Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Triple A Blues

Life's a reach and then you gybe.

So there I was on Tuesday morning, driving to the lake with the beautiful Tillerwoman by my side, my fast shiny Laser on the trailer behind us, thinking back to the post I wrote earlier about how much sailing I was doing lately, and looking forward to the long-distance race around the reservoir and the picnic and barbecue to follow, feeling mellow and self-satisfied and in the slow living fast sailing groove... when all of a sudden there's a kind of jingling noise from the back of the car.

I stop and pull over off the highway. Hmmm. It's not one of the safety chains dangling on the road. Oh no - much worse than that. The single leaf spring on one side of the trailer has snapped. The tire is already shredding the plastic fender to smithereens. And we're stuck. Like any good sailor my thoughts immediately turn to duct tape. No. Don't think duct tape is going to cut it this time. Other options? Abandon the trailer by the side of the road, drive home, fetch another trailer to pick up the boat, come back again with the second trailer to carry the first trailer? Complicated.

So I phone AAA. For the non-Americans reading this, AAA is the nationwide roadside emergency recovery service in the USA. I've been paying over $100 a year for their Plus Enhanced Super Duper Get-You-Home-Fast service or whatever it's called and never had to use them before. Now's the time to get my money's worth.

While I'm waiting for AAA to answer, a state trooper pulls up behind us and hails us on his car's loud-hailer, "Do you need any assistance?"

Not having a loud hailer as part of my car's standard equipment, I start to walk back to him to engage in a person-to-person as opposed to car-to-car conversation, when he suddenly turns on his flashing blue lights, hails, "I'll be back," and disappears in hot pursuit of some transgressing vehicle that he has spotted.

In a surprisingly short time, no longer than a couple of aeons, AAA answers the phone and a nice lady asks how she can help me.

"I'm in New Jersey on route 78 westbound at mile 24 and I'm towing a boat trailer and the leaf spring has broken so we're disabled."

"Which state is that in?"

Uh oh. Now we're really in trouble. I wonder for a while if I'm talking to some call center in India.

"Um, actually New Jersey IS a state."

"Oh. I'm in Michigan. I wonder why you got through to me."

So she's not in Mumbai. I marvel at the wonder of an American (she sounds American anyway) who doesn't recognize the names of all fifty states. Don't they all learn the state capitals too in fifth grade? OK, I can forgive someone for thinking that West Virginia is only a country song. But New Jersey? Come on people. It's July 4th. Much of the Revolutionary War was fought here. The Statue of Liberty is here. (Check a chart of New York Harbor if you don't believe me.) Simon and Garfunkel had a song about counting the cars here. In any case I'm dependent on this geographically challenged lady for my recovery.

After another couple of aeons and much polite chit chat about my accent and where I'm from and so on and so on, my new friend in Michigan manages to locate New Jersey on a map and even finds the road I'm on.

"So what city are you in?"

"I'm not in a city - I'm in the middle of nowhere at mile 24 on route 78."

Michigan Mary finally deduces to her satisfaction that I'm actually in the "City of Lebanon." OK, if it makes her happy. As long as she doesn't send the tow vehicle to the "State of Beirut." She then asks if it's OK if she puts me on hold while she transfers me to one of her colleagues in New Jersey. Fine.

So there I am waiting by the side of the road for a lifetime or two listening to the AAA recorded Michigan Muzak until Nancy from New Jersey comes on the line. I explain my predicament and then she tells me that AAA only covers car breakdowns not trailers, so I'm not covered. But she can give me the number of a local towing service if it's OK if she puts me on hold while she looks for it.

So there I am still waiting by the side of the road, while a couple of galaxies form and die, listening to the New Jersey AAA recorded messages telling me about what a great service they provide and how I can book a cruise or a trip to Europe or get my toenails cleaned through them. (I may have imagined that last bit). But apparently paying for a tow vehicle to recover a broken trailer is not part of the service that I've paid two thousand bucks for over the last few years. Nor apparently is finding that phone number of the tow service before a significant percent of the life of the solar system has elapsed.

