sorry to inform me that the nearest state trooper was an hour away. He had to drive down from Port Townsend.

In the meantime, a national park ranger showed up to “secure the scene” until the state trooper arrived so that all the medics and all their vehicles could leave.

When I said, “So you’re a national park ranger, huh?” thinking this was corny as hell at this point, he didn’t have even a whiff of humor about him. “Can I see your driver’s license and registration, please?”

The good news? We were parked right next to port-a-potties and a small grocery store. The pickup truck people needed to buy duct tape ($10!) so they could fasten down their airbags to be able to drive home.

When it was finally obvious after nearly two hours that we were about done, the woman who had been driving the pickup gave me a big hug and told me how sorry she was. I said, “I know you are, but look, it’s a beautiful day. No one was hurt. It’s a bummer, but it could have been so much worse. We have so much to be thankful for. Life happens. Have a safe drive home.” And I meant every word of it.

I’m not going to lie. I felt bloody noble. I had calmly taken care of everything. I had talked reassuringly to the pickup people. I never blamed the other driver, even though I knew the fault was cut and dried and squarely hers. I knew it was an accident. There’s nothing else you can do at that point but move forward. Nothing was going to magically fix our van, our muscles or our drinks. I was proud of my son who had been just as calm, taking pictures of the scene, cleaning up the messy smoothie and smartly thinking to call my phone. I knew we had performed like excellent soldiers. I was proud of both of us. I even shook everyone’s hand that I could who responded and thanked them for their help (the state trooper was a little surprised). I meant that, too. All those people were wonderfully nice and took good care of us. I was deeply grateful.

There was one other thing, one other reason why I knew I could be bloody well noble. I knew that the car insurance company would take care of everything and that I wouldn’t have to worry about even a taillight. But I was wrong.

The other driver had MetLife insurance and the company was stunningly horrible to deal with. When the adjuster called on a Friday to tell me the van was a total loss, Mr. Scatter had just left for the Southwest desert where I was unlikely to reach him for several days. I told her this. She said that MetLife wouldn’t pay for storage at the body shop past Monday and I would have to decide what to do now. When I explained again my husband was out of reach, she gave me until Wednesday.

She rattled off a long list of options she thought the totaled van contained (and was exasperated when I asked her to slow down so I could write them down), listed a bunch of money numbers, gave me a final price and asked if that amount was acceptable to me. As in she wanted me to verbally — and legally — settle on that price right then on the phone. I was shocked. We had already done a local market analysis of the cost of our van. I knew her price was in the ballpark but it was disappointingly low. That’s not what bothered me. What bothered me was her strong-arm tactics. They were worse than the crash and losing our van, worse than the muscle pain, worse than the inconvenience, worse than the many thousands of dollars we now had to unexpectedly spend on a new car. This was no accident. This was deliberate victimization.

I told her to send me her offer in writing. She pushed me to settle. I couldn’t believe a company would do business like that over the phone. MetLife doesn’t do email. They sort of do, but only a centralized address that takes hours to process, up to a day or more. When I sent the adjuster a letter via email she told me two days later she hadn’t seen it yet. Hard to believe in this day of instant communication and push to run businesses more efficiently. You can do a real estate transaction worth hundreds of thousands of dollars via email — I know because I’ve done it — but MetLife can’t settle a car value worth less than $10,000 in the same way.

I learned later that the body shop doesn’t charge storage fees, a fact the adjuster either knew and lied about or didn’t know and should have.

I’m certain I told her on that Friday that I felt she was trying to screw us over. I was mad. We hadn’t used a rental car even though we could have. We hadn’t filed a medical claim even though my son and I had neck and back pain and I spent a lot of time in bed for more than a week. We clearly had no interest in costing the insurance company any unnecessary money and only wanted to be treated decently and paid the fair market value for our van. I felt like MetLife went out of its way to violate us.

There’s a ton more to the story but all you need to know to fully understand how we were treated is that the adjuster’s final sadistic act was to send us a check, which fulfilled MetLife’s legal obligation and cut us off from being able to rent a car later that week to drive to Mr. Scatter’s dad’s memorial service. She knew this. I had told her verbally and in writing that I didn’t want to settle until after the service so that we could use our rental car benefit for that very purpose.

