Serial is good for you: new release, The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Book 1

The first bowl of this serial is available today in Kindle format. I was substantive/developmental editor.

Shawn Inmon and I have as nearly ideal an editor/author relationship as one can imagine. My job is to tell him exactly what I think, without holding back. If what I think is that his idea is inadvisable, and he insists on going through with it anyway, my job is to help him make it the best possible story. His job is to conceive and write the story, ask for my help when he finds himself perplexed or stuck, and send me a check when I finish editing. We do our jobs.

When Shawn first told me he wanted to write a story that incorporated elements of time travel, I groaned hard and loud. With time travel, suspension of disbelief is very difficult. My viewpoint is that an author gets one, and only one, “because I say it works” explanation for something that has serious plausibility problems. For everything else, an underlying explanation must exist even if not articulated, and that underlying explanation needs not to be stupid. Many authors squander their BISIW excuse on something petty, then continue to use it in lieu of intelligent characterization and world shaping. When someone objects, they sniff that that’s just their creative process. The result may be a good story idea taken to levels that render it silly.

Time travel thus plays that card immediately, and the problem then is that from the moment a character goes back in time, an alternative sequence of events unfolds. If you want someone to avoid a problem in July, and send him back to April, by July the actual problem will no longer be the same as in the first version of history, proportionate to the character’s ripple effect. For example, an earthquake would still occur on schedule, because there is not much anyone can do to change them. However, its impact would change dramatically, because the time travel would change the actions of many people.

Folks don’t always get that, which is why you see sports fans complaining that the ref cost them the game in the last two minutes. They hate it when I say: “Actually, on the first series, a ref cost you the game–maybe.” They do not understand, and do not like this, as it challenges their victimhood in an emotional moment. With no memory of any actual event, I say with confidence: “Well, on third down, an offensive lineman was guilty of holding. [Since offensive linemen hold on every down except for the V-formation kneeldowns, this is automatically true.] The officials did not call the penalty, and the other team made a first down that should have become a third-and-long. The bottom line is that, had your team played better throughout, it probably would have won, and blaming the refs is a lame loser’s sour grapes.” I don’t much like to watch sporting events in groups, as you may imagine. But you see my point, I trust: change time, and you change events in an outward ripple. Some people miss out on car accidents, while new people die in them. Some people get phone calls that halt impulse buys, while new people do not, and take actions they could not have taken while on the phone (a decreasing set, of late). You can’t drop someone into a situation three months before a decisive event, then expect that the event unfolds on schedule, unless it is completely immune to human choices. A volcanic eruption, for example. Yes, a scheduled election would still take place, but not in the same way.

The need to explain all that is one reason I don’t look forward to time travel stories as an editor. It’s no fun telling someone that his or her brainchild doesn’t work. And while I can fix bad writing, I can’t always fix a bad story idea, nor do most clients want to pay me to do so. The logical rejoinder is to find “an editor who believes in my work.” I understand that, even though an editor who does not but is willing to help would serve that author better.

On top of that, Shawn wanted to rehash the Shawn-and-Dawn story again with him in it, going back in time to fix his mistakes. That story has been written twice, and has inspired another book that is somewhat derivative. It. Had. Been. Done. And. Done. And. Somewhat. Done. Again.

So. I talked Shawn out of the rehash, at least, then explained to him what the problems were with time travel, and he accepted that he was burning his one BISIW with his premise. The rest of his story, if it were to succeed, would have to pay its way on demonstrated good sense, originality, and merit. Shawn got cracking. At one point, he huddled with me to work though some storyline issues he found perplexing. I can usually suggest an alternate route that will work, which is the developmental part of the editing. Shawn had a bit of a slog with some recent projects, partly due to self-imposed deadlines and partly because he felt compelled to finish what he’d begun. Both are good habits, but they can mean one would ideally be doing something else. In addition, I have been after Shawn for many months to break out of his comfort zones with his fiction. Shawn loves music, youth romance, the small-town Northwest, and other familiar inclusions. I believe that it’s okay for authors to have pet themes–look how well it worked for John Irving–provided they don’t go so far as recycling the same basic storyline and characters.

Then Shawn got the idea to release it in serial format. Since the original ms had not been designed for serialization, this presented issues as to where the story should break. When Shawn first presented the idea to me, this installment ended with Thomas’s key decision; it was much shorter. My response to Shawn, paraphrased: “And that’s it? That’s all? If you are moving this to serial format, I don’t have a lot of experience with the concept, but I can tell you that if you break it there, you will not generate a ton of interest in the second installment. Your first installment must provide some form of conclusion, yet must hold out the promise of interesting things to come.” Shawn agreed, and moved the breakpoint forward. I think he picked a good spot given the flow of the tale. We may have several more discussions about breakpoints, because I believe that each installment needs to be rewarding on its own merit, and Shawn concurs.

Here, Shawn sets up shop in a different state than Washington. His protag is decidedly unsympathetic, but nuanced and very much unlike previous protags, and we see other characters taking on balance and nuance as well. He proves that he can begin a story without teen romance. What Shawn does best is get the esoteric details right, point up the silliness of pop culture, and time his epiphanies well. ‘Write what you know’ means not to just wing it, but to present backdrop and experience informed by real life experience or strong research. Shawn’s sales experience, real estate career, and the career path leading to those things give him a wealth of authenticity upon which to draw. You can always count on Shawn to take an aspect of pop culture and present it in just absurd enough fashion to bring a knowing smile. And when his characters should have realizations, they often do. Not always, not predictably. But often enough, and often not the one the reader would have anticipated.

I do not know how many installments will comprise this series, but I liked the first one very well. I suspect you will too.

Problems in urban paranormal/fantasy fiction writing

It’s all over the place now: self-published urban fantasy/paranormal fiction. Lots of fantasy, too. If it has elves, I think of it as fantasy. If it has vampires, I consider it paranormal. If it is set in our modern day, unless it is set in Cletusville, I consider it urban.

This is the legacy of franchises: Anita Blake, Twilight, True Blood, and going farther back, Shadowrun, Tolkien, and D&D. And it’s fine, unless you hackney the hell out of it. Unfortunately, most people do so.

All right, if you insist on writing it, then do a good job:

Work out your world’s ‘science.’ You can’t ignore that. What is the biology of your elves, your vampires, your dragons? How long do your elves live? Is vampirism biological? Viral? What about lycanthropy? How does your magic work? Yeah, I know, you don’t care about all that crap; you just want to present this beautiful, thrilling, terrifying environment with compelling characters and a gripping storyline. Tough, because if you skip those basics, you will never get your reader to suspend disbelief long enough to buy in. It is not that you need to tell the reader all that stuff. It is that you need to know the ‘reality’ so that cues from it seep into your story as you go.

I have a hot tub. I don’t want to mess with bottles of chemicals, testing strips, and periodic changing of the water. I just want to soak in its soothing, scenic, healing warmth. However, if I don’t do the testing and treatment part, I will contract a rash that requires antibiotics to battle. It is no more feasible for me to duck out on tub maintenance than it is for an SF/fantasy author to just decide the nuts and bolts are too icky and she just wants to write a beautiful, scary story. The reader deserves better than the brain rash she will get from trying to follow a grammatically incontinent story.

Look at what’s been done. Tall, noble elves with sage wisdom and lifespans of centuries? Well, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen those. It may be the ten thousandth. How are your elves more interesting, fresh, new? Same for every non-human race you present, if it is a race concept for which your reader has a frame of reference.

Don’t throw in as many species as you can think of unless you’re prepared to give them all background. Okay, you decided that weredragons are really, really, really cool. How the hell does someone get to be one? If you just allude to them, you will leave your reader hanging, wondering what goes on with those. If you allude to too many, you will leave your reader not caring what goes on with any of them.

Consider lifespan, knowledge, and experience. If you are going to present creatures that are five centuries old, you must have some idea how and where they survived that long. They should have accumulated the knowledge of seven human lifespans. How do their brains cope with all that? Do they now speak forty languages, ten of them dead? Can they hold in their heads the active vocabularies to do that? What happens? Think it through.

Do not be pretentious. Pretense comes when you begin with the assumption that your world has certain qualities, particularly mystical and magical. You cannot merely tell the reader it has those, and be believed; you must show her that it does. Tolkien didn’t write an epic fantasy story by telling us that Aragorn was noble, or that hobbits were quaint and endearing; Tolkien gave us reasons to see them those ways. Not that he did not describe; he did describe. However, he showed more than he told.

How are you going to narrate? Fantasy tends to contain a lot of flashbacks, lookbacks, and so forth. Is the protagonist the memoirist? The only one, or will there be another narrator at some point? How long after the story events was the memoir composed? Here’s the thing: character death. If writing after the fact, the minute you say someone ‘is’ such-and-so, you convey that s/he survives the story. What if there’s a gender reveal? It will take major gymnastics to avoid doing that without pronouns, and a single slip blows the reveal. Consider the person–first, second, third, and tense, present or past. Are you writing in first person? Then you can present only that which your protag sees, feels, knows. On the easier side, your narrative has the freedoms mostly allocated to dialogue; on the harder side, you have to be careful with tense.

That’s another area where one simply cannot just say: “grammar is icky. I just want to write and this is my process.” Then I will say the sentence that has gotten rid of more ‘will you look at my writing’ folks than any other: then your process is wrong, and you should fix it. Most people who seek out freebie writing advice from me do not really want my honest opinion. They want me to approve of what they are doing. Well, if you do not think through the person and tense of your narration, I disapprove of what you’re doing. Here are examples of problem sentences:

I go to the store for some milk and ran into David. While first person narration of an uneducated or poorly spoken protag doesn’t have to be perfect, it needs to be better than this. Even a poorly spoken person would almost never mix tenses quite this way.