I'm still on hold with Nancy and the recorded messages about rotating your tires and flossing your teeth or whatever when the state trooper comes back. With the phone in one ear I explain my predicament. "Oh, I can get you a tow service," he says. He goes back to his car, makes the call, returns and says the towing service will be here "momentarily". I hang up with AAA in the middle of a recorded message about life insurance for pets and thank him profusely.

And he was right. A truck arrives in a few minutes and we quickly winch the boat and trailer on to the flatbed and we're on our way home. It wasn't free. It wasn't cheap. But it was fast and friendly and efficient.

I never thought I'd say it but I love the New Jersey State Police. What service!

And AAA sucks.

How was your Independence Day? Better than mine I hope.


Anonymous said...

That stinks. I have BoatUS's trailering coverage package as part of my tow coverage. I've never needed either :D but Murphy's law says if i didn't have it, I would need it.

AAA's standard and plus memberships don't cover trailers, but their RV and RV plus memberships do. Go figure.

Not as bad as Carol Anne's Fourth as you have no holes in your Laser...

Zen said...

Yeah, you can get BoatUS trailer coverage alot cheaper than RV coverage, of course once you do , you will never need it. Weird how that works. Some type of cosmic insurance plan I guess. They should give some type of rebate if you do not use your insurance for a claim after 2 yrs.
Of course I am a dreamer.

and it could have been worse, you left your trailer, to go get another and when you came back. there were only tire marks...

Tillerman said...

Yes Zen - I certainly wasn't happy to leave my trailer by the side of the road and the state trooper wasn't too crazy about that suggestion either.

I looked at BoatUS and their trailer program only costs $29 per year. Seems like a good deal except the limit on coverage is $150 and this is the first time I've needed it in about 15 years of towing boats in this country.

Ben said...

Bummer. I don't know who handles your auto insurance, but I use USAA. They'd come pick me up if I were hitchhiking and I stubbed my toe. And it costs me $4 a year in addition to my auto insurance policy.

Glad the friendly officer actually showed up to serve and protect like they are supposed to.

Tell AAA to go suck an egg. If you've been paying that much for that long, any decent company would figure out a way to help you (and quickly). I'd send them a letter too, giving them one last chance to retain your business. I bet you get a letter of apology, and a check to cover your expenses for the tow.

Carol Anne said...

We once had a similar experience, in West Texas, just south of the New Mexico state line. It didn't involve a trailer, but the AAA call center couldn't figure out where we were (we knew what highway we were on, and what mile marker we were at, and the historical marker at the pullout where we were, but the AAA people needed the location of a landline telephone to pinpoint us, and we were on a cell).

Eventually, after a lengthy discussion during which the AAA person was unable to get a pinpoint location sufficient for AAA to find us, the AAA dispatcher gave us a number for the Texas Highway Patrol. We called that number, and within seconds, we were connected with a wrecker who worked regularly with the Highway Patrol -- he used to be a state trooper himself, and he has a couple of relatives on the force. He towed our vehicle 400 miles to the nearest shop that could do the repairs (he phoned several shops to find one that could), and he charged far less than I would have thought the tow should cost -- a mere $800.

We do still have AAA, because we do get good service in the city. But for on the road, we now use Flying J -- yeah, the truck stop people -- they know how to deal with trailers and long-distance hauling, and we get a discount on fuel.

And based on our experiences in Texas, if you don't subscribe to a roadside breakdown service, calling the local highway patrol or depertment of public safety should get you a referral to somebody who's responsive and not too expensive, even if he is somebody's brother-in-law.

Anonymous said...

When I buy something I usually read the membership booklet that explains everything that is covered, then I pay the $100 a year.

Anonymous said...

You would be pleased to know that some AAA buys houses for their some of theiir top brass and they pay their Board of directors as much as $40,000 per year to come to meetings and dinners ( it varies per club).

In addition if you look at the names of who who runs the clubs you will see many of the same last names because of rampant nepotism.

They always shout out they are "not for profit" organization but that is far from truth. They screw the contractors and try like hell to not provide service for their members. oh and usually the President of each club is paid 50 cents to a dollar per member (depends on the AAA) each year. so if you have a million members in you area then ..well you do the math.

