Insure Thing

Farm report: We've lived through some of these, um, manipulations at the hands of State Farm ("Snake Killer," Laura Laughlin, November 16). We see these abuses every day, at the hands of many insurance companies. Consumers of my industry's wares and members of my industry alike are made to suffer. The consumer fraud is immeasurable.

I'm in Illinois but I am a former resident of Phoenix. I moved to Springfield about 10 years ago to help my father with his collision repair shop. In standing up for ourselves and for the consumer, we made friction with State Farm, eventually leading to litigation against the practices of the company. On October 18, we emerged victorious with (much to our surprise) a $24.3 million jury award. Through the years of gathering the documentation necessary and through common trauma of the abuses, we have established quite the loose network of truly stellar people willing to stand up for what is right. I must say that you did an excellent job with your coverage inasmuch as you mentioned most of the people we've grown to know.

Perhaps with the help of folks like you, the consuming public will see a bit more of what was promised in their policies, and third-party insurers will be less likely to act in a similar manner. All we ever wanted is what is fair. Thank goodness for guys like Cal Thur.

Know that there is still more out there.

Wade Ebert
via Internet

Claim dumper: Your article was a disturbing awakening to the practices of my insurance company. I appreciate the effort that you have put in to the story and realize the guts required to go after such a large company. Honestly, I can't understand how this company is still in business. Arizona insurance officials should seriously look into the tactics of the "good neighbor" and revoke its privileges to offer policies in this state. As of tomorrow, I will be searching for a new insurance company.

Name withheld by request

Fang mail: I forwarded your article to every attorney I know. Great article, well done. Sorry state of affairs, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Your paper is to be commended for publishing this; most papers would run the other way.

I own a body shop and deal with all insurers, so I know firsthand the practices many insurers follow throughout the country.

Roy Smalley
Carrollton, Texas

Snake oil: I recently read your story regarding State Farm Insurance Co. I must say, I was impressed with both the depth and breadth of the reporting involved. Additionally, the writing was first-rate. I offer this compliment, not as a simple "State Farm insured," but as a chiropractic physician who has dealt with State Farm in court and in claims review. I'm particularly impressed with the time and lead chasing I'm sure this story involved, and with the grasp of the nuance that the insurer "drags its feet" until the insured feels fortunate to settle for any amount.

Nick St. Hilaire
St. Albans, Vermont

Speaking Volumes

Noise job: I just want to congratulate you on a virtually spectacular job with the article about Alma and Patrick Gates ("Big Audio Dynamite," James Hibberd, November 9). I have talked to Alma Gates on many occasions, mostly by Internet or the www.Termpro.com chat room. I have yet to meet "The Queen of Car Audio," but I cannot wait until I do. Alma Gates is the person who inspired me to get into car audio and to love the sport that's in a class of its own.

This article gave me a reason to love car audio and competing. I am not a dB Drag Racing competitor just yet. I am in the process of building a car for the Super Street 1-2 Class. I am constantly told I'm crazy by anyone who asks what I am doing.

Mike Zadler

Deaf threat: The event described in your article reminded me of a similar event I attended some 25 years ago. Namely, a tractor pull contest at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. Needless to say, the sound created by these competitors within the confines of an arena was deafening. I haven't attended such an event since, and have no desire to do so. The only statement in the entire article that made any sense to me was the quote: "It's a really stupid show. It's completely idiotic." Why anyone would become so obsessed with a "hobby" deliberately calculated to annoy is beyond me.

Incidentally, for those dedicated to this pastime, they still have a ways to go to equal the sound effect of a U.S. Air Force vehicle tested back in the early 1950s. The Air Force converted two F-84F Thunderstreak jet fighters to test nearly 6,000 horsepower turboprop engines for supersonic flights. One undesirable side effect of the installation was that the sound waves generated by the supersonic propeller blades rendered the ground crew nauseous! The program was eventually terminated, but the last I knew, one of the test aircraft was mounted on a pylon at the entrance to the Bakersfield, California, airport -- perhaps we'll see "boomers" visiting the site to pay homage to the pioneers of their "craft."

The potentially lethal side effects of these devices suggest a practical application -- as more effective deterrents to capital crime than our current "humane" methods of punishment. After all, potential criminals might think twice if threatened with being locked inside one of these vehicles and pulverized with high dB sound waves "until dead" -- shades of Outland or Mad Max (Judge Roy Bean probably would have been thrilled!). Another potentially lucrative sideline for these vehicles would be rental as "mobile payback devices" to municipalities plagued by nuisance noise complaints (i.e., barking dogs, loud stereos, etc.). This probably would prove a lot more effective than fines or repeated warnings!