So I called up my friend Bertha. Bertha is about six-two and 275. And we now know that Bertha survives the story. Which, if you don’t mind that, fine and dandy. But what about everyone else in the book?

Some of this applies to genres other than urban paranormal/thriller/fantasy, but that’s where I’m seeing the most of it. People can do much better.

How not to make dried apple chips

Some of us don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. In my case, it’s because most vegetables do not taste like food to me. Some actually make me gag, others simply disgust me, and a few I can stand in some way. I usually put it this way: broccoli or cauliflower smell and taste like something I’d eat if I were starving on Naked & Afraid, unless there were snails available. Or rat kebabs. To all you vegans out there, congrats, you have a different palate than I do. I wonder what it would be like to eat a raw tomato and not come close to throwing up, or to smell cooked broccoli and still be hungry. How strange that must be, to put cooked carrots in one’s mouth by choice, and to like them. I guess I will never know. If my doctor forbade me all forms of meat for life, we’d go with bread and cheese. If I were forbidden cheese as well, the good news is I’d lose a lot of weight. The bad news is I’d come down with deficiency diseases, and my health would be worse than if I’d never changed.

There are people to whom cilantro tastes like soap. I think I have something like that with regard to cooked vegetables. It’s the only way I can explain how so many people will so willingly tuck into food that can ruin my appetite by just the smell.

As for fruits, I like most of them, but most are sugary and get my fingers all sticky. I’m a freak about that. Suppose I’m headed to the grocery store, and my bladder is at Code Orange, and I just sloshed pop on my fingers. Before using the store’s facility, I will wash the stickiness off my hands, though that means two hand washes. Now, if the fruit is dried…that is the stuff. Plantain chips, banana chips? Yes. Blueberries don’t leave much stickum on my fingers; long as they aren’t mushy, I’ll wolf them down. I love oranges, but they’re a lot of work to eat, which is too bad because I have an unerring eye for a delicious orange. I’m willing to work at the fruit thing in service of healthier eating.

A few days back, I bought some ‘dried’ apple chips. They weren’t really dried, as I reckon it. I would describe them as apple leather, not sticky but still not very appealing. So I got one of my harebrained ideas: what if I dried them out myself? If this worked, I could buy them in bulk, dry them out in bulk, and have chips that I would eat in preference to tortilla or potato chips. So utterly healthy!

My plan was to dry them out myself, next time I was in charge of foccacia. I am our household foccacia prep cook; it is my duty to select bread, slice it, season it, and crisp it appealingly to go with meals. I have it down pat. Twelve minutes at 400º F on a pizza pan with olive oil coating, and your bread is deliciously crispy. Since that is what I know, I just added a pan of not-really-dried apple pieces to that process. I assumed that in twelve minutes I would return to find my neatly dried, delicious apple chips.

Instead, in six minutes, I heard a feminine voice from the kitchen, advising me that my chips were burning. Didn’t quite charcoal them, but definitely seared them. Tried them anyway: tasted of burnt apple leather. I had never known this before, but burnt apple tastes awful. Unlike cheese, high heat does not help apples. They were still leathery, with a bouquet and hint of charcoal. Blech. I did a thing I so very rarely and grudgingly do: I threw away food.

I would have eaten them in preference to Brussels sprouts, I guess, but that isn’t really saying much, since I would eat the grass clippings from my yard in preference to Brussels sprouts. Sorry, Belgians.

I suppose doing this correctly involves lower heat and longer cooking, since it is now proven fact that at pizza temperatures (the only oven science I fully understand), apples burn.

When I’m in the kitchen, I always imagine Gordon Ramsay. “YEW DAWN-KEY! YEW STEW-PID COW! IT’S RAW! AH YOU TAKING THE PISS OUT OF ME, SEHVING THIS? YOU’LL KILL SOMEONE! GET IT THE [BLEEP] TOGETHAH!” I’m pretty sure that unless I’m making sandwiches (the famous Bricks) or chorizo chile (which everyone loves), Gordon would simply sit in the corner and bawl to watch me.

Perhaps the only way to learn to do anything right in the kitchen is to commit flagrant blunders, like this one.

How to throw lightning bolts of consumer recompense

In our modern society, we too often tolerate the standard responses from our vendors. “That’s just our policy.” “We can’t change that, sir.” “We apologize profusely, but do not plan to compensate you.”

Don’t take that shit.

Here’s how to get some compensation for what was done wrong. It won’t always work; I wouldn’t bet on it working on the Comcastards, for example, or Arrogant Twits & Torturers. But if you don’t believe it can work, let me blow my own horn a little here, and then maybe you will change your mind. Bear in mind that not all letters are negative; good work can and should be highlighted:

I wrote to the CEO of Seafirst Bank (children, there once was a Northwest commercial bank by that name) to praise the conduct of an employee. (Someone had found my lost paycheck, taken it to the nearby branch, the employee had not contented herself with just mailing it to me, and phoned me to verify that it was mine and would I like to come get it. Exceptional.) I also praised her manager, whom I respected very much. The employee got a bonus check. Before long, the manager had a new placard announcing that she was now an AVP. Put it this way: from then on, any remotely reasonable request I made at that branch was considered ‘very reasonable.’

I wrote to Jeff Bezos to straighten out the quagmire of getting my contributing author credits right on books sold at Amazon. I heard from a very nice young man who sliced through the red tape and solved it.

I wrote to Michael Dell about the idiocy of continuing to send me ‘refurbished’ CRT monitors that came up very short in the furbishing department. I got a call from one of his personal assistants, and in less than a week, I had a new monitor. I am looking at it to compose this post.

I wrote to the Benton County PUD (Public Utilities District; stop giggling, you infants) about a stupid policy regarding billing cycles. Simply put, I saw no reason why my billing due date should be tied to my meter-reading date. I wanted to pay promptly in full each month, and I just wanted my bill to show up conveniently. That one was tough, but after four years of campaigning, and one final letter to the commissioners, they did it.

Great Floors left my (at the time, vacant) house a mess. They replaced the carpet, but left shreds of it laying all over the property. Boxcutter blades on the bathroom floor. Dragged the carpeting over freshly painted wall corners, abrading the new paint right off. Tied up the drapes in knots and then didn’t untie them. Turned my heat off and then failed to turn it back on, in a cold climate, in winter. Left the extra carpet out in the winter weather, though there was a perfectly good garage handy. I wrote to the CEO, who tasked the local manager with fixing things. Said local manager tried to blame it all on a painting contractor who had no reason to be in most of the places that had damage, thus attempting to muddy the blame waters. Bad move. I wrote to the CEO again. One person was fired, one was demoted, and I got $500.

Frontier’s technicians were stupid. Not only did the company think I should have to change my email address because they bought the local DSL business from Verizon, but they had no one intelligent enough to figure out why I couldn’t access my email unless I wanted to use Outhouse Express. After a great deal of hellraising, I got them to give me $150 to pay for my new business cards and the headache of changing my address.

Centurylink, in defiance of several pointed requests, not only issued me a published phone number, but put me in the phone book. The Federal do-not-call list works about as well as most Federal anything, so that was no help. Every beg-a-thon in Boise dialed my number. In the end, I got them to give me a compensatory discount every month for a year, plus not charge me for an unlisted number in the future.

A Yakima Federal S&L loan rep promised me something, then failed to keep his promise when I’d gotten my paperwork together. “Sorry, program closed.” Not so fast, son, I’ve been at this a long time. I eventually called my way up to the chief lending officer. After a polite discussion where we got past all the usual fluff and were being fully candid, he said, “That’ll leave a lot of money on the table over the years.” “True,” I said. “And I will have all twenty of those years to tell everyone who will listen that YakFed is a highly principled bank that keeps its commitments.” He thought for a moment. “Done,” he said.

Bear in mind that if you call, you must follow the same principles as you’d follow if you wrote a letter. There are many more examples, but now do you believe me?

Good. Here’s what you do.

The Tale of Woe. First go through the normal channels. Sit on hold. Write down names and dates. Act like the typical dufus who can easily be blown off. You will spend a lot of time on hold, talking to foreigners who can’t solve your problem or compensate you fairly, getting annoyed a little more by the minute. Just take notes. The Tale of Woe gives you a story to tell about how you tried the normal process and were treated shabbily. There is also the chance–rare, but non-zero–that the normal channels may actually resolve your problem. That would be nice, too.

The Manager. Once you determine that the normal channels are a fail, call back and ask to speak to the manager. Explain that you are very frustrated and don’t want to tell the whole story twice, and that you don’t want to take out your frustrations on the person who answered the phone, as you know that isn’t fair. Try The Manager, who probably can’t solve your problem, but make a good faith effort anyway. (Stupid or unempowered customer service people are usually a reflection of middle management incompetence and evil, so I wouldn’t expect too much.) Continue to compile the Tale of Woe.

