'Oooooh, man, yoo ahr focked!"
"Should I even report it?"
"That, I would."
I'm standing in the early morning at the airport with fellow drivers we'll call Einar, Jimmy and Pete.
"They'll see that for sure. You can't hide it," Jimmy said. You knew he was right.
I had hit a mailbox reversing out of a cul-de-sac early that morning. After delivering my customers to their destination, I drove straight to the airport for a driver "consultation."
"It was pitch dark and I was tired," I said.
"Doon't tal dem thet!" Einar warned.
"Tell them what?"
"Thet yoor tie-rd." Everyone looked down at their feet.
A small indentation and black scratch over the right tail-light were visible on my cab, and I'd have to report it to those who we'll call Eddie and Roger, back at the office. They'd want details, then discuss repairs, and hit me with a stiff AR. That meant "accounts receivable," or what I would have to pay, added to my weekly lease. At least the mailbox was OK.
Jimmy started right in: "Eddie's a fucking asshole. This is how they make their money."
The guys were about to explain. I would have to learn.
"They're gonna wanna replace this whole panel, I guarantee it," Jimmy began, waving his empty hand over the damage. "They're gonna charge you for all this." He looked at Pete. "What do you think?"
Pete said, more sympathetically, "You may want to take that somewhere first before you show it to them. I think you should take it to an independent place, get them to give you an opinion about how much it costs, and what they'll do, and then when you go to Roger and Eddie and they try to screw you, you can say, 'No, look this guy said he can do it for a hundred and fifty.'"
The guys had a way of circling me and then stepping forward to deliver their information, and stepping away after, to see how I'd take it. Like some kind of initiation.
"My fear is they'll make me pay for it rather than call on their insurance," I said. "The deductible may be lower, but they'll ask me to pay for it, anyway." I was catching on.
"You know, they hit me up for $700 for a bumper," Pete added hotly. "And they charged me $175 to paint it, when it costs $200 to paint the whole car." He was getting mad, thinking about it. "Yeah, you're screwed, man. Roger and Eddie, they make money off all our asses."
Einar stepped in, "Theese feex-it panel, not new panel. Feex-it panel. Bondo," he insisted.
Bondo is a cheap body repair material that covers damaged areas and is sanded down smooth, then painted.
"Talk to Eddie," Jimmy said.
"NO, NO, NO," Einar countered. "Don't talk Eddie. Eddie say, 'Oh! We will feex it,' six hundred dollar. He try reep off people. He try reep off me. I park my car, somebody heet me. He tell me he put new bumper. No. I look down, theese is focking Bondo."
"He just repaired it," Jimmy confirmed.
"Yes! Right! Come, I show," Einar demanded.
We walked over to Einar's cab to look. Bending over his lower rear bumper, he pointed at the repaired area. If he didn't point at it, you'd never see it, a faint oval shadow beneath the surface coat.
"Bondo!" Jimmy shouted. "As in Marlon."
"Who?" Einar asked.
"On the Waterfront. Skip it."
I felt nauseated, down on one knee, examining the patched area.
"Alright," I finally muttered, rising to my feet.
The ritual was over and I walked back to my cab, got in behind the wheel, and shut the door to collect myself.
A small plane shot into the sky. In 20 minutes or so, a commercial flight from Dallas would arrive, and we'd all move on with passengers of our own. But for now, I was left to deal with the reality of being an "independent contractor," and whatever "freedom" that's supposed to imply.