Blog – Karma Cred

Okay, this one isn’t really a roadtrip story. But it’s about something involved in a roadtrip, and this is pretty much the only forum I’ve got for reliably whining to an audience larger than the dinner table, so I’m taking what I can get. 

The deal is this: you’ve heard the saying “Character is what you do when no one is looking”? Okay, now you have. Anyhow, you wrestle with doing the Right Thing, and, if you wrestle long enough, you usually do it. Right? There’s that little hit of satisfaction – maybe – for it, but then what? If you don’t get the big positive feedback juice, all the psychologists and neuroscientists in the world are going to tell you that this “behavior” (the Right Thing you did) is going to die off. And you’re less likely to do it again in the future.

The reason I’m telling you this is that I don’t want it to seem like I’m scratching for moral props here – I’m just being the socially conscious scientist telling you that, scientifically, the world will be a better place if you tell me what a deeply ethical person I am for giving a large faceless insurance company money that I didn’t have to. Or, you can have a good laugh at me for being an idiot – laughter is supposed to improve health and disposition toward kindness to others, so as far as global karma goes, it’s sort of a wash.


Last month, I was working out how to get myself up to Black Rock Desert for Burning Man. I’ve gotten into the habit of flying in, and spending all my time volunteering out at the airport giving rides around the playa to whomever I can. BM is a monstrous blog post in itself, one I’ll probably never get around to writing, just because it is such a not-from-this-planet experience that I don’t think I’m up to the task. But I’ve got a few pix from the most recent trip at

Last two times I flew up, I flew the Deb, a fast, comfortable four-seater I share with three other partners at Palo Alto. But the Deb’s kind of a sedan, and the playa really calls for a dune buggy. What I wanted to take was a Citabria – two seat runabout where you can pop the windows wide open and lean out. But that meant renting one. “Hi there – I’d like to take your pretty little airplane up to a hazardous desert environment of alkali duststorms that makes Dune looks like Waikiki. Yes, of course there’s a runway – it’s a strip of dust that’s been packed down by other the planes who landed before me. No, no one’s died flying there in at least a couple of years. Oh yea, I’ll be doing about a dozen takeoffs and landings there each day, giving rides to total strangers who I dearly hope are not psychotic, drunk or just plain dangerous.”

But you get the idea that it might be hard to find someone who’d be willing to let their pride and joy go on this well-conceived mission.

Amazingly, I found Zdravko and the folks at Amelia Reid Aviation were willing to work with me on this. Zdravko appeared to know the environment well. He asked all the right questions about high altitude experience, tailwheel time, exposure, etc. I offered to pay for complete professional cleaning, airfilter and oil change, as well as repacking the oh-so-exposed wheel bearings on my return, plus any incidental maintenance that we agreed needed to be done as a result of the trip. Plus, he wanted me to have renters insurance that covered the flight. Sealed the deal on a handshake, and I was set to go.

The insurance turned out to be a little trickier than I’d expected. The folks at AOPA insurance told me that their renters insurance covered landing at any “FAA-recognized airport”. Turns out that the FAA doesn’t actually “recognize” airports; that’s the job of the DOT. But a few conversations with the really truly helpful folks at the Reno FSDO convinced me that the AOPA policy would cover me. So I emailed and faxed in the various bits of my paperwork and initiated liability+hull damage coverage and was now insured, for a cost of about $350.

And off I went. As I said, I’m not actually going to write about BM here – it’s too odd a planet to get my words around right now, but let’s jsut say it was a good time, with a lot of challenging flying. There were no injuries at the airport (haven’t been any for as long as I’ve been flying in) but there were a couple of planes that flew in that didn’t fly out, and won’t ever fly again. All in all, though, a good time was had. I returned Zdravko’s plane to him, forked over the money for flight, fuel and the necessary maintenance, and chalked it up as a fine, if expensive adventure.

About a week ago, though, I got a letter in the mail. It turns out that I’d failed to fill in one of the signatures the insurance folks needed in order to bind my policy into effect. If I didn’t get them the signature within a few days, they’d cancel my policy.

You see where this is going, right? The trip was done, and nothing had happened on it – I didn’t actually need the insurance anymore. If I did nothing, they’d cancel my policy, presumably refund the money, and I’d have dodged the whole insurance problem scot-free. Of course, I’d verbally entered into the contract with them in good faith – if it had been with an individual, there’d be no question in my mind that I’d feel committed. But they’re a large faceless insurance company. And as such, I have no doubt that in the event of an accident they’d be happy to sell me downriver if they found one uncrossed “t” or undotted “i” in my paperwork.


It’s too long to pull the “to make a long story short” thang, but, after a couple of days of waffling, I went ahead and sent them that signature.

Maybe I’ve made a little tiny deposit in my bank account of global karma credit. Maybe I’m a sucker. But it seemed like the Right Thing to do. Anyhow. And it wasn’t really throwing money away – I’m now covered for aircraft rental for the rest of the year (though I don’t rent all that much). And I do get to blog about feeling high-minded and righteous. But one thing – if you work for AOPA Insurance and happen to be reading this? You owe me a little karma cred, dudes.

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