The Lightning Bolt. If you are not exceptionally articulate, find a friend who is. If you have no friends who are exceptionally articulate, then you should befriend some of us. We are helpful to have in your world. Find out who the CEO is, and find out how to mail him or her a letter–call the corporate office. Reassure them that you just want to write a letter and that a PO box is fine, lest in our modern paranoid day the receptionist suspects that you are headed over with a van full of bad things. Then throw the Lightning Bolt, which is a letter designed to persuade. Follow these principles:

  • You must have fairly paid all money that you legitimately owe. People with bad payment histories have no leverage. You must always maintain an exemplary payment history, even if your notion of exemplary is different than theirs–you must be able to articulate it, show that it’s reasonable, and prove that you live by it.
  • Do your level best to keep it to one page. Bear in mind that if you succeed, a minion will be assigned to investigate, so no need to take a ton of time.
  • Spell names correctly, use gender-neutral language where suitable, and say Mr. or Ms. (or Dr., etc.). Take the time to get this exactly right. ‘Ms. Lynn Smith’ may actually be Mr. Lynn Smyth. Spelling correctly shows respect.
  • Write respectfully. You are pleading your case to a busy executive, an important person whose time is finite. You want the reader to see you as a wonderful customer who has been treated odiously by the firm, and who can be satisfied.
  • Be reasonable. If your position seems in any way unreasonable, you will get nowhere. Do not unfairly malign any person involved, or present an unreasonable wish. The customer isn’t always right, and only fools think s/he is. Reality: the customer is as right as the firm can possibly make him or her without giving away the store.
  • Be satisfiable. If you offer no hint as to what would make you happy, there is minimal reason for someone to attempt to please you. Offer a path to full restoration of your confidence and respect.
  • If at any point in the Tale of Woe, you got frustrated and were too harsh with someone, fess to it in some way, and apologize.
  • The Tale of Woe needs to be involved enough for you to keep one key painful event in reserve, so that if you are asked if that’s all there was, it isn’t.
  • No matter how difficult this is, avoid statements that sound like telling the CEO how to run the company. Those will be resented. The way around that is:
  • Above all, frame it in the firm’s business interest. You are writing to a very successful businessperson who wants the company to do well. You must present the case for why the change you want, or the recompense you want, works in the firm’s business interest. Retaining good customers? Positive PR? Rewarding people who pay promptly and in full? To appeal to a politician, you’d frame it in terms of the support you can mobilize and offer. To appeal to a business person, frame it in terms of doing the best business for the firm.
  • Offer something in return. First, make clear that this would satisfy you, because one good ‘something in return’ is making you go away happy. I swore to Benton County PUD to physically drop off my payment each month, just to make dead sure that when they changed the due date to make me happy, I would never be late, ever. You read what I promised the YakFed lending chief; I went him one better, and brought him my business again when we bought a house in their catchment area. I promised Centurylink to endure a year of phone nags without complaining to them about it again.
  • Normally I would say you should make sure to assure the CEO that if s/he calls you, you will be polite and reasonable, but think about it. If the tone of your letter fails to convey that without having to specify it, then your letter is already a fail. Write in such a way that the CEO might actually like speaking with you.
  • If you get bought off, stay bought. If you make a promise, keep it in every particular.
  • Thank the executive for his or her time and attention.
  • Provide your full contact information, because you’ll be hearing back.

Sometimes the CEO will call you in person–this happened to me with a credit union–but most of the time you should expect the CEO to hand this off to an assistant and say, “Fix this.” Expect the assistant to call and check your facts. If you overstated your case, you will look terrible. If you were a complete jackass, you will look terrible. If you lied, you will look terrible. If you don’t pay your bills, you will look terrible. If the assistant smells bullshit, the CEO does not expect him or her to waste the company’s time and money on a liar or a deadbeat, and will back the assistant when s/he phones you with nothing more substantive than a verbal apology.

You had better have been factual, if anything understating the pain. If you got even a little frustrated, your apology for the way you vented the frustration needs to have been in that letter. If you craft your words correctly, you will seem like the world’s best customer and most reasonable person, just seeking to do high-quality business with the firm, and that your business was treated as though it had no value, but that they can make it up to you.

Then let them.

=========

If you can’t bear to read a long letter, skip this addendum.

Here I include a sample Lightning Bolt, plus the follow-up letter (always of value, especially when the business is smaller and more local. It reminds me that I got the story slightly wrong above, but that’s okay, because the truth as presented is even more entertaining. First, here is my letter to the Commissioners of Benton PUD, all of whom I researched for useful references that would help me frame my position. It couldn’t fit in one page, but here I had a protracted tale to tell:

June 18, 2008

  • Mr. Jeff Hall
  • Ms. Lori Sanders
  • Mr. Robert Bertsch
  • Benton P.U.D.
  • POB 6270
  • Kennewick, WA 99336

Re: P.U.D. account #[number]

Dear Commissioners:

We’re having a P.U.D. migraine, and we hope you can help us.

We are P.U.D. customers with service at [address], Kennewick. When we bought this home nearly seven years ago, we discovered that our P.U.D. billing cycle could vary as much as nine days, depending on when the meter was read. This concerned us (not the meter reading itself, simply the billing), for we are rigorously creditworthy people who pay all their bills—in full—on the 4th, 5th or 6th of each month. (Exact timing depends on weekends and holidays. We don’t even take vacations during that time.) Where necessary, we work with vendors to ensure that their bills show up in time to pay them promptly. As a result, our credit is excellent.

Unfortunately, the irregular billing meant that sometimes we had the P.U.D. bill in time to pay, and sometimes not. When we first saw the situation, seven years back, we phoned the billing office to seek a solution. The representative brusquely told us that the billing system couldn’t be changed and that we’d just have to live with it. We didn’t expect the meter-reading route to change for one household; we just wanted to get our bill at the same time every month, in time to pay it immediately. Evidently, that was considered unreasonable.

We didn’t appreciate the brush-off, and decided that if that’s how the P.U.D. felt, we would simply pay whatever P.U.D. bill(s) we had in hand when we paid all our other vendors. In practice, that meant that some months we had one bill, some months none, and some months two plus a late fee. Whatever was there, we paid. Having tried hard to repair the situation, we resented those late fees, but since one can’t really switch electricity vendors, we had no choice but to clench our teeth and pay them.

We operated that way for about four years. Once a year we would phone the P.U.D. office, again seeking a resolution, and each year we got the same answer. We still felt our request was reasonable, so we didn’t back down.

In 2005, the annual phone call finally paid off. The billing department put us on what we now understand is called a Protected Billing Cycle, and we in turn agreed to an unusual step: henceforth we would hand deliver the P.U.D. payment to the drop box, rather than entrusting it to the mail. As we saw it, since the utility had met our request, we had the ethical duty to ensure that we were never late (even by accident). We felt we had a mutual understanding, and it delighted us to keep our bargain—which our account history will demonstrate that we have. We subscribed to your Green Power initiative; given the evidence of good stewardship, we knew you’d use the money wisely.

With our May 2008 billing, we received a survey. We were pleased to rate the P.U.D. favorably in all categories, and included a special note of praise for the billing resolution. We included it with our payment.

Imagine our surprise when our next invoice came, and the due date was June 30! We’d like to hope that someone didn’t read our survey and hand it to a supervisor who said, “What special billing arrangement? Cancel it!” It looked as if the P.U.D. had abrogated our understanding without even so much as the courtesy of a notice, and without the slightest provocation by us. Most likely it was a coincidence; if so, its timing was awful.

Surely there had to be some mistake, so one of us (Jonathan) stopped by the Kennewick office to speak to a supervisor. We discussed it at length; the supervisor pulled our payment history and verified our claims. Her answer was that the P.U.D. was doing away with these Protected Billing Cycles, and our turn had simply come. We made most of the points we have made in this letter; she remained unmoved. She offered various justifications and suggestions, but the short version was ‘sorry, tough luck.’ She invited us to write to the Commissioners.

Very well.

Our position was and is simple. We are honest people who just want to get our bill on time and pay it promptly in full. We submit that we are your dream customers. What percent of your customers try to weasel out of paying? Probably more than a few. Those people harm us all; they deserve no accommodations from the utility. We, however, are the people who can and wish to pay.

All of you are successful businesspeople outside the P.U.D., so we hardly need point out that every business wants reliable customers who use the product or service, make no spurious complaints, and pay promptly in full. We believe you’d agree with this statement: any business practice that makes it harder for willing customers to pay promptly in full fails a fundamental test of good business.

What, then, do we ask of you? Simple as can be: assure that our monthly bill is mailed in time to arrive by the end of each month, with a due date not earlier than the tenth of the next month. That’s all. For our part, we will assure prompt payment in full each month: we’ll make sure you never regret it. In short, we would like a return to the fair and helpful understanding that resolved the longstanding awkwardness (for a couple of years, at least). We have made every effort to resolve this amicably over the years, to the P.U.D.’s advantage as well as our own. We feel we have earned an affirmative reply.

The representative at Kennewick did offer one creative idea for us to propose, and we wish to credit her for it. Perhaps, she suggested, the Protected Billing Cycle concept might be reinstated as a benefit available only to clients with outstanding payment histories. That makes sense to us. We would surely qualify, and it would reward the most responsible, honest customers. We’re open to any solution that puts our bill in our mailbox by month-end, due by the tenth of the next month, so that we have it in hand to pay in full.

We don’t think it’s too much to ask. We hope you’ll concur.

Sincerely,

[us, address, phone number]

The short version is that they did as we asked. To make them feel excellent about having done so, we followed up:

July 22, 2008

[the same people]

Dear Commissioners:

Today we received a call from [employee’s full name] about the billing cycle issue pursuant to our previous letter, and she informed us that the Protected Billing Cycle will be reinstated for our account.

We could hardly be more delighted. We want to thank you for a) taking our concerns seriously, b) recognizing our strong payment history in a proactive way, c) solving the issue to our complete satisfaction, and d) assigning Paula to the communication task. She made an excellent impression for the utility: professional, pleasant and informative.

