"He stopped short, Mommy, right in front of me," my daughter blurted through the phone. I knew from the moment she called me "Mommy" that something was up.
She continued, "I braked but I couldn't stop..."
"And?" I was forced to ask.
"We had an accident." She croaked, her voice breaking into a sob.
"Was anybody hurt?" I asked, concerned.
"No," she replied. "You know I love you."
"So, you rear-ended the guy," I said, getting angry. "What was he driving?"
"A taxi," she managed to get out through her victimized whaling. "Can we talk about it when I get home? I'm on my way."
My mind was spinning with the possible dollar amounts my insurance might go up now that my 17 year-old had been at fault in an accident. Goodbye Louboutan shoes, goodbye... I'll be too old to wear you when this is over.
When Rachel got home she had a renewed sense of confidence, "I got his information, Mom, and I took pictures with my phone!" Unfortunately, she had only taken down the other drivers' first name and phone number, and the photos were of her car, not his.
"Rachel, honey, we have your car. We know the damage. It's the other guy's car we need the photo of to make sure he doesn't damage it worse after your accident." Her slight nod and faraway look gave me slim hope that she understood. Raising a teenage daughter is definitely not mentioned in What to Expect When You're Expecting.
Rachel told me that the damage to the taxi was almost nothing, so I decided to call the guy and see if we could settle this without involving insurance companies. He was more than happy to go that route. In fact, in the two hours since the accident, he claimed to have gotten three estimates on repairing his fender, the cheapest one being an even $500, which, of course, he insisted on receiving in cash if I wanted to keep my insurance company out of it.
My business manager faxed over a release she kept on file for clients with teenage drivers. She advised me to get the cabbie to sign the form before handing over the cash.
The drop point was set for the next day - Denny's at noon, the back booth in the corner. I thought of wearing a fedora and a rose in my lapel, but my t-shirt didn't have a lapel and I wasn't sure anybody still sold fedoras.
I got to Denny's early, and I was halfway through my pancakes when I spotted him approaching my booth. I knew immediately from his triumphant smirk that my daughter had been scammed. This guy must troll Westwood, stopping short in front of little college girls whose daddy's would pay cash.
He sat down and asked for the money. He was surprised when I pulled out the release form and said "Why does it have to be so complicated? Why not just say your girl hit me, you paid $500, and you will never sue me?"
"Because I am paying you. You're the one that has to agree not to sue me." I said exasperated.
"No, no, no," he said. "You could come back in ten months and sue my company for injuries.
"Fine," I said. Forget the money I have in my purse and just go. Call my insurance company and have a good time doing it. Goodbye." I went back to my pancakes and tried not to look at him to see if he was going call my bluff.
"Okay, okay," he said. "Just write on that paper that you won't sue me either." I flipped both of our copies over and wrote that we wouldn't pursue any litigation against him. He was satisfied and we both signed. I gave him the money and expected him to leave, but that's when he went into a diatribe: "You know your girl hit me hard. She didn't put on her brakes. She pushed me into traffic. And worst of all, my back has been hurting ever since."
I had to control my laughter. He sure picked a strange time to start complaining - after we had just signed full releases. Luckily my phone rang and I told him I had to take it, goodbye. He left quickly, probably to go out and troll for his next mark.
"Hello?" I said into the phone.
"Hi, Mommy?" my daughter asked.
"Yes..." I said with trepidation.
"You know I love you..." she said.
Gigi Vorgan is co-author of with Dr. Gary Small of "iBrain: Surviving the Technical Alteration of the Modern Mind" (Harper-Collins, October, 2008) as well as several other books. Visit www.DrGarySmall.com for more information.