Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Another Example of How Well and Efficiently the Market Works, or If Kafka Ran a Roadside Assistance Program...

Having recently inherited, along with many other assets and not a few liabilities, a newish and, to me, quite nice new car, I decided to upgrade the insurance coverage for said automobile. After all, when you only paid $1000 for your car, it hardly makes sense to maintain comp and collision or much of anything besides basic liability and personal injury protection. Not that it's a bad little car. In fact, I've quite enjoyed having and driving it. But a thousand dollar car is a thousand dollar car, and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to pay down the deductible to make it worth insuring the thing itself.

But for the new ride, it made sense to buy real insurance and get more or less full coverage (a rather ambiguous term in the insurance industry, I discovered, but suitable for our present purposes), including signing up for their Roadside Assistance Program.

Last night, I had occasion to make use of said Roadside Assistance Program. Suffice to say, I was not impressed.

I'll begin by saying that my needing the help in the first place is my own damn fault. I was driving back to West Palm from a lovely overnight stay with an old friend and his family up in Daytona Beach, a place I have not been to since high school, I don't think. His wife's mother has a condo right on the beach south of town, and I spent a lovely evening and day after there with them, their kids, their friends, their friends' kids, and a sea kayak, among other things. As I left, I knew I needed to get gas, but I had a quarter tank and figured I'd just get going and that I could gas up on the way.

I hadn't talked with my Dad for a while, and there were a few things for us to talk about, along with the usual catching up and so on, so I gave him a call, and we talked for about an hour and a half as I drove the three hours south to West Palm. After I hung up, my girlfriend called, and she and I got to talking, and everything was lovely, right up until the engine started stalling out and I remembered that I needed to get gas. I was passing a rest area, and I should've just pulled in there, but I thought I might get a little farther, and was distracted by the phone, and passed it up. I ended up on the side of the road about a quarter mile past it, at around the point that the road back to the highway from the rest area connected.

It was at this point that I realized that my cell phone battery was nearly out of juice. And no, for some reason, I don't have a car charger for it.

I thought to myself, well, although you are a dumbass, at least you signed up for Emergency Roadside Assistance and put the number in your phone, which should obviate the consequences of being a dumbass, at least a little. So I called them. The lady was very nice, and though I was a little confused as to where I was, I thought I had communicated it pretty clearly to her from looking at the map at the rest area. Shortly after I got off the phone with her, the dispatcher from the tow company called me and said the guy was on the way. So I walked back to the car to wait for him.

Half an hour later, the tow truck guy calls me and says that he's having trouble finding me. We get to talking, and between us figure out that the lady from Progressive sent him to the wrong rest area and that he's about twenty or thirty miles north of where I am. As we're figuring this out, my cell phone's battery gives out and the call is cut off.

This is the part where it gets fucked up.

I walk back to the rest area, with my plug-in phone charger, in hopes of finding a power outlet I can use. I find one, and call the tow truck driver back, who says that, since the call got cut off, and both he and the insurance company tried to call me and failed to connect, that the service call got cancelled.

So let me be clear on this. I'm stranded by the side of the road, and because my cell phone gave out, instead of thinking 'hey, this guy needs help more than ever now,' the response from my insurance company and their roadside assistance provider is 'well, we can't get ahold of him, so everything must be okay, so let's cancel the help that was on the way.' Why this should be the reaction I cannot fathom, except to say that logic and common sense as they usually apply to the real world that people actually live in seems generally to have no place in the world in which corporations exist and function, and that this is just another example of the default setting of said corporations, which is you get fucked unless you are able to be loud and articulate in the face of the oncoming fuckery and are able to threaten some retribution.

The tow truck guy, who seems decent and competent enough, tells me that what needs to happen is I need to call my insurance company again and start the whole process over, because the first service call has been cancelled. Awesome.

So I hang up with him, and get back on the phone with Progressive. I explain my situation to the lady, who sympathizes and orders another service call. At this point, it's been about an hour since I ran out of gas, but I recognize my own complicity in the situation, and I'm keeping my cool and taking my lumps, because after all, if I hadn't lost track of shit I wouldn't be in this situation.

This is where the real nightmare begins.

I get the call back from the automated system, saying that the service call has been arranged, and that help should arrive within 45 minutes. I sit there for a while, charging up my phone, but the first guy was so on it that I figure they'll just call him again and he'll be here soon, so I don't wait too long before walking back out to my car. My phone's got a little bit of juice, enough that I should be able to field the calls I need to field, but still only two of three bars, so low. About half an hour later, the automated system calls me back and says help is still on the way, and will be there within 15 minutes, and that it'll call back and make sure help arrived. So I go back to reading my book and sweating (it's south Florida, remember, so it's pretty muggy, and I don't want to run the a/c because I don't want to run down the battery).