T.J. Gibson

Insight Straight

Faithing facts: I read Amanda Scioscia's article on the Landmark Forum ("Drive-thru Deliverance," October 19). I needed some time to digest what I read, but I knew I needed to respond.

I attended the Landmark Forum back in March. Because I am a creature of habit -- and being human, I am also quite skeptical about things -- there were times when Landmark caused me to feel a bit uncomfortable as it urged me to live and think outside the box for three-plus days. I have to say that my Landmark experience was not quite that of Amanda's. Her article was strictly her own paradigm, and not necessarily truth at all. I noticed that the people who were most uncomfortable with Landmark were the people who did not look inside of themselves too often, and those who, when they did, did not like what they saw.

Maybe things were too ugly and difficult to deal with, and when Landmark shoves that in your face, you will naturally get Amanda-like reactions. I reacted like that at first, too. What we are not facing in life is what holds us back, and that is when we find ourselves stuck -- stagnant and unfulfilled.

I got a lot out of the Landmark Forum. My relationships are different, my conversations with people are different. I see possibility that I did not see before.

Name withheld by request

Return to Rescinder

Tanks again: Okay, I understand, there was a mistake that was made by our elected politicians ("What a Gas!" John Dougherty, October 12). The legislators approved a bill that is going to cost the state a great deal of money. Have any of us regular people (not politicians) ever signed a contract for the purchase of anything, or membership in a health club? Or what about a lease deal? Then did you go back to say you did not read the small print or you have overbudgeted yourself and you just will not be able to afford the expense? What happened, do I need to ask? You had to pay the piper.

There are many of us who could not have afforded to purchase a vehicle of this magnitude and cost without the help of the state's alternative-fuel vehicle program. Now, the same legislators who approved this lucrative package are going to vote on rescinding the deal. Why? Because they made a mistake. They did not read the small print and they overbudgeted. What about us, the people who were told that it is a safe deal and good for Arizonans? We the people, who took advantage of the alt-fuel program, are the ones who have to give back what was offered to us. We the people, according to our attorney general, have no legal right in this matter. The lawmakers will take away what was given to us by law. We the people do not make the laws; the legislators make and change them. They can change things by a stroke of a pen to correct their mistake. Who are really the ones to pay for this decision?

The people can also change things by a stroke of a pen. The time will come when the people do have a legal right and will be able to pay back the legislators by our right given to us by the Constitution. And, believe us, we will not be confused by this ballot.

James Garofalo
Fountain Hills

Wine and Razzes

Sour grape: I just wanted to make a comment on your estimation of restaurant wine costs and pours ( Spice, Carey Sweet, November 9). Most restaurants maintain about a 33 percent cost of sales, not a 33 percent markup. That means most restaurants average a 300 percent markup on wines, and, as your article notes, a larger markup on the least expensive wines. Wines by the glass often average about 400 percent, especially at the lower end. In other words, what you're paying for one glass is what the restaurant paid for the bottle. When was the last time you saw Beringer White Zinfandel under $4 a glass, and the wine costs the restaurant $4 per bottle?

Many restaurants decrease that markup as the dollars increase, as they are happy with the dollar return on a $70 cost wine and bypass the percentage markups. The other restaurants, particularly high-end and corporately controlled restaurants, keep that 300 percent markup all the way up the wine list. In my opinion, you can learn a lot about a restaurant by reviewing the wine pricing. Take a look at Morton's, Ruth's Chris, or Roy's. Keep in mind next time you review a wine list that Opus One is about $70 and Dom Perignon costs about $85. Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay is under $9 and is one of the few competitively priced wines because everyone knows the approximate cost and what the restaurant down the street is charging for the same wine.

Wine pricing is a funny thing in an upscale restaurant. If you, as the manager, find a terrific value wine that you can offer at $5 per glass (assuming a $5 bottle cost), you'll likely find you can sell more glasses if you price it around $8 or $9, or in the neighborhood of your premium offerings. This especially applies in Scottsdale. Many wine buyers don't want "value" -- they want a good product and the prestige that comes with it. Many other French champagnes in blind tastings consistently outscore Dom Perignon, but what is the bottle you see at every celebration, or in any scene on television, live or scripted?

So what's a wine lover to do? Patronize restaurants like Tempe's House of Tricks with an extensive wine list of reasonably marked-up wines. Or clear out your Amex Gold before you visit Morton's class restaurants.

What do I do? I live with the facts. I enjoy finer wines and pay the accompanying price. It's just a game, the way that restaurant business is done. And if I choose Ruth's or Roy's, I'm not going to sit there and enjoy water with lemon (by the way, if you're enjoying wine, skip that lemon in the water. It'll skewer the flavors). I'll pay the price. But I'll also be longing for House of Tricks.

Alex Neville


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