Copyright 2012 by John T. Reed

On August 28, 2012, I came out of a restaurant where my wife and I had breakfast and found someone had hit my car and damaged it.

Now that it has been repaired, I am actually glad it happened.

I spotted the problem as a I approached the car. My left rear bumper had been swiped breaking the red running light the pieces of which were lying on the ground under the car. I called my wife over to be a witness. A month before I bumped the car in front of me but so slightly that there was no damage. Later, they filed a claim for significant damage. I guess they took a baseball bat to the car after they got home. So I resolved to get a witness and photos next time I was in an accident.

Honest lady, good Samaritan, security guard

I checked the windshield wiper to see if a note had been left. It had. Next question, is it accurate? Turned out it was. Chalk one up for the integrity of some Americans—in this case, a 79-year old Chinese American lady.

The car was in front of Ross Dress for Less in Walnut Creek, CA. The security guard there motioned for me to come to him. I did. He said a witness saw the accident, wrote the license number of the car that hit me on an old receipt and gave it to the security guard. It was also accurate.

The guard also told me that the lady who hit me was still in the Ross store shopping and pointed her out.

I told he I was the owner of the car and asked for her drivers license and insurance card both of which she game me.

My wife used her cell phone to take pictures of each car and the perp. Not taking any chances with this one.

State Farm and AAA

I reported it to my insurance agent, Tom Sepe’s assistant of State Farm (Rheem, CA). She referred me to their claims department. I called them and they said AAA, the perp’s insurance company, already accepted responsibility. They also gave me a State Farm claim number and an AAA claim number.

Isn’t that a refreshing phrase—accepted responsibility? Especially after an increased quantity of politicians and government regulators all denying responsibility for the subprime crisis or Fast and Furious. I think the last politician who truly accepted responsibility for something was JFK accepting responsibility for the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961.

Why do American businesses accept responsibility, but American politicians and regulators do not? Because businessmen are, for the most part, honest, competent, and responsible, whereas politicians are the winners of a biggest-scum-of-the-earth competition.

Filed claim with AAA

I was given the option of filing a claim with State Farm in which case I would have to pay a $500 deductible which AAA would later reimburse me for. Also, I could rent a car and get reimbursed by AAA for that later. Or, I could file the claim with AAA and all that would be taken care of in advance. I chose AAA.

They explained my options. I asked if I could use Symmons Body and Fender, a tiny mom & pop shop in Danville, CA. They had done our last repair on my wife’s car and gave excellent service. AAA instantly said Symmons was one of their approved body shops. They also said they would use Hertz to supply me with a rental car during the repairs. I hardly got off the phone before I got calls from both Symmons and Hertz. The person who called me from Symmons was Cyndi Symmons. Each had been notified by AAA and said come on in. Hertz gave me a confirmation number.

I visited Symmons so they could see the damage and make an appointment. They said it would take two or three days. I brought it in on 9/5/12. Hertz’s sent a guy to pick me up and take me to their nearby San Ramon office where they gave me a rental car.

Ahead of schedule and on budget

On 9/6/12, I got an email saying the car would be ready to be picked up at 3PM that day—30 hours after I left it—sooner than promised. I picked it up around 4:30 PM. When I did, I noticed an ancient photo of the predecessor business: Symmons Blacksmith Shop.

They promised to touch, for no charge, a couple spots with the paint they had to get for the rear bumper, but forgot. When I pointed that out, they immediately did it. I was permitted to drop the Hertz car off with Symmons. Hertz picked it up later and called to tell me the gas level and everything else were fine and asked if I had been happy with the car and service. I was.

This whole thing did not cost me a penny. If I had wanted, I probably could have had the car back two or three days after the accident. I was the guy who added the extra days because I had out-of-town visitors.

Every single person involved—from the woman who hit my car to the unknown witness to the Ross security guard to the three huge household name companies—State Farm, AAA, and Hertz, to the mom & pop body shop—was honest, extremely competent and thorough and efficient. The front man at Symmons, Jim, struck me as one of those unsung heroes of American commerce whose extreme long experience and competence we take for granted.

Routine competence and integrity we take for granted, yet we clamor for more politicians who incessantly denounce business

What was such a delight about my car being damaged was the excellent way everyone involved behaved and performed. And it was such a delight because of the contrast between the reality of the American people and business, on the one hand, and the picture of them painted by the Democrats in their election campaign on the other. According to the Democrats, American businessmen are evil, thieving, greedy, “1% millionaires and billionaires” who would kill all their customers and eat their young if not stopped by government regulators. “You didn’t build that,” Obama would tell the Symmons family.

Was there any government in my experience? Oh, yeah. They had to hand me my “consumer bill of rights” dictated by the State of California or federal government. Behind the scenes all sorts of taxes, paperwork, employer-employee crap, etc. were jacking up the amount AAA had to pay. Symmons was required to give me a fixed estimate in advance. What do I care. AAA is paying for it. Legislators could not be bothered to take that situation into account. What do legislators care? They aren’t paying for it either.

