Umbrella Insurance, Teenagers, Driving, and No More Houston

“Lawyers. We’re like health insurance. Hope you never need it. But man-o-man, not havin’ it?” – Better Call Saul


Artist Conception of my wreck in Houston. Man, I want to drive a Monster Truck in traffic, just once!

It was a wet, hot, humid day in Houston.

But every day in Houston is like that.  One thing we noticed after we’d lived there, oh, two hours is that it’s always hot and humid out, like being forced to live in Rosie O’Donnell’s armpit, except Houston smells less like Cheetos™.

True story:  one spring day after we’d lived there for over a year I got up to mow the yard.  I was shocked to find that a northern dry wind had blown in during the night and the humidity was about 30%.  It was about 60˚F out at 8AM (that’s 7.431 PM in metric).  I was shocked because I had never seen a better day in Houston.  It was the perfect day to go to the park, or go do something outside.  The Mrs. especially hated Houston’s climate, probably exacerbated by her love of Alaska’s climate and the icewater that flows through her veins instead of blood.

I went inside, full of enthusiasm, and exclaimed to The Mrs., “Honey, we’ve got to go do something today, it’s beautiful outside!”

The Mrs., voice dripping with cynicism:  “I have only your word for that.”

But this wasn’t that day, it was six months later.  It was a hot, humid day, like almost every day.  And it was raining for the first time in about a month, a slow drizzle that started about an hour before I left the 35th floor of the shining office tower for the day.

Driving home meant Houston traffic.  And on this day, it was fairly light.  To get to the highway, I first had to merge onto the frontage road, which generally meant getting some speed up so that you didn’t commit the traffic foul of slowing everyone up, which I think condemns you to traffic hell, which is kinda like regular hell, but with more sitting and listening to Bob Segar, forever.

I looked in front of me, and there was only a Volvo getting ready to merge into traffic, but there was a gap larger than a Texan Prom Queen’s hair, meaning he just had to get going and he’d be merged without an issue.

I looked to the left to see if I’d have a similar gap.  I saw that I would have a great gap, if I was going just a little bit faster.

I hit the accelerator to get to merging speed.

The Volvo® was still there, so instead of merging speed, it was now ramming speed.

I hit the brakes, since surely there was enough road to stop.

There was on any other day but this one.  As I mentioned, it hadn’t rained in about a month.  I have no idea what builds up on the concrete roadway during that time – it might be snail snot? –  but when you add the right amount of water like on this misty, hot, drizzly day?  It was slicker than a Yankee banker covered in Teflon©.


My airbag deployed, but I was fine, I have massive, bulging arms, so it was more likely the steering wheel would break than my sternum.

I jumped out of the car and went to the person in the Volvo, a guy of about 28.  Houston loves people who are 28, since they can work 14 hour days for months without end.  “I’m sorry! That was my fault! Are you okay?”

I know that my insurance company would rather beg to differ that it was my fault, but, really, if you’re rear ended?  It’s the idiot behind you who is at fault.

And this was my day to be that idiot.

“Are you okay?”

He was still a little stunned, the way everyone is after a wreck, which is exactly the way that Johnny Manziel must always feel.

“Yeah, I am.”

“I’m just glad you’re not hurt.”

After a wreck in Houston, unless one of you has been decapitated, you drive to a police substation and fill out an accident report.  We exchanged insurance information, and drove to fill out the report.

After filling out our information, I said, “I’m just glad no one was hurt.”

“Now that you mention it,” he said, “my neck is sore . . . .”  I’m not sure how much my face gave away, but he quickly stopped there, “No man, it’s fine.  I was just joking.”

Whew.  Fortunately for me, he really was fine, because I wasn’t insured well enough for him to be injured, and in that moment I knew it.

When I was just out of college, I kept all of my car insurance at the minimum required by law.  My theory was that if they sued me, they couldn’t take anything from me unless they wanted part of my debt.  The only time you’re really immune to lawsuits is when you have nothing worth taking.  But now I had actual cash in my bank account, and my only debt was part of my mortgage.

Not good.  If Mr. Volvo had really been injured?  Ouch.  I was lucky!

The next week I realized just how big my luck was.  My brother, John Wilder (don’t ask), has a son who was injured in a motorcycle accident where he wasn’t at fault.  He wasn’t hurt especially badly, but his medical bills had already surpassed $78,000 and they were suing the driver.

I called my insurance company and upped my coverage.  A lot.  So I was a little safer, right?

I moved out of Texas and into Upper Southeast Midwestia.  One night while drinking beer and burning a brush bonfire in my backyard, my next door neighbor (for whom my family must be a nightmare) and I were talking about our youthful misadventures.  He told a rather delightful story of how he and his friends were throwing dirt clods at one another.  No, it wasn’t last week, it was when he was nine.

(For the benefit of those who have never left the concrete of our big cities, a dirt clod is dried mud, much softer than a rock, but much harder than your life has ever been.)

Everyone was throwing clods at everyone, in what was a fairly common experience back before the Safety Moms clamped down.

One boy, my neighbor’s best friend, got hit.  He had to go to the hospital.  Guess who got sued?  My neighbor’s parents, because they owned a bank.  My neighbor confided in me that he had an umbrella policy that covered him for $1,000,000, mainly to cover him against the future misdeeds of his son.

The Boy probably won’t cause that kind of havoc, but I have to worry about Pugsley, who, in a good natured goof that no one would hold against him, might cause Canada to fall into a black hole.  Oops!

Okay, I called my insurance company and the next day I had a $2,000,000 umbrella policy.  It costs about $200 a year.  I did have to upgrade my homeowner’s insurance and my car insurance, but that’s fine.  I actually never calculated the percentage increase, because the peace of mind was so great.

Lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Minimum insurance is awesome, as long as you don’t own anything. Once you have a nest egg?  Insurance is cheap.
  2. The amount of coverage can be as much as, or more than your net worth. They have to go through State Farm® to get to you.
  3. I like oxygen. No real relationship to the topic, but I thought a third point would be more visually appealing.

It’s my personal opinion, for me (as my lawyer, Lazlo made me write, because he was assigned to me by my insurance company) that insurance makes sense if you have assets, drive, or have teenage sons and don’t want to be bankrupt because Laura-Lou and Cletus have a great lawyer.

On the bright side?  We don’t live in Houston anymore.

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom – How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.