by Kara Nelson
It was almost midnight when my plane landed at the Louis Armstrong International Airport. Even though I felt my lungs and my hair instantly fill with a ripely familiar swell of hot and humid New Orleans summer air as soon as I rolled my suitcase over the automatic-door threshold, I was still in a happy daze trying to savor the last remnants of cool, unencumbered relaxation from a week-long Vermont vacation that I didnt want to admit had officially ended.
I snapped out of it pretty quickly in the taxi line, however, when I saw the suspicious looking minivan the orange-vested woman with the walkie-talkie was directing me to get into.
You Are in Bad Hands . . . I read the words on the side of the van and then quickly scanned the area looking for an alternate, less foreboding means of transportation something more familiar, a yellow taxi maybe, or a black and white United Cab.
Nothing in sight.
Ignoring a cardinal rule of Lady Street Smarts 101, I was reluctant I to make a fuss or be impolite in any way. I thought, maybe if I text the van's license plate number to my boyfriend as soon as I get in, at least someone will have a clue when I go missing. But then I reasoned with myself: Surely a woman with a walkie-talkie and an orange vest would not be in on some airport death cab scheme. Right?
I hesitated a second longer and took another look at the words. You Are in Bad Hands with Allstate Insurance. Okay, maybe there was a story here just a colorful character and not a potentially dangerous psychopath. I got in.
"Welcome to New Orleans" he said as we pulled away from the terminal. I let him know that I was a local and then asked him about what was written on the side of his van. He told me that he had gotten so screwed by Allstate after Katrina that he named his company to warn others about how they treated their customers. He said he'd had an Allstate homeowners policy for 20-something years, but after everything got destroyed in the flood, they refused to cover the contents of his home, which included a room full of photography equipment that he used to make a living. He said that after over a year of battling it out with them (while living in a FEMA trailer), theyd finally reached a settlement but that it wasnt enough for him to buy new equipment which was why he was driving a cab.
He was an interesting and affable guy, and I was so intrigued by the fact that hed actually named his company You Are in Bad Hands with Allstate that a few days later I Googled him to find out if that was the official name of the business. After multiple searches, I came up empty, except for one blog entry by a woman whod had a similar airport experience with the guy. However, he told her that he was a homicide detective before the storm. Hmmmm.
Sure it is possible for one person to have had more than a few different jobs in his life, but still, I found the inconsistency to be another odd piece in this odd story. Then I started thinking maybe State Farm or some other insurance company is paying this guy under the table to drive around in an anti-Allstate van, telling various versions of his how-Allstate-screwed-me-over-after-Katrina story.
I would like to know more about this character and his company, but I dont really have a lot of spare time that Im willing to spend hanging out at the airport carport to track him down. Has anyone out there met this guy or ridden in the Bad Hands van? If so, Id love to hear from you.