We were confident that if we described the full situation, we would receive a fair and considerate hearing. Obviously our confidence was well-placed—and just as obviously, the public trust is very well-placed in the hands of the current commission.

For our part, you can be assured that our payment history will remain exemplary. The P.U.D. deserves that of us, and you shall have it.

Sincerely,

[us]

We never again needed to ask the Benton PUD for anything, but I suspect that if we had, a phone call to that employee would have obtained us the most favorable consideration. Note also that those PUD Commissioner slots are elective positions. While I wasn’t so crass as to come out and promise them my vote, be assured that they got the message. It spoke to their personal as well as business interests.

Anyway, that’s how it looks with live ammunition.

Stuff you don’t know about Oregon unless you lived near/in it

Okay, so I moved to Oregon a week ago, and now I think I can write about it? It’s like this. I have lived nearly half my life within half an hour of Oregon. Unlike Idaho, which I had barely visited before I moved there, this place I have known well and long. I am probably better acquainted with eastern Oregon than your average Portlander, since they rarely go there. (It’s hot, dry, and has dust storms.)

Like most Western states not named California or Texas, Oregon doesn’t feel very noticed by the rest of the country. It is also a very mavericky state that does things its own way (weed, assisted suicide, strong environmental laws, no self-service gas, etc.) and is immune to national peer pressure. Here’s your Cliff’s Notes education on Oregon, if you need it:

The name of the state is pronounced OAR-uh-gun, with the last two syllables very short. It barely differs from the pronunciation of ‘organ.’ It is not pronounced ARE-ee-GONE. Some may not understand what the big deal is. Imagine that half the news and sports announcers said kuh-LEE-for-NEE-ah, or tex-ASS, or NEBB-ruh-skuh, or flo-REE-duh, or o-HEE-o.

No, you cannot pump your own gas in Oregon. This does not make it that much more expensive, and it does means that fueling station choices are influenced in part by actual service. Unfortunately, this means that in Oregon, if your gas cap is not attached, you have to check to make sure the employee put it back on. Laugh if you will at the impossibility of this, but I have a pickup truck, so I can set mine in the bed while I pump gas in Washington. I can only lose my gas cap in Oregon (or New Jersey, were I to go there).

Yes, Oregon has a high state income tax but no state sales tax. The financial mind may immediately wonder how any business can survive on the Washington side of the border. In the first place, in the case of major stuff like vehicle purchases, Washington and Idaho have ways of making sure you pay their own sales tax to license the car in the state. I assume Nevada and California do as well, if it applies (not sure about tax in Nevada). In the second, Oregon residents don’t have to pay at least Washington sales tax, which is a constant factor along the border. In Kennewick, it was normal for checkers to ask if I were a Washington or Oregon resident (and yes, you need ID). So yeah, I’d say that appliance places in Vancouver are likely hard put to compete with those in Portland. Grocery prices, probably not, especially since Washington doesn’t charge sales tax on groceries.

Speaking of Vancouver, to most people that brings to mind British Columbia. In Portland, it does not, for Vancouver is the primary suburb on the Washington side. We would have chosen to live there, but paying both states’ tax would just suck rocks, and my wife has brick-and-mortar employment in Oregon (thus she must pay Oregon income tax no matter where she resides). Ah, but wouldn’t we just do all our shopping in Oregon? We would only have to try crossing the bridge one time for a typical grocery run, and we’d be over it. If one works in Oregon, it makes sense to live in Oregon.

As with Washington and Seattle, Oregon suffers from the national confusion with Portland. “Oh, you’re from ARE-ee-GONE! The land of rain, people to the political left of Stalin, and fair trade cruelty-free organic pagan eco-hipster cyclists!” “Not quite. I’m from Pendleton. I was on my high school rodeo team, and whenever we got rain, I thanked Christ. I never cared what all the fruit loops in Portland thought. To me, a bike meant dirt biking out in the desert.” Central and northeastern Oregon are dry places with more cowboys than hipsters.

Almost no one even lives in southeastern Oregon. Malheur County is about 10K square miles, roughly fifty miles wide by two hundred high, and only has about 30,000 people. And if it weren’t for one city of note (Ontario, which is only an hour from Boise), it would only have about 20,000. Comparison: New Hampshire is smaller, yet has 1.3 million people (almost as many as all of Idaho), and isn’t even very densely populated as Northeastern states go. Dry lake salt pans are not rare in southeastern Oregon. It’s desolate.

Oregon has an ugly history of sundown town racism that hasn’t fully faded. When the second Ku Klux Klan was operating (as much nativist and anti-Catholic as anti-black, 1915-1925), Oregon was one of its strongest states. The joke of Lake Oswego as ‘Lake Nonegro’ has not disappeared. As major US cities go, Portland is one of the whitest.

Yes, Oregon did attempt to dispose of a beached whale carcass by blowing it up. They won’t try that again.

Speaking of the Oregon coast, do not expect development to destroy it any time soon. Nearly the whole thing is an Oregon state park (more precisely, a long string of Oregon state parks). Plus, “Hi, I’m a SoCal real estate developer, and I would like to appropriate some of your public beach frontage for a very posh resort that would attract lots of very rich people!” is right down there with “Recycling sucks!” as a lousy introductory line with Oregonians.

I’ve only seen one episode of Portlandia, and I guess Fred Armisen actually makes his home in the Pearl District, but I don’t think it’s terribly far off base about Portland. The issue is more that not all Oregon is Portland. As long as that’s understood, the folks in Burns and Madras won’t have to explain that their places don’t resemble Fred’s Portlandia.

Is it true that Oregonians hate Californians? Well, that depends upon two things: which Oregonian you’re asking, and to which Californians you refer. If the variables are ‘a fairly average Oregonian’ and ‘someone who embodies every over-the-top LA stereotype,’ answer’s probably close to yes. However, thinking people realize that California is not LA, any more than Oregon is Portland, and that living examples of stereotypes are not the norm. If it were, there would be prison terms here for failure to recycle, right? Yet there are not. (The fine for littering, however, is quite justly enormous. In Oregon, the fine for driving over 100 mph is $1000. Maximum littering fine is $6250. Don’t toss that cigarette butt.) Is it true that California tags are a ticket magnet for police in Oregon? Yes, but all license plates are ticket magnets in Oregon, including those with the familiar covered wagon. When California wants water from the Columbia, or when a Californian family moves into a neighborhood and starts behaving like the stereotype, yeah, at those times, it’s pretty grumpy. However, the former is impractical due to determined public opposition, and the latter is as rare as any other embodied stereotype, including that of the wafer-thin-pizza-eating, bushy-armpitted, all-organic Oregon hippie mom lecturing everyone else about their life choices. Like the plastic-smile Angeleña negatively comparing everything to LA during her daily mani-pedi, they exist, but they aren’t your average Oregonian.

I suspect that locals borrowed “Keep Portland Weird” from Austin, TX, just as it’s well established that Seagulls fans decided they were “The 12th Man” approximately fifty years after Texas A&M gave that title reality. Imitation is a sincere form of flattery, but the originators should be respected.

College football fans may be mystified at the rise of the Oregon Ducks as a national power. With the full disclosure of the fact that they are my team’s most loathed rival, the one team I would not root for even to beat the University of Pyongyang, here’s the reality. First, that rise does owe a great deal to palatial facilities and lavish funding by Phil Knight, owner of Nike and a Duck alum, who basically continues to throw money at the situation until it results in dominance. Well, seems you can buy a better football team. However, much of the credit must also go to skilled coaching, including recruitment (aided by the gaudy uniforms and impressive facilities) of the sorts of athletes who will excel in the coaches’ system. It is taking time for teams to figure out the few weaknesses in the Oregon system, but you can be certain that eleven other highly capable Pac-12 coaches work very hard at this, gaining ground each season. In the meantime, Oregon State Beavers fans continue to soldier on, disliking the Ducks nearly as much as I do, just glad to be away from a twenty-year era of enormous mediocrity. When I was in college, the Beavs’ records looked like binary notation: 0-10, 1-10, 0-11, etc. Meanwhile, the Washington/Oregon rivalry remains one of the most personal and hateful in the land, which will probably impact my life at some point–especially because my guys have lost ten or eleven straight, and in most cases, it’s because we were not as a good a team and did not play/coach as well. I have to admit it, which is not the same as having to like it.

When you see quotes from a guy named Osho–an Indian-looking guru sort with a heavy beard–just remember that his minions launched biological warfare terror attacks within the United States. We who lived near northern Oregon back in the 1980s remember him as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. His followers took over Antelope, Oregon, a town in south Wasco County. It was a small enough town that eighty new voters could automatically win any municipal election. They then tried to take over the county, including homebrew salmonella attacks at restaurant salad bars. Why do that? To reduce the number of people physically capable of going out to vote against the Rajneeshy candidates (children, this was when voting occurred by going to a polling place, unless you voted absentee). For the same reason, they shipped in many homeless people in order to register them to vote. It was all a blatant takeover tactic.

If he’d done it in the East, it’d be remembered alongside Tim McVeigh’s deeds, but it happened in Oregon, so it may have lasted one news cycle in the major media markets before some important actor was diagnosed with a pimple on his butt, or it rained hard in Manhattan, or a white American female went missing abroad, or something else Far More Important occurred. In any case, when Rajneesh’s minions got in trouble and their colony of a couple thousand people collapsed, the government moved to deport him. On the way out, he called the United States “a wicked country.” Bub, I’m not sure someone whose fan club uses biological terrorism on his watch is in any position to call my country anything but merciful for not hanging you.