Anonymous said...

I am An AAA contractor in MI an will clear a couple things up. 1. AAA pays 28.00 a run plus miles to and towed. i charge 60.00 for the same call. AAA does not cover trailers. A plus card gets you 100 miles, tire change on a dualy(outer one only) or tire change on a RV. A RV is a vehicle that you can sleep, cook and bathroom. boats are not aloud. why would i except 28.00 when you are in a jam?

So what i said makes you Mad??? You did not pay me a dollar, why are you mad that I will not help you with that AAA card. Tell AAA. That is who you chose to pay. NOT ME.

Now you want help. So we reason. I want to get payed and you don't want to be playing AAA games. So I tow your car Truck SUV to a waiting Mechinac that can fix you up. You pay me. Your insurane company or agent (as long as it is not AAA) Remburses you for my service. I pay 14.00 a year for towing on my vehices. Oh one thing, since i am working for you A write the recipt for towing--trailer, truck, boat, I don't care. What you do have towing on? AAA limits how many times you can break down too. 4 is all you get.

I keep AAA contract to keep the competiion away. There a many other issues with AAA but that is the main one.

Anonymous said...

i love it when totally unprepared ignorant lost souls call into aaa not knowing where they are and they happen to be standing in a gas station parking lot. the best part about my job is listening to people groan and complain for 5 minutes after telling me their crappy cell phone battery is dying. but hold on there's more. the aaa quote of the year... drumroll... "anyone from this area will know where it is." that's after telling me that they are at a gas station on whatever road. we can't get a driver out to you if you don't tell us where you are!! and everything has a darn city! EVERYTHING!! i don't care if you are in a cow pastur with a couple of bugs it is in a city!! i swear it's like pulling teeth trying to get you people to cooperate so that we can get you located and get help to you. we don't ask those questions because we enjoy listening to the sound of your voice. locating, dispatching and towing a vehicle is a process and in order to get that done in an efficient SAFE manner we need a location and all information about the vehicle. we have thousands of calls a day all over the country and we can't memorize every location in the known universe!!! if you are at a business GET THE flaming address!! stop complaining about the wait time and be prepared to give your location when we ask for it!! stop ask us why we are asking you about the last city you were in or how long you've driven or what land marks you see. that helps us FIND you. and LISTEN TO THE DIALOG! it's there to remind you to have your darn membership card ready so we can get this call going. and i'm sorry, but if you are to stupid or lazy to read your benefits package then tough. YOU'RE NOT COVERED!! we don't cover trailers people!!!! we cover campers and trailers with living quarters!!! you know what? it doesn't matter because you people will ALWAYS find something to complain about. i'm sorry if you had to wait at home safe and comfy because we had to divert our driver to someone who is stranded on a speeding highway. we could be magically transporting people and their crappy vehicles off the road in 30 seconds with hot cocoa and beer and they would still moan and groan about somthing. you people are crazy! absolutely crazy! and complete low-brows! i had a male call in to say that we should place his call as a priority because we didn't pick him up on time one night when his tow truck driver was shot in the head. oh excuse me, i'm sorry you had to wait a couple of hours while we desperately tried to locate our driver to see if he was okay. i hope you sit out there and rot you piece of crap! you people call in cussing us out because you were stupid and didn't maintain your vehicles or can't drive and ran into a hole. and stop complaining abut how we verify your membership. jesus that's how we keep people from stealing your service calls and it helps keep the wait time down. how would you feel if we sent service to someone who has not paid the membership you have been paying? we understand you are stranded and upset, but we can't help you if you don't cooperate people. one last thing. if you lock your child in the darn car BREAK THE DARN WINDOW!!

Anonymous said...

I just got my AAA card in the mail. I called AAA to upgrade my plan the the RV Plus Plan to cover my motorcycle. The woman I spoke to tells me they don't cover motorcyces. WTF! I had that pacakage a few years ago and it covered my motorcycle and now they tell me they don't cover motorcycles??? Oddly enough other states do have an RV Plus package which DOES include motorcycles. AAA New Jersey Sucks! I WILL be canceling my membership!

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