Twenty-five minutes later, the automated system calls back to see if help has arrived. I indicate that no, it hasn't, and it tries to put me in touch with the tow company, who isn't answering, so it puts me in touch with a CSR from Progressive's Roadside Assistance contractor (who are called, btw, Cross Country), who tells me that the first company that took the service call has cancelled for some reason, and that they've called in another company, who should be calling me soon. We get off the phone, again because my battery is low, and a few minutes later the dispatcher from the tow truck company calls me. She seems very nice, and is sympathetic to my plight, having been waiting out there for near two hours now, and says that she's just talked to the tow truck driver, who's finishing up changing a tire for somebody and says he'll be there in ten minutes. I tell her that yes, I do in fact feel alone and abandoned out there after all this time, but that if her guy is gonna be there in ten minutes then everything will be okay.

Half an hour later, he hasn't shown up, so I call her back. She sounds all stressed out and gets testy with me, and says the guy's on the way, will be there literally any second now, and that he'll have his beacon lights on so I'll see him coming, and hangs up on me.

A half hour after that, I call her back, because of course the guy hasn't shown up yet, and some guy who obviously doesn't know a fucking thing about what's going on answers the phone, and tries to tell me that the truck's on the way, and should be there soon unless something else came up, and I cut loose on the guy, which is too bad, since he was obviously just hanging out with the woman who's actually the dispatcher, who equally obviously didn't want to answer the phone since she'd already lied through her teeth to me twice. In the end, the guy says he'll call the tow truck driver and have him call me, so at least I can get some actual idea of when, or even if, he's coming.

Ten minutes later, with no call forthcoming, I start calling back. The dispatcher won't even answer at this point, and my phone is nearly dead.

About ten minutes after that, I decide that since I cut loose on the guy and started yelling that they've decided to cancel the service call and leave me stranded. It doesn't seem like an unreasonable conclusion to reach, given how this company apparently operates, and so I pack up my phone charger again and start walking back to the rest area, so I can plug my phone in and start the whole process over.

I get about a hundred yards from the car when I see the tow truck finally arrive. I turn around and haul ass back to the car, much to the chagrin of my injured knee. But the knee holds up, and I make it back before the guy decides that I've abandoned the car and takes off. The second he's out the door I explain to him that his dispatcher told me an hour ago that he'd be there in ten minutes, and that a half hour ago she said he'd be there any second. Apparently that's just her thing, lying to people, and it's not the first time he's heard the complaint. An hour previous, he'd been on a tow, and there was no way he was gonna get to me in less time than he did, and she knew it, too, but lied to me, presumably to keep me from calling in another tow truck. But he's here now, and the last thing I want to do is alienate the one guy who's actually shown up to help me. Besides, it's clearly not his fault. He's just doing his job, and seems a decent enough fellow. I even tipped him five bucks, thinking that somebody needs to come out of this with some good karma.

So, three and a half hours after breaking down, I finally get the opportunity to pay about five bucks a gallon for three gallons of gas so I can drive the five miles to the next gas station and fill up and drive home.

Needless to say, I've called Progressive, and made my complaint to the specialist from their Roadside Assistance contractor. They say they'll call me back within 24 hours, to tell me what action they've taken, but aside from an apology, nobody has yet done anything to make this right. I'm going to hold off, and see what they have to say for themselves, but I'm not especially hopeful that there will be any real consequences.

The real bitch is the certainty that even if I were to cancel the Roadside Assistance on my insurance, or even take my insurance business elsewhere, that whoever I contracted with will likely have arrangements with the same jokers as Progressive. It won't stop me from taking my business elsewhere, if only on principle, if Progressive isn't willing to do something to make this right, but it does piss me off to know that little or nothing is likely to happen in the way of consequences to the lying, incompetent fuckwits that left me stranded on the side of the road for three and a half hours. I mean, in that time I could have fucking pushed the car to the next gas station.

There are those, I know, who would tell me that I shouldn't worry, that the market will self-regulate and take care of it, that people so obviously incompetent will surely be run out of business through the machinations of the invisible hand and that if they keep fucking people over like this then they couldn't possibly last. And I'm sure that if I cared to dwell on it for a bit that I could come up with a cogent, well-reasoned and logical refutation of that assertion. But I don't, so all I'll say to that is: Yeah, right. That'll happen.

Tell me I'm wrong, for I would surely love to be.

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