Anyway, when henceforth you see quotes from Osho, they may sound very wise on their face, but some of us take it as the moral equivalent of quoting Robert Mathews. At the very least, Rajneesh slept at the wheel of his own movement while some truly evil minions harmed folks I worked with and respected, and I will not sit in silence while people use his new name and rehab his legacy (he has been dead since 1990) as if he were admirable and noble. To me, on balance, he is not. The Rolls-Royces were excrescent, but they didn’t fill up every hospital in The Dalles, Hood River, and small surrounding regions with people guilty only of taking the family out for dinner. Salmonella did.

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For those who read this far, I want to explain something about how I operate the blog. This is my professional presentation. Since I’m an editor and writer, that can be about anything as long as I don’t embarrass myself.

Posting has been sparse in the last couple of months, well off my normal schedule of 1-2 posts per week. There’s a reason for that. I have begun numerous posts which I never completed because they were too emotional for the blog. “Too emotional” here means: subjects about which I am sensitive or emotional, and do not wish to bare my soul for potential public heckling during a difficult time. I embrace the right of the public to heckle (with some modicum of civility) anything I might post, and the only way to handle that is not to post anything I wouldn’t want heckled. So I start writing as catharsis, realize halfway through that this one will probably never see the green light, and at least get the benefit of journaling out frustration/grief/euphoria/rage/whatever.

Some were also borderline libelous, too likely to provoke political discussion which I’d then have to shut down, or simply not well enough reasoned. Some readers might say: “Awwwww! But that’s you being you! That’s what we come to read!” I understand. However, this is not the suitable place for such things. It may seem strange to some, but this is the office. I need rules for myself at the office. Think of this as a company newsletter in a way, with me as the company. While it’s okay for the firm to nail its ideological colors to the mast to a degree, it should do so judiciously.

So yeah, I’ve been writing, just not often posting, because the one thing every writer should realize is the truth of the old Russian proverb: “What is written with the pen cannot be erased with an ax.” Many a career has been altered, rarely for the better, when a writer’s need to speak his or her mind overcame his or her good sense long enough to stab the ‘Publish’ button. (q.v. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Dear Negative Reader.) I want to keep the blog as informative, entertaining, and uplifting as I can, with a primary focus on the craft of writing and editing, and the secondary focus on thoughtful social comment. You already get enough of my personal opinions, leaking through here and there, but this cannot be the place where I drop the professional posture. Some matters are simply too personal to belong here.

Every public post in any medium is voluntary, after all. And if it’s ill-advised, the poster can expect reminders that no one compelled him or her at gunpoint to make the post public. That would be my standard advice to any writer maintaining a blog.

If I fail to heed it myself, I am a great fool.

How to encourage recycling

I’ve only been in Oregon five days, and I see how they do it. Simply put, they give you no other viable choice but to recycle/donate.

This is new to me. In Idaho, the only thing they recycle is spent shell casing brass. They put more gunpowder and bullets or pellets into it, then shoot it again.

It begins with a very small trash trash bin, an enormous recycling bin, and a big yard waste bin. If you’ve got a lot to get rid of, the trash trash bin will not get rid of it all because you barely have room for minimalist household trash. Thus, one must begrudge anything tossed in the trash trash. We’ve already designated a separate, unlined can just for waste paper, so we can keep it out of the trash. If we do not do this, we will not have room for true trash.

Oregon also has a 5-cent deposit on bottles, cans and plastic. If anyone thinks that won’t add up, fine, but I want my damn money. I’m going to rig up a handheld carrier with lath dividers just to make it easier to take them in, even though I have tons of room in my recycle bin, because if I’m going to go through all this, it’s time to pay me. I pick up loose pennies in supermarket parking lots. I damn sure will pick up nickels, and every one of these cans now resembles a nickel to me, forty to a $2 roll.

Landfill dumping seems to exist…sort of, expensively, somewhere difficult to get to. However, if you list an item for free on Portland Craigslist, unless it’s absolutely worthless, expect to be bombarded with replies. I gave away a remarkably crappy miniature folding couch that we could have used to extract confessions from people just by making them sleep on it. Twelve replies, half an hour, gone two hours after posting. We’re pruning down our excess crap, and St. Vincent de Paul is about to become a real asset, because charities are the only way to get rid of bulk stuff. Before I left Boise, I removed the hard drives from two old dead computers, hit them with a hammer until I knew I’d broken the platter and the electronics, and chucked them in the bin. In Oregon, that is punishable by a fine, but there are a number of places to recycle old computers. I tossed a dying mini-fridge into my bin in Boise. Portland? Wouldn’t come close to fitting. I’d have to call and find out where you recycle dying refrigerators, and I’ll bet there’s an option.

All these boxes? All the packing paper? Craigslist. Someone’s always moving. Free boxes? Yes, please. Free packing paper? Oh, they’ll come get it. Just as well, because the boxes and paper would overwhelm even our cavernous recycle bin.

I’m not opposed to any of this, though neither am I an ecomaniac. Just, I’d always wondered how they dealt with the large numbers of people who can’t be bothered to deal with recycling. In Boise and Kennewick, there was no impetus. In Portland, they make it so it’s the only way to avoid being buried in unwanted crap.

A part of me admires the strategy’s ruthlessness.

The drivers’ ed class and bohica avoidance course young people need

Maybe you thought from the title that this was another ‘bag on millennials’ post by an older person. It will not be. Since old people were at the wheel of society when drivers’ ed classes were removed from your schools, they are in a poor position to call out your driving, no? Furthermore, I have known said older people since they were your age, just learning to drive. They weren’t great drivers then, and many are no better now. They have zero business blaming you, the most compliant and least rebellious generation in recent history, for handling life exactly the way they raised you.

If I could put a driver’s ed class in your school, I would. I can’t, but I can put thirty-five years of observation and experience out there for you. What follows is my personal opinion (not to be construed as professional or other legal advice) on how to avoid the worst things that can happen behind the wheel. I don’t care about indoctrinating you to be a pliant consumer cadet, nationalist, or yes-person. I care about helping you make smart driving decisions.

Therefore:

The most dangerous place is a parking lot, because people believe you can’t get a ticket there (some places, you can), and because so many people ignore the key rule of safe motoring: don’t surprise other drivers. When someone ignores the driving lanes and rips across the empty parking spaces, other drivers didn’t expect a vehicle from there, so they aren’t prepared to avoid it. Thus, in parking lots, have in the back of your mind what you would do if someone came screaming across the parking lanes without bothering to look, or backed out without looking, or swerved to avoid running over an off-leash child.

This very day, for example, I was driving very normally though a parking lot when some clod began a hasty back-out from a parking space without looking left and right. Most likely, he saw no one behind him, ergo, there could not possibly be any reason not to just back up. I am always expecting something like this, which is why I braked before hitting his rear wheel. It’s not always entirely the parker’s fault, because sometimes one is parked next to a large vehicle that completely blocks vision in one direction. If you can’t see to the sides, start by backing out very slowly with frequent stops until you can see what you’re doing. You may feel like a fool, but most other drivers understand the difficulty, will spot you moving, and stop or honk as needed. You just have to hope it’s not a real estate agent yacking on her phone, or a parent reaching back to separate fighting kids while moving, or a young male who has mistaken the parking lot for a Nascar track, or a pedestrian child who doesn’t realize that walking past the back of a hidden parking space is dangerous. Of course, the smartest place to park is usually farther away, where traffic is lighter and obstructions rarer.

If you wanted to be top shelf smart in parking lots, you’d use your turn signals even there–not to avoid tickets, but to signal intent. Telling other people what you are about to do equals safety. And so that, in case something did happen, when the insurance adjuster or police officer asks whether you signaled, you could answer truthfully: “Yes, I did.” “You expect me to believe you use turn signals in a parking lot?” “Yes. I want people to know exactly what I am about to do, so that is my habit.” Lying to your insurance company is almost as dumb and dangerous as lying to the police.

Any condition that requires lights (except being parked where someone might fail to see you in subpar visibility, or an uncommon location in a non-emergency, which is what parking lights are for) requires your headlights, not your parking lights. The lights’ first purpose is to help other people see you, enabling them to refrain from driving through you. When it’s really gray/drizzly out, notice how the unlit cars blend into the background. When it’s dusk, and some ass thinks he only needs his parking lights, notice how much harder it is to see him than the sensible drivers, who do not need a remedial course in the purpose of headlights. Notice what a fool he is, to think that being less visible makes him cool. It’s usually a macho pickup truck.

Regarding lights: there are no such things as bright and dim headlights. The difference is their aim. Low beams, usually called dimmed lights, angle more sharply downward so as not to blind oncoming traffic on a level surface. So when you are cresting a rise, and the oncoming driver seems to be giving you the brights, s/he probably isn’t. It just looks that way. Yours are doing the same thing to him or her. If you’re both grownups, you both understand that, and won’t play the childish blinding game with your high beams. Of course, from the general tone so far, you may infer that I think you will often have to be the adult in a roadway heavily populated by adult children (and adult morons).

If you get in the slightest accident, it doesn’t matter that it’s not your fault, nor that you have insurance (you’d better). You are still screwed; you still lose. I’m not talking about the property damage and injuries, but the insurance crap that comes after. That’s the system, and if you think about it, it works. It encourages defensive driving because no sane person would get into an avoidable accident situation. But that’s cold consolation when some fool panics and does the one creatively dumb thing that could make his or her problems into your problems. Your best and only real defense is to expect the rest of the drivers to do foolish things at any time, and have in the back of your mind how you’d evade them. Lest you think this is paranoid, if I did not live by it, by now I would either have died by it, or stood accountable for someone else’s serious injuries or death.

