Up Cedar Hill

The most interesting person I knew when I was seven was my dad. He could get the paper flat and symmetrical on the Mad magazine back cover fold-in and he had a great job. He traveled around Connecticut photographing car damage, writing claim file summaries and response letters, and researching suspected fraud. He was an Auto Insurance Claim Representative. When my father worked on the weekend he would bring me along and we would work as a team, like Starsky and Hutch. First we would hit the site of the accident and see if it gibed with the insured’s claim.My father would pace and squint at curbs. ‘Do you see tire tracks there?’ he’d ask me and I would crouch and squint at the curb, looking for any sign of tread. He’d shoot rolls of film, and let me take pictures too. Most were isolated shots of automobile damage: smashed tail lights, tire tracks on curbs, and cracked windshields, but there are some of us. There I am looking at a bent fender, there’s my dad walking away from a buckled pinto hood. I am too young to focus the lens, so he is often blurry or too distant. In focus he has freckles, he is skinny. He is wearing a big suit from J. C. Penney’s, no tie. His hair is a thick brown tear-drop bang falling over his forehead and even in the blurry shots he has an air of authority, his long black wool coat flaring behind him like a cape.

Through our conversations on the road and on the job experience, I learned that being an Auto Claim Representative is not an easy job. Claimants didn’t fill out required paperwork. It was some kind of bureaucratic tap-dance to have your gas receipts reimbursed. The home office in Chicago assigned too many files to each Representative. They expected you to get every claim filed, but then, the goddamn thing was, if you didn’t dot every i and cross every t, your supervisor was going to make a federal case out of it. You could save the company five million bucks and they won’t even give you a fifty-cent raise. The thing is if you make your file-closing goal for the month, they just give you more files the next month and tell you you were on the promotion track so you work like an idiot. That’s how they get you. I came to understand that an Auto Claim Representative was expected to be a journalist, a lawyer, a detective and a professional photographer, and god help him if he didn’t close out his files under cost. Sure, I would think, it wasn’t an easy job, but what could be more exciting? We would bump along the highway, rolling down the windows, stopping for McDonald’s and my dad would say, see we’re on the clock, the company’s payin’ for this one, and he’d tuck the receipt into his wallet. There seemed no better job than that of Auto Insurance Claims Representative.