Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Travelers Insurance, Double Trouble in the Keys and Delta: Bureaucrats Runamock

I'm not the kind of guy who thinks regulations are all bad. I mean, some organization is helpful. Yes, I believe people obeying “stop” signs and only going through intersections when the traffic light is green are positive things for a civilized society. Prohibiting someone from smoking in a hospital room where oxygen is being administered seems like a fine idea to me, too.

The problem, as I see it, is that one regulation leads to two and two to four and so on and so forth. There seems no end to the aspects of our lives that someone doesn't think another rule will improve. The reason for regulations multiplying is that once a regulation or two is in place, some sort of oversight follows closely behind. This oversight often means creating a committee, bureau, department or squad to do the overseeing. It's the human factor that always – not sometimes, but always – leads to mischief. 

What you end up with is a person or people sitting around attempting to justify his, her or their existence, in turn, keeping themselves in a job. Factor in those who are a bit power hungry, lording over their little fiefdom like a mall cop, and you have set the stage for a relentless expansion of the number and the parameters of rules, policies, regulations et al. Toss in a little power abuse for good measure and you are well on your way to a healthy dose of tyranny.

I've been on a tear recently about bureaucrats of all stripes. They can be found in businesses, industries, governments and associations of virtually any type. They may be drones just “following orders,” enforcers of some sort sent out into the world to whip the unwashed into line, or decision makers always on the ready to inflict on others their thoughts of how things should work.

Here are three examples of bureaucratic cancer I encountered recently that highlight the problem:

Example No. 1. I was driving out of the Florida Keys on Rt. 1 in Tavernier, when I noticed two 45-mile-per-hour speed-limit signs no more than 12 inches apart. One was a bit taller and somewhat larger than the other, but it was a major dose of redundancy so blatant that I had to pull over and snap a photo. The only thing that might have made it more ridiculous is if there had been a notice prohibiting parking between the signs.

I have no clue what installing that redundant sign might have cost. You've got the cost of the sign, the pole and the labor to assemble the two pieces. Someone had to take the time to decide a sign was necessary and choose where to install it. Paperwork was issued, studied, approved, filed: all requiring someone's time. A crew was scheduled and the equipment needed for the job secured. On the appointed day, fuel was consumed, man hours burned and traffic delayed. I'm guessing the total cost was somewhere north of $1,000.

All a complete and total waste.

How does such a thing happen? At what point in the process should someone have discovered the sign had already been erected and pulled the plug? Was the paperwork on the first sign misfiled? Did the work order specify the wrong location? Did separate agencies – county vs. state vs. municipality – order the same sign? Did the foreman of the second crew misread the work order? I guess any number of reasons for the second sign being installed nearly on top of the first are possible.

But once the crew wound up in the very same spot where the first sign already stood, why did the work proceed? How could anyone with even a smidgen of intellect, see the first sign standing there and not think, hey, I believe there's a sign already here. Even if the foreman wasn't empowered to make the smallest of decisions in conflict with the work order, why wouldn't he call his boss to request further instructions? If he did, why would he have been told to finish the job?

This is the sort of mindlessness that gives functionaries a bad name.

Example No. 2. I recently changed homeowner's insurance carriers from State Farm to Travelers. State Farm has raised my annual premium by 10% to 14% each of the past four or five years. One of the reasons I left South Florida was to escape insurance premiums doubling or tripling over a five- or six-year period.

I provided an insurance search engine some of the particulars, sat back and waited for my phone to ring. And ring it did. One of the calls was from Travelers. The enthusiastic young lady on the other end of this call asked a battery of questions about my house, all of which I answered truthfully. By the end of the 15-minute conversation, I had lowered my deductible from $5,000 to $2,500, reduced my annual premium by $150, and had my MasterCard balance increased by the tune of about $600.

The young lady advised me that Travelers might send an inspector to my house to verify it was as I described it. No worries.

I gleefully canceled my policy with State Farm, feeling quite proud of myself for overcoming my slacker tendencies, taking some initiative and saving a bunch of money in the process.

About six weeks later I received an e-mail instructing me to call Travelers customer service about an urgent issue with my insurance. I placed the call and was informed that my policy was canceled effective August 25. When I inquired why, I was told Travelers dispatched an inspector to my house who found asbestos shingles on my shed. My shed?

Because of the shape of the shingles on my shed, I considered the possibility they might be asbestos, but wasn't sure. That being the case, though, my solution was simple: Don't insure the shed. Apparently Travelers won't insure a house if one of its outbuildings has asbestos siding because there was no room for discussion. In fact, there was no solution available. Even removing the shed wasn't an option. I had dared to apply for insurance at Travelers for a house with an asbestos shingle-covered shed and was now persona non grata in its eyes. The die was cast, the policy canceled and the remaining premium credited back to my credit card.

The “customer service” person to whom I spoke did have an idea when I asked exactly what I was supposed to do now: “Call an independent agent,” he said as he ended the call.

The fact that Travelers, after allowing me to cancel my previous policy, would cancel me without offering the option of removing the shed is the sort of “screw you” attitude embraced by bureaucrats in all walks of life.

Example No. 3. On the Florida trip on which I discovered the bureaucratic foul-up in our first example, I was scheduled to fly out of Palm Beach International Airport to Atlanta at 9:30 a.m. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time and was in the gate a little after 8:00. The plane boarded on time and we were settling in when one of the flight attendants announced that an FAA inspector had made a spot inspection of the plane and found a slight issue that had to be addressed before the plane could push back from the gate.

About 20 minutes went by when a second announcement told us the problem was small – so sufficiently small the crew wouldn't have held the plane for it – but the FAA inspector was insisting it be fixed. The source of the problem couldn't be found, we were told. Passengers with close connections in Atlanta were encouraged to deplane and make new arrangements.

I called Delta to see what my options might be. I was going to land in Atlanta and drive the 155 miles home, so I didn't have a connection issue. The Delta rep I spoke with advised me to hang tough; the problem was minor and probably would be fixed soon. Another 30 minutes ticked by.

I finally gathered my things and walked off the plane. Wi-Fi is free at PBI; I wanted to get online and do a few things. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

125 people attempting to get their flights changed.
I watched as the estimated-departure time moved to 10:30 then 11:00 and then noon and then on to 1:00. At the 11:00 mark, I called Delta again to try to get backed up on another flight in case this one was canceled. I was informed that the earliest flight on which I could broker a seat was a little after 6:00. I had them back me up on that flight and continued to wait. Finally around 1:15, they announced the source of the problem had been located. But – in the words of Peewee Herman, “There's always a big but” – the solution was replacing a battery and that battery had to be ferried the 50 miles from Ft. Lauderdale airport to PBI.

We finally reboarded the plane and were in the air by 3:00. I arrived in Atlanta just in time to be thrust into rush hour traffic, adding about 30 minutes to the usual 2.5 hours it takes to make the trek home.

The problem, it turned out, was a couple of the lights showing the way to one of the exits in the main cabin weren't operating. It was a non-issue in terms of the plane operating safely. Delta wouldn't have grounded the plane for it, but sadly, some squint-eyed functionary puffed up his chest and ruined the day's travel plans for about 200 people.

Power – any amount of power – in the hands of small-minded people is never a good thing.


  1. Keep in mind on those two speed limit signs you ARE in the Keys.