Never flip anyone off. Not because I disapprove of rudeness to those who deserve it, or because I encourage the terror-of-everything that our media work overtime to implant in our brains, but because it’s such a limp gesture. If you want to show scorn, just look at the person and shake your head in despair at the state of humanity. If you are pretty sure someone is going to flip you off, don’t look. What’s more frustrating and lame than trying to flip someone off who won’t look?

Another reason for a no-bird policy: someone else may think you are flipping him or her off for no reason. Middle fingers don’t come with perfect directional indicators. However, if you are driving past a business you despise, and no one else is in a position to misinterpret your gesture, go ahead as long as that doesn’t distract your driving. That’s my one exception. My wife and I have some situations where we would flip our middle toes as well, if that were practical.

Yellow lights. That’s not hard to figure out; if you’d have to slam on your brakes, you should probably keep going, because the brake slam poses danger in terms of someone rear-ending you. But think it through, now, sometime while you are approaching a traffic light intersection and you can see that it’s very likely it will turn green just before you arrive. You’d enter going at normal speed, right, and absolutely legal, yes? Too bad someone coming from the right noticed his yellow light a bit late and hit the gas pedal. Or, too bad a last-minute oncoming left-turner on flashing yellow decided to go for it. But if you had eased up a bit as you headed for that light-soon-to-be-green, expecting someone to make a bad decision, then you’d be the one who saw and avoided a very serious accident when everyone else didn’t think.

Four-way stops: the rule is whoever comes to a full stop first, goes first, tie goes to the one on the right, or who is not turning. I won’t lecture on the value of making an actual, authentic stop, because I’m apparently the only one who does this. Instead, I’ll focus on the many people who think that if someone else stops, they do not have to. If you assume they’ll at least do a California stop, they may hit you. Defensive driving: expect great foolishness at multi-way stops. The law says that if you do not make a complete stop, you ran the sign or light. If you are ticketed for that, you have it coming. The whole multiple-stop safety concept depends on making a complete stop, and breaks down the minute someone decides that he or she is exempt from this very sensible rule.

One that they never taught me in drivers’ ed, and I learned when an ’83 Olds Cutlass pushed my passenger door in: uncontrolled intersections. These are dangerous because people think ‘uncontrolled’ means ‘no rules.’ There is a rule: treat it like a four-way yield. In other words, right of way is determined by who arrives first and can safely proceed. I arrived first, but didn’t slow down enough to see the Cutlass barreling toward the intersection. I could have avoided that accident, though the primary fault was hers.

At this point you may be thinking how wrong and unfair some of this is. Do please note: this is not about what’s right or fair. Neither matters. It’s about you staying alive, avoiding injury to yourself and your car, keeping your insurance down and the cops disinterested in you. How it should be is beside the point; ‘should’ is useless. Behind the wheel, you deal with what is or is not, who will or will not, who does or does not, can or can’t.

Never tailgate. Stay at least two seconds behind the car ahead. Tailgating not only kills, but worse yet, gets your insurance tripled because you are always at fault when you rear-end anyone. If you do not tailgate, you’ll only rear-end anyone if your brakes fail or you’re not paying enough attention. It is the most easily avoided form of bad driving, one of the most dangerous, and surely one of the most common (and unticketed).

Anyone who looks like he or she is dithering about pulling out in front of you must be assumed to be on the cusp of a dumb decision. I saved an old woman’s life one time simply because I saw her dithering at the corner, and let off the gas just in case. Had I not suspected she would make the wrong decision, I could not have avoided pushing her driver’s side door into her body with the impact. But because I saw a hint of dumbness and indecision, I avoided an accident and probably saved at least one life. Yeah, she shouldn’t have been dithering, but I can’t control other drivers. I can only control how I avoid them.

Turn signals are for signaling your intent in advance, not for signaling what you are already halfway through doing. They are the way you avoid surprising people. You never want to surprise any other driver; s/he might panic.

There are some situations where you simply should not be trying to turn left or get into a farther lane, notably across traffic that backs up at a light. The besetting sin in Boise is that people are pleasant enough that they will leave room for people to make truly dangerous traffic crossings.

If you need to merge, put on your turn signal and wait. In barbaric parts of the country, no one will let you in. Where civilization prevails, they will. And be yourself civilized: if you want to get someone’s attention, so they can see you wave them in, tap the horn very lightly. They should understand.

The freeway on-ramp is properly called an acceleration lane, and its purpose is to allow you to reach freeway speed before merging. Step on it. Do not arrive at the end of the ramp doing 10 under the limit and expect that the drivers on the freeway must let you in. They don’t have to; you do not have the right of way. If you are not matching the speed of right-lane traffic, there’s no reason they would want to. If you match freeway speed, however, in civilized regions, they’ll make an effort to let you in. Put on your turn signal, pick a likely spot, and adjust your speed. And if that car won’t let you in, just wait.

When you identify idiots, let them get as far away as possible, as fast as they want to go. An idiot is anyone driving unpredictably for the situation, or tailgating, or zoomtarding, or otherwise going full tool. Challenging idiots is itself idiotic. Let the idiots cause the fatality without your participation or involvement.

Speaking of idiots, you will notice that some days are just crazy days, when the frequency of bad driving is above average. (Unless you live in Orlando, where bad driving is so prevalent that no day can stand out.) On those days, you should be extra careful. Drive as though everyone around you just came home from being fired to find their spouse giving their best friend oral sex, and could come unglued at any time.

From your standpoint, all small children on foot or at play, all minor bicyclists, and half of adult bicyclists are suicidal. They are also ways you can go to jail even though it’s not really your fault. Small kids do stupid things; you did, I did, and yours will. You’re behind the wheel of the beast, so you are expected to avoid even seemingly suicidal cyclists and children. That kid is skateboarding down a sidewalk? She might just decide now is an excellent time to practice some sick move, which will fail, sending her airborne into your path. That toddler with his mother? Expect him to escape Mom and dash toward your tires without warning. Teenage boy on bike? He is imagining himself on a crotch rocket, and might find a way to get under your treads. Loose dog? High odds of dashing into your path, followed by the seven-year-old girl who loves said dog, and doesn’t realize she can’t catch dear Fluffy in time. Assume that all these demographics are prone to sudden random suicide-by-you attempts. If the suicide even partly succeeds, your life is ruined. Drive so that you could dodge even a child trying to end her life, because every now and then, you’ll save her life and salvage your own. In thirty-five years of driving, my current tally of lives saved is two small children, three dogs, one cat, and a family of quail.

When you know you will not make the light, save brakes by easing up on the gas, even if the speed limit is relatively high. If you think brake life doesn’t matter, call and get a price on new brakes. Hint: it’s usually more than the list price of a brand new smartphone.

Have you ever noticed how many people will stop their cars on railroad tracks? Take a look. It should amaze and frighten you. Do not stop on train tracks, obviously, and do not race trains. Every year, several hundred people nationally lose that race and pay with their lives. Don’t risk your life, or those of others, for anything that’s not worth a life. Waiting for an eternal freight train is better than learning the answer to the question of eternal life.

Before you change lanes, look one last time. Someone may have shown up. Maybe Scotty or Chief O’Brien beamed them there. Don’t care how they got there: that’s why you look one last time. With your eyes, not your mirrors. Turn your head and look. Also, elderly necks hurt and do not move as well, so expect some elderly drivers to do a poor job of this. If someone’s changing lanes into you, honk and seek a safe way to evade. You should have been expecting that in the back of your mind, so your reaction should be swift and calm.

If you make a habit of risky passing moves approaching hilltops or curves, you can stop reading now, because one of these days you won’t make it, and you probably will not survive the head-on. Thus, you won’t need any more driving guidance, now or ever. I feel badly for the other person, who won’t deserve to die with you.

The farther ahead you are watching, the more easily you can arrange to avoid being stuck behind trucks, buses, and other lumbering battleships of the road.

You probably know that rain after a dry spell tends to grease the roads. Here’s what to know about ice: the physics that may not have been taught to you, because the legislature forced your teachers to teach to a stupid test, and forbade them to educate you (passing a test is not fundamentally indicative of education). Know how moist the air is (humidity). High humidity means a lot of water in the air. In places like Seattle, where the air is often saturated, if the road surface is below freezing, water will freeze to it and create so-called black ice. In dry climates, it can be well below freezing, yet minimal ice will form because there isn’t enough water in the air. This is why the South goes completely nuts when it freezes: the air is humid. If you know this simple reality, you can make sensible guesses as to road condition. Of course, roads freeze faster in shadowed areas (less sunlight) and on bridges (no ground warmth affecting the surface temperature). When it’s really icy, nothing helps much. Physics are your only defense.

Curbs can flat your tire, as can any obstacle that scrapes the sidewall with enough force. The sidewall of a tire is the no-fix zone, and is far thinner than the treads. When scumbags want to ruin a tire, they put the sharp object through the sidewall. A tire may hold a lot of air despite a nail through the tread pattern, but something through the sidewall, tire’s done.

Never run over anything on purpose. You gain nothing. If it’s a piece of wood, might have a nail. If it’s a cardboard box, some joker might have put a rock in it. If it’s a dead animal, hasn’t it suffered enough indignity?