Wow. I hadn’t planned to go into all that. Maybe I should have a long time ago. OK, shake off the nasty stuff. This is what the Scatter Family does:

When we all watch TV together and MetLife commercials come on with their famous Peanuts cartoon icon we do some serious family bonding and all yell “FU, Snoopy!” (Just to explain, we don’t really yell “FU,” but a close facsimile thereof.)

OK, everyone now. Let’s shake off the nasty stuff together. One … two … three … “FU, Snoopy!”

We all feel better, don’t we? (You can replace the “FU” with whatever sounds best to you.)

We will have to cease and desist this bonding ritual when Mom arrives for Thanksgiving. She’s known as Grammy in these parts. Having to adjust our ways is part of the concussion blast I was talking about, but I’ll get to that in another post.

When I pulled the crashed van up to the front of the house that day I still had plenty of time to take a shower and have a lovely dinner with Mr. Scatter. We couldn’t open the back of the van, so we crawled over the back seats to unload all the gear. As I was walking across our lawn carrying something heavy with both arms, I stepped in a large pile of dog doo. (We don’t have a dog.)

That day’s good news? It was our anniversary and I had left my pajamas at my mom’s house.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying we got a new car. Mr. Scatter did an incredible amount of research and taking our various needs into consideration we finally settled on a Honda CR-V.

I immediately dubbed it The Cervix, though I blame the Large Smelly Boys for it. I figure when companies issue random letters for cars then they are asking for (un)favorable names.

Why else would Toyota come out with something called a TRD? How in all the stars above (well, OK, there’s Uranus) did an entire corporation vet letters like that?

And tell me, how can a company name a car Nitro?

And, hello! Volvo! Nuff said.

So we got this new car, The Cervix, and a few weeks later the license plates came in to the dealer. Mr. Scatter stopped in and got the new plates put on.

I was all excited to see what they would be. The plates on the van were XTZ. How fun is that? Get it? Like Ecstasy only with a Z? I could always remember them. And the plates on our other little car are CNU. Sorta like “Seein’ you.” It’s got a little mischief going on. Perfect for us.

License plate letters almost always spell something obviously fun, or at least a mnemonic device can spell out something entertaining. What would the new ones be? Forget that you have a brand new vehicle that you plan to drive for a good chunk of your life. Forget all the cool places this car will take you. Forget the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, the anti-lock braking system, the retractable center tray table and the privacy glass. This new license plate would be the real reward of having to buy a new car.

Mr. Scatter came home from the dealer in broad daylight, parked in front of the house, and surprisingly I didn’t even think twice about it. I completely forgot until late that night when it was dark. And then I went nuts.

Ohmygod new plates! Let’s see what they are! I can’t believe I forgot! Come with me to see! WE HAVE NEW PLATES!

I tried to get the Small LSB to go out with me, but he was busy — probably watching House Hunters on HGTV. He wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t believe it.

I grabbed a flashlight and, wearing my slippers, ran out to the car. I was bursting with anticipation. Here we go! What’s it gonna be? What will our new plates look like, the plates that we plan to enjoy for many years, for many, many miles of road and have to write down on countless hotel forms and maintenance records? What fun are we going to have this time? I turned on the flashlight and crouched down. I shone the light right on the plate.

And then I stared. I blinked and I stared. There was no mistaking it. This was the car “we” called The Cervix and the narrow flashlight beam was shining right on the letters. FKF.

I tried to think of something fun.

I thought certainly these are fun letters, right? This is a good thing, right? This is funny? Hey, it’s a palindrome! That’s cool! That’s something fun. What else? THESE LETTERS MUST BE FUN! I stared for a strangely long time, my brain turning around. This could mean … thought hard … this could mean … I changed my approach … what kind of mnemonic device could I use?

I eventually came up with a mnemonic device but I’m not going to tell you what it is. That night in the cold, dark street, as I was squatting down in my slippers shining that narrow beam of light, I really could only think of one thing. What the FKF?


PHOTO: The back of our poor little van at the scene of the crash in Hoodsport, Wash. RIP LSBmobile1.