Excellent experience in spite of, not because of, government interference

If the insurance, body shop, and car rental industries were totally deregulated, and income taxes reformed to my head tax idea (Every U.S. resident adult pays the same dollar amount—about $10,000 a year if you wanted the same tax revenue as now), the bill for my repair—$987—would have been significantly lower because of lower costs to those companies as well as increased competition.

Compare to federal government vehicle repair and maintenance

There was also the contrast between my experience with my Danville car repair and my experience in the Army including in Vietnam in 1970. My commo battalion there had a hundred or more trucks and other vehicles. 85% of them were deadlined, that is, undrivable. I was almost killed my one. I walked past a small building in the motor pool. Just as I did, a huge truck called a deuce and a half because it can carry two and a half tons of cargo smashed into that building at high speed.

What happened? A teenaged soldier hot rodded showing off by zooming up to a parking space then slamming on the brakes. Unfortunately, the truck had no brakes, which had been noted in grease pencil on the driver’s side windshield with the letters written on the inside so they were legible to any driver.

Our vehicles were always 85% or more deadlined—in a combat zone. Same in 1969 when I was in the 82nd Airborne Division—America’s Strike Force in Readiness—the first unit sent to any flare-up around the world. Same when I was in the 101st Airborne for an internship in 1966. With the possible exception of the Old Guard (Army’s top ceremonial unit) motor pool in DC, I would guess that all the U.S. Army vehicles in the world are 85% undrivable. Why? The management of the Army is incompetent from top to bottom, the troops are poorly selected and inadequately motivated even in a combat zone and the Army supply system is a colossal joke. The norm was needed parts NEVER arrived. When one actually did, it was a cause for laughter and celebration. A typical requisition that was actually filled might inspire a conversation like this:

“Remember those hand sets we requisitioned?”

“Five, six months ago?”


“What about them?” 

“They arrived.”

“No shit!? What was the occasion? Did the colonel call in a favor or something?”

“Not that I know of. They just arrived.”

“Will wonders never cease?”

I saw a World War II vet on TV talking about how when a returning bomber crash landed in England after returning from an Army Air Corps mission in Europe, all the mechanics on the base would descend on the burning wreck to salvage parts from it. It was their main way to keep planes that needed parts operational. The Army supply chain did not function. It never has.

In the TV miniseries about John Adams there was a true scene where Adams complained that rifles sent to the Army had no flints and therefore were useless. Government does not work. It never has. It never will.

The only job worth having

In Vietnam, I once told the battalion commander that the only job worth having in the unit was motor officer because he actually had something to do. Again, this is in a combat zone, but were were all bored to death. Later, one night, at supper, the battalion commander told me I was the new motor officer. Next morning I reported to the motor pool. My first duty was to sign the daily motor vehicle maintenance report that said that 95% of the vehicles were in perfect shape and only 5% needed repair.

“I always heard 85% were deadlined and most of the rest were walking wounded. What happened?”

“Nothing, sir,” said the motor sergeant. “85% ARE deadlined, but we can’t put that in the report. It goes all the way to the Pentagon, sir.”

I refused to sign it unless it was made accurate. The motor sergeant left. About five minutes later I got a call from the battalion commander telling me I was relieved of my command and being transferred to a more forward, more dangerous assignment in the artillery. I was one of a handful of guys in my West Point class who was never promoted to captain—a promotion I was due to get a month or two after the motor pool incident.

The government, which Obama and his supporters would have you believe is all-knowing, always honest, super competent, and super efficient, is, in fact, a piece of crap. Private business, which Obama and his supporters would have you believe is evil, thieving, greedy, “1% millionaires and billionaires” who would kill all their customers and eat their young if not stopped by government regulators…men and women who did not build that,” does not even deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as the government. Put Jim from Symmons in charge an Army battalion motor pool, let him use a NAPA dealer instead of the government supply chain, and his workers from Symmons and other similar guys rather than the randomly-assigned and frequently-transferred troops the Army uses, and the whole damned battalion vehicle fleet would be as good as new in about two weeks, for a fraction of the cost of that battalion’s share of all the taxpayer money spent recruiting, training, and supplying Army mechanics and motor pools.

To Americans, the above is a boring, unremarkable story about a routine, everyday, bumper ding repair. What is remarkable is the current U.S. president hates free enterprise and capitalism and about half of the American people support his world view and pledges to regulate and tax the crap out of companies like State Farm, AAA, Hertz, and Symmons to give more money to the government bureaucrats who are the 2012 counterparts to the guys I was in the Army with back in the 60s and 70s.

God bless America. God bless free enterprise. Obama and his fellow politicians, bureaucrats, and supporters can kiss my ass.

John T. Reed