If you’re smart, you will not rely on a donut spare. Instead, you’ll spring for a real fifth tire equivalent to the rest, with the same factory wheel hub as the rest. That way, if you have to be somewhere, and you change tires, you can finish your day rather than spend it limping toward Les Schwab. The real spare takes up a ton of room in back of my wife’s little Prius, but this is non-negotiable. I never want her stranded. My wife had thought it was overkill until we heard the hiss and saw the bone fragment in the sidewall. We drove home from Butte to Kennewick, with only two hours of delay, on a real spare. She has never again groused about the tire I require her to cart around.

Ideally, you would practice changing a tire, especially if it’s not what you normally have done in life (i.e. you’re probably female). Self-reliance is empowerment. If I had a daughter, I would not even begin teaching her to drive without first talking her through changing a tire, by herself, without assistance. Sons too, of course, but the sexism of our society is such that more males learn it by osmosis than females. If you are a young female, it should be very easy to find a brother or father or male friend to walk you through it, though it will be a pain in the butt to get them to let you do the physical work; we are bad at this, and tend to just step in and do it. If you don’t want to figure it all out on your own, find someone who will talk you through the process so that you get the experience with your own hands.

Get someone to teach you to drive stick. You never know when you might need it. “I can’t drive stick” is an admission of weakness which you should conquer. For whoever teaches you to drive stick, do something very kind in return, because teaching people to drive stick takes a lot of courage and patience.

If your driving instructor (like my father) whose main instructional technique involves panicky yelling at you for every mistake, you need to find a better instructor. I almost refused to get my license, it was so bad. When I taught my nephew to drive stick, I explained to him what a hell my father had made my own driving instruction, then said: “We aren’t doing it that way. We’re doing this like adults.” And over the course of an hour in an empty parking lot, with a few engine kills and jolts and grinds and all the expected learning mistakes, he learned to drive stick, and banished that weakness. No one raised his voice, cursed, or otherwise acted developmentally five. Now, my neph doesn’t associate stick driving with nervousness and fear, as I did when I learned it. Calm drivers think. Terrified drivers do dumb things.

Speaking of gender, and this is only my opinion: I think women are generally the safer drivers, because I think women’s brains process information both near and far at once. I think men are usually better at making split-second decisions without time to react, and are less prone to hesitate in a case where there are two choices, either of which is all right if made resolutely, but where indecision or hesitation will be very dangerous. Since the woman is likely to see that situation developing and avoid it altogether, I think on balance she is likely to be the safer driver. However, we must each know ourselves, and compensate for our own weaknesses. Mine is my terminal inability to focus on two things at once. For that reason, I must make special effort to look far ahead and see situations developing, something my wife does naturally and without extra effort. All we can do there is be honest with ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses, and resolve to compensate. Maybe you happen to be a woman who is great at split-second decisionmaking but can improve at seeing the big picture, for example, and need to do as I do.

Don’t be surprised if you auto-fail your first driving test for your licenses. Some offices flunk everyone the first time; job security for them. It’s wrong, it’s evil, it’s reality, and all you can do is take the test again after practicing whatever you got marked down for. It’s a bohica (“Bend Over; Here It Comes Again”).

It’s not paranoia: a lot of speed limits are designed with speed traps in mind. The police do not assign speed limits; blame the city, county, or state for those. However, the police will gladly take advantage of sudden limit changes, because:

The police are your enemies until they demonstrate otherwise. That may be hard for you to swallow, but think about this: in the context we’re discussing (you behind the wheel) their goal is to look good by having grounds to issue you a citation, even arrest you. Safety and justice have nothing to do with it; if they did, tailgaters would get the majority of tickets, because tailgating is the most prevalent and dangerous unsafe driving behavior. If they did, radar guns would monitor following distance, not speed. The police work on quotas, official or unofficial (they deny this, but always remember, the police may legally lie to you without penalty), and on balance, their primary situational motive/function beyond personal advancement is to raise revenue for their jurisdiction, while avoiding being in trouble. They are at work, and like anyone else, they want to meet or exceed superiors’ expectations while staying out of trouble. They are not sainted paragons of superhuman perfection, nor are they automatically thugs. They are people. And when you are driving, nearly all your interactions with them will mean a bad situation for you, one which did not exist until they accosted you.

Is it fair to characterize them as your enemies? Isn’t that too strong a word? Consider: they characterize you as potentially dangerous until proven otherwise, in spite of their overwhelming advantages in firepower and legal backing. When they interrupt your driving day for a nice bohica, don’t you have the right to view them as they view you, you being at every disadvantage? Until the day a police officer leaves his or her weapons in the squad car before coming to your window, or unless you who initiate the encounter (clearly, if you are asking the police for something, you put the situation in a different light), you have the moral right to characterize him or her as your enemy. (Don’t laugh. Ireland’s police, who are called the Garda Síochána, do not carry firearms. I had a nice talk with a retired Garda sergeant in Tralee. In thirty years, he only once drew his nightstick, during the H-block riots in Dublin. Societies exist in which police culture does not treat the citizen as a potential threat until that citizen offers threat; ours simply is not one.)

Would they rather be taking down the real scumbags? Perhaps many would, but when it comes to you and them on the road, they’re not out there to help you; they’re there to see if you will be the next citation. It doesn’t mean they are all bad people. Good cops exist, though it’s hard for them to survive in the modern police culture that regards you, the citizen, as a dangerous enemy to be kept in fearful check, and eagerly seeks out new military-grade weaponry and protective gear (out of craven fear of you). When I was 22, I worked on housing for a conference of police explorers, and I saw a lot of cop culture in a short time. That was nearly thirty years ago, and it’s gotten worse. I feel badly for those that buck that culture, because as the proverb goes, the nail that sticks up is hammered down.

The police can be anywhere. Don’t believe me? About twenty years ago I was ripping through a tunnel just north of downtown Seattle, doing 20 over. No way could they possibly radar me. Then I saw the lights and a State Patrol car swinging onto an onramp going balls to the wall. Yep. Even in a tunnel. The police know the road better than you do, and they know exactly where to set up. Give them credit, and assume they could radar you anywhere.

Though the police are your enemies, since you cannot entirely avoid them, you must learn to deal with them. Whatever you think of them is beside the point; the point is that you can influence your outcome by not being stupid, especially when you know you are in the wrong (the majority of traffic stops are still for legitimate reasons, like going 20 mph over in a tunnel). Knowing how to deal with the police is essential, most people do it badly, and even if you do not improve your outcome, you can avoid turning a minor bohica into a serious four-point stance bohica.

If the officer pulls behind you with lights flashing and clearly wants you to pull over, you should already have slowed down on principle. (S/he might actually need to get past you, headed for a true emergency.) You want to pull over at the quickest safe place. The longer it takes you to stop, the more defiant the officer anticipates that you will be, and s/he prepares for trouble. The officer expects craven submission to authority, and your quick, safe pulloff signifies a properly fearful civilian who would never dare get uppity.

Once stopped, roll your window down partway, turn on your dome light, then put your hands at 10:00 and 2:00 on the wheel with fingers extended. Wait. Don’t get your paperwork out yet, or reach for anything. The police work on fear and control, and they are reassured when they think you are intimidated. If you fish around, they assume you are hiding your weed or reaching for a weapon. Behave as if you may be killed with impunity if the officer even suspects danger from you. Don’t pose a threat, because you can’t win the fight. S/he is afraid of you, little old you, even with all the machinery of an authoritarian social control state at his or her back, and the whole legal system taking his or her word over yours. You are the space shuttle, he or she is the starship Enterprise, and he or she is afraid of you. It’s stupid, it’s gutless, it’s evil, it’s terrible policing, and it’s reality.

Limit your answers and be very careful of your wording. “Yes, officer” and “no, officer” are your most important answers to have ready after your greeting of “Good afternoon, officer.” Don’t grin like a fool, but try to smile a little. When told to, and not before, gather your paperwork in the officer’s sight. If the officer tries to get you to admit an offense, don’t. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” “No, officer.” You never, ever tell the officer why s/he might have stopped you, because that’s like an admission of guilt. An outright admission of guilt equals a self-administered bohica.

When the officer tells you why, and s/he’s right, don’t be a jerk. The police consider all debate a sign of someone who needs to be taught to fear the law (most police misconstrue this as ‘respect’). Unless it’s a question, don’t answer. But if it’s a question like “Why were you going that fast?”, answer in some way that doesn’t concede guilt. “I’m not aware that I was, but I suppose it’s possible I might have made a mistake.” In the officer’s world, s/he is always right just by wearing a badge, and you are always wrong unless you are agreeing with him or her, so you need the middle road here. Otherwise, congrats: you’ve just been maneuvered into confessing, and it is a lot harder to unconfess before a judge than to refrain from confessing in the first place.

If you are so busted it’s beyond belief, like doing 20 over busted, if there is some sane reason, offer it–but do so immediately without fibbing, and do not directly admit the offense. Hesitation, to police, equals cooking up a lie. For example, if you did not see the speed limit sign, say so. That’s not an excuse, but it’s better than mouthing off. It got me out of a sure ticket one time in a small Washington town notorious for predatory speed traps. (Had I been a jerk, it would not have.) But don’t tell the officer your grandmother just died, or your wife just went into labor, unless she really did and it contributed to your mistake. And remember, “I suppose it’s possible I might have made a mistake” avoids contradicting the cop while avoiding an admission of guilt.

Honesty can save you, because police technique involves asking you disarming questions, then followup questions, to see how naturally you respond. “If you weren’t speeding, why’d you slow down when I got behind you?” “In case I had to pull off to let you past me, officer.” An officer would find a hard time finding fault with that–and it implies that you had not expected a stop, but planned to be cooperative. Honest answers come naturally. “Why were you driving that fast?” “Because I am about to pee myself.” “Sounds unpleasant. Where were you going to use the bathroom?” “The Circle K about half a mile down on the right.” If you really didn’t have to go, you fumble on that answer. The officer knows you lied, and you’re hosed.

