Jean's View: A ferry story for adults

By Jean Godden

There was a low tide at noon that Friday in May -- minus 1.5 feet, as I recall.

Anxious to reach my weekend retreat on Lummi Island, I had driven past Bellingham to Gooseberry Point. From there I planned to take the Whatcom Chief, the small county ferry that travels once an hour to the island.

I pulled into line at the ferry dock, where I could count 20 cars ahead of me -- almost at capacity for the tiny Chief.

With the tide so far out, the ferry bobbed, low in the water, its landing ramp perilously close to perpendicular. The line of cars moved ahead and it looked like I might make that run, perhaps the last car to board.

I finally reached the top of the steel ramp and inched ahead, only to have the gate suddenly swing down, crashing onto the hood of my car. It hit with jarring impact.

Just then, the ferry worker looked up and saw my predicament. It was obvious he had closed the gate prematurely, unable to spot my car. When he realized his error, he raised the gate and waved me forward.

After I pulled in, the worker stood by my window apologizing. He said that, with the water so low and the ramp so steep, he had simply failed to see my car. By then the ferry was pulling out of the slip and my passenger and I were on deck examining my car hood. We could see several parallel scrapes, perhaps a dozen.

The worker, a pleasant young man, took pictures of the damage, recorded my name and license number. He gave me a printed sheet with details on how to file a claim.

Rats. A hassle ahead, I thought. The sheet directed me to call Whatcom County Public Works to request a claim form. Instructions said I must fill in the form and attach pictures of the damage along with two repair estimates.

Come Monday, I called the county and quickly received an emailed claim form. What I needed now were two estimates.

Four days later I was seated in the office of a North End auto body shop, explaining the freak accident and asking for an estimate. The very professional adjuster examined the damage and came back with a detailed estimate: $1,106.87, an amount that including wet sanding, buffing, primer, corrosion protection and tint, with the possibility of an increased amount for blending into fenders. The job would take two days.

My second trip was to a nearby repair shop, a busy place where I waited some time for an adjuster. After hearing my story, he gave me an itemized estimate of $698.91.
That included labor, paint, supplies and a charge for "hazardous waste disposal."

The two estimates -- $400 apart -- left me perplexed. Given such a large gap, I decided to seek yet another bid.

My uneasiness took me to a third repair shop, this one on a busy street in Seattle's University District.

It was late afternoon as I entered the office and encountered three men handling the phones. I said I needed an estimate for some damage caused by an accident at a ferry landing.

"Do you have an appointment?" asked one annoyed-looking fellow. I admitted I didn't, but pleaded that the website said they were open until 5 p.m. More exasperation.

I was preparing to leave when a worker appeared from within and asked to look at the car which I had parked out front. He peered at the scratches and returned with a yellow greasy paste and a small hand tool. Without a by-your-leave, he bent over the hood and began to work intently.

I thought he was still assessing the damage. But, within 10-15 minutes, he turned to me and said in a faint but clipped English accent, "Do you see any damage?"

I looked over the car's hood and had to admit that it seemed good as new -- maybe better since the car had been dusty when I brought it in.

"That's amazing," I said. "Please give me the bill," I added, fingering my purse.

"No bill," he protested. I tried to insist but he was adamant: "There is no charge."

I thanked him -- couldn't thank him enough. Not only did I have a repaired car, but a great story to tell and a future recommendation. For anyone who asks: get three estimates; one may be $0.

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