It was a sunny November afternoon in Los Angeles, and I was done with my auditions for the day. Eager to get to Whole Foods on Fairfax and Santa Monica for a late lunch, I walked down the sidewalk to my parallel-parked sleek black Ford rental car. Pulling out my key chain with a flourish, I opened the door and hopped in the driver’s seat.
My stomach grumbled as I visualized the colorful California produce that awaited me in the salad bar less than a mile away. Familiar voices of NPR greeted me as I started the engine. I gingerly pulled out of my spot and within seconds, I heard the sound drivers fear most: the grinding of metal on metal. I slammed on my brakes. CRAP! I thought. I hopped out to take a better look. Upon gentle acceleration to leave my spot, my black car had grazed a white car’s back left bumper parked in front of me. There was some damage to their bumper, along with white paint streaks on my passenger door.
My shaking hands dug around the passenger’s glove box for a pen and paper. Scribbling down my contact info, I tucked a note inside the other car’s windshield wiper. I called the rental company, letting them know that I’d hit a stationary vehicle while I was pulling out of a parked position. I was spooked. No one ever wants to be in that position.
I called my dad, who told me to stay calm. He said it was all going to be okay, and that I should go get lunch. “You probably need to eat something,” he told me. I proceeded to Whole Foods, mind racing. How could I be such an airhead? The car I was renting was astronomically expensive as it was, and the cost to insure it was an extra grand a month…so, you guessed it, I didn’t have insurance. These things happen, I assured myself. An accident is never planned. At least the other car wasn’t moving. At least no one was hurt. Surely, a couple of bumps and scrapes can all be fixed and everything would be fine.
In the next few days, the rental company called back to verify the exact time and place and what had happened. The owner of the white car thanked me for leaving my contact info since so many people don’t. I estimated that worse-case scenario, it would cost me 750 bucks. As I told the story to a few people, I learned that this is a typical LA occurrence. My worries over cost of repair lessened as months passed and I didn’t hear anything.
Eight months later, it’s summer in NYC. I’m at the gym and I get a call from a California number. A voice mail left from the rental company’s insurance agency informed me that the damage claims have been processed. (This took eight months?!) I hold my breath and the recording tells me that I owe… just under $3000. My heart sinks, my jaw drops, and I can hardly believe my ears. THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS!?!?!!!
Dread, guilt and shame washed over me. I started to envision all of all the marvelous ways I could have spent $3000. That’s the entire tuition of a coding school I was just reading about. A trip to the south of France to attend my cousin’s wedding. A beater used car. Months of groceries from a place as expensive as Whole Foods. Even if the book I’m writing becomes a best-seller, and I make a million dollars, I’ll still miss what $3000 could have been.
As tempting as it is to want to cry myself to sleep over such a frivolous loss, I realize that this is the way life goes sometimes. I’ve since been reading into ways I can dig myself out of this mess, such as the benefits of the credit card I used to rent the car paying for collision accidents. I also have to wait for something official to show up in the mail, as friends have advised, before paying anything. I’ll hold my breath and see how it unfolds from here.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, they’re 1) never to underestimate how expensive car damage can be; 2) don’t wait until you’re already in the situation where you owe a ton of money to think of all the cool ways you could have spent that amount.
Oh, and never drive hungry.