If you get away with a warning, heed it, because if the police run your plates again soon, you won’t get a second warning. And tickets are like accidents: by getting one, you have already lost, even if the ticket is ridiculous and you can win in court. The time, risk, headache, and worst of all, the encounter with the legal system–nothing good comes.

If you are ordered out of the car, that’s why you carry a spare key in your pocket. Roll up all the windows and lock your keys in. If you are ordered out of the car for any reason, the encounter has already gone adversarial and the officer wants probable cause (or your permission) to search your vehicle. If you lock your keys in, it will make him or her mad, and s/he may call for backup in order to scare you, but it will demonstrate that you do not consent to search. Never consent to search, ever, in any way. “Mind if I take a look inside?” “I do mind, officer; I do not consent to a search.” You’ll probably get: “If you have nothing to hide, why are you being difficult?” Don’t give the truth, which is ‘because it’s none of your damn business, and my privacy isn’t for you to violate.’ That will probably get you beaten up (if that happens, once you hit the ground, work your head under your car so it is harder to hit). Just repeat that you neither consent nor waive your rights relating to search. That may not stop them from searching you, and it may not stop them from lying in court and saying you gave permission, but it will at least force them to get a warrant or violate your rights, which would make it safer and easier just to refrain. Like everyone, the police would prefer to do what is safest and easiest. Of course, if the officer has a search warrant, or obtains one, you must comply. If they threaten to get one, remember that if it’s not a question, you do not have to answer.

If you prefer never to be pulled over, like me, here’s how: stay right, stay between the lines, avoid going more than a couple miles over the limit, pay special attention to school and construction zones, stop when you are supposed to, make sure all your lights work, don’t tailgate, and try never to stand out. If an officer needs to make some stops, anything will do. That includes touching the lines (‘erratic driving’), California stops (‘failure to stop at stop sign’), turning right on red without stopping (‘failure to stop at red light’), and signaling as you change lanes (‘failure to signal 200′ prior to maneuver’). Read the state’s driver’s guide; the police certainly have. I have been stopped at 3 mph over on a freeway late at night, which would not have happened at noon with lots of other vehicles present.

If your skin is darker, all of the above goes double, because the darker your skin, the worse the police assume of you. It’s bigoted, it’s evil, and it’s reality. However, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve had cops tail me at night just for something to do, and I am a middle-aged white guy with a long gray beard.

Speaking of minorities: if you happen to be stopped by an officer of your own minority (or female gender), I wouldn’t play the card. Think about it from the officer’s perspective. In most places, that officer is also a minority among his or her co-workers. That may mean s/he has to work extra hard to get the same respect. What’s more, that person chose a career in police work. Why? Respect for the law, perhaps. Desire to help make society better, possibly. Pays better than some options, maybe. You don’t know for sure. What you do know is that the officer has seen the card played before, and the odds of it helping are small. The odds of it offending the officer’s principles–“you think because you’re [pick a group] like me, you get a special break?”–are high. If anything, a fellow group member may feel the need to be tougher on you. But you do have a good option.

Rather than insult the officer’s professionalism and impartiality, try exemplifying everything that officer would like to see from a young person with whom s/he can at least somewhat identify. Follow all the normal procedures in a way that conveys respect, avoiding all implication that the officer should treat you any differently. Since a lot of young people do the opposite in that situation, this will make you stand out in the most positive way. And if that influences the officer to play (silently) the card him or herself, well, you’ll never know…but it cannot hurt and could help. At worst, you’ll still get a ticket and will not have harmed your cause, then or in court. At best, the officer may see you as deserving a break simply for not insulting the impartiality of his or her law enforcement.

The farther you are from home, the harder you should work not to be stopped. I know of towns in Washington that make their budgets from ticketing out-of-area drivers for whom it’s impractical to come back to contest a citation. That is pure evil; it is also reality. Don’t bother writing to the jurisdiction to ask for a change of venue closer to you; that’s basically asking an authoritarian state to choose to get less money when you have no power to compel it otherwise. Put another way, it’s like asking a drug gang for a charitable contribution to drug resistance education.

At night: driving anywhere late at night is automatically suspicious to law enforcement, especially if the officer is bored. Some consider it evidence of likely intoxication, as insane and fascist as that is. Police may tail you for no reason other than having driven past. There is no choice that automatically leads to no harassment; if you are obeying the law, you must be very eager to avoid being stopped, ergo, probably drunk. Driving under the limit? Must surely be drunk. Sticking to the limit like glue? Probably drunk. Speeding? Immediate probable cause, because that’s actually a violation. There are spots and times where the police actually stop everyone for DWI checks. That should cause a major uprising, but does not, to our national shame.

Speaking of that: not one drink. It’s tough on the bar industry, but the legal and moral DWI consequences are too great. Not one, before driving. My wife and I live by this rule. If she wants to go drinking with friends, I’m her cold sober taxi there and back, on call, happy to make sure she doesn’t ride home with a drunk friend. She does the same for me when I go to an event with drinking. If we’re together, one of us does not drink. It is fascist for the police to stop random people for DWI checks, but it is very legitimate for them to note clear evidence of drunk driving, and to get those people off the road and into jail. If you are parked at a bar, and you get into your car and drive away, it is very reasonable for the police to watch you for signs that you are driving and drinking. And if you are, you will deserve the ankle-grabbing bohica you’re about to receive.

If a cop is tailing you, and you can’t think of a sane reason the police would find you fascinating, I suggest pulling in at the nearest convenience store. Roll up all windows, lock your car, go in, and buy a snack. Come out, eat it in your car, and if the officer is still there when you’re done, then you know s/he just wants an excuse to bother you. If it were me, I’d just stay there until s/he went away. And if s/he finally came over to address me, I’d wait to see what it was about. “Why are you hanging around eating this in the parking lot?” S/he has no right to ask you that, or to bother you in any way, but if you say that to him or her, you’re on the pavement, right or wrong, fair or unfair, fascist or free. It’s safer to be honest: “Because if I drive while eating, that’s distracted driving, so I have to finish it first. I drive away, I could seem to be attempting to evade you, and that’s a bad idea, so I am waiting until you finish whatever your task is relative to me.”

And what if, despite all my warnings, the police officer who pulls you over is an honest and good cop, who has an excellent reason, and is prone to cut you a break if a ticket is not truly warranted? Then you will be fine, because you have not been rude, have not contradicted him or her, have not been difficult to stop, have not admitted outright guilt yet have not lied, and have behaved cooperatively up to the level the law requires. And those officers do exist, and not just one or two. In spite of the overall culture, there are still old school police who believe they are there to protect and serve, who help people chain up in blizzards, who refuse to stop people over bullshit, and who are the last people you want to alienate. So don’t. We need those police. Most of what I said about police is untrue of these old school cops. But they are human, with good days and bad, and are fighting the gravitational peer-pressure pull of police statism. By showing them respect, you do a little good for the world, giving them another reason not to be dragged into the mentality of civilian = enemy.

And if you know you were clearly in the wrong, be fair and adult. Even if you don’t get a break, the officer is not a bad cop for catching you doing something very wrong. Some bohicas are richly deserved. Suck it up, shut the hell up, sign the ticket without bitching, and learn the expensive lesson. If you ask the court for a mitigation hearing, your odds improve if the officer has reason to testify that you were polite and cooperative. If the officer doesn’t show up, all the judge has is the citation and you. If it says you were civil, and you tell the judge you had wished to question the officer about the citation, and the officer is not present (your lucky day), there’s a chance that the judge will dismiss your infraction. If it says you were hostile and belligerent, what do you think are your odds of getting the ticket tossed?

If a judge does dismiss your infraction, shut up in mid-word at that very instant. When His or Her Honor is done speaking, say, “Thank you, Your Honor,” and nothing else, unless the judge asks you a question. If s/he doesn’t, when you are dismissed, leave. “I find that there was no infraction” is a judicial statement that should put an immediate sock in your mouth, lest you change his or her mind. That also holds true for all conversations with the police; if the officer tells you that you are about to get a break, thank him or her, then say and do not one thing to change the officer’s mind.

Speaking of expensive lessons: insurance companies have hearts of granite, and they hire people who can do math. These are called actuaries, and their job is to predict risk based on what they know about you: age, gender, education, grades, marital status, etc. If you are young and male, you are higher risk, and will pay more. When you marry, your risk drops, as it does when you age (for me it was 25). So if you’re young, and especially if you’re male, you’re already paying more. This is neither stupid nor evil on the part of your insurance company, and that’s not a phrase I often write. Think on it: if they have excellent evidence that your demographic is prone to more dangerous driving, they are probably right about you as a representative. You should make extra effort to buck that trend and get to the downside of your twenties without a citation or accident.

I know you do not harbor the delusion that you can slide by without getting insurance, because everyone that dumb just said tl;dr and stopped reading a long time ago. It is true, though, that the typical (old, used, very hoopty) young person’s car isn’t worth buying collision coverage. Collision is the part that pays to fix your car, is optional (unlike the minimum coverages for your state, which are compulsory), and generally will not replace the vehicle if totaled. Insurance exists to protect value, so if there is no value to protect, why pay to do so?

So, in summary: be predictable, don’t jake on the important stuff, expect numerous idiots, and don’t aggro the cops–but don’t indict yourself, either.

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