The rain was picking up and the wind had kicked into a low, steady howl when my boyfriend came home with the bad news.
“Our homeowner’s insurance kicked us off their policy five days ago,” he said, “and didn’t even notify us.”
I looked up from the book I was reading and raised one eyebrow. At least, I tried to raise one eyebrow. I keep trying to imitate that incredulous, one-eyebrow-raised look, so perfectly done in movies. But both of my eyebrows shoot up, every time.
“They cancelled our coverage?” I asked. “How? Why?” Thunder boomed. It was louder than it had been a few minutes ago. The storm was coming closer.
“After covering our home for six months, they did a periodic review and decided we were a ‘commercial’ property rather than ‘residential’,” he said. “So they dropped us five days ago.”
We own a triplex — a three-unit building, filled with tenants. Perhaps that’s why they consider us ‘commercial.’
We plan on moving into the largest unit this fall, when the current tenant’s lease expires. Until then, we’re renting an apartment across the street.
“What’s annoying is that they didn’t notify me,” he continued. “If I hadn’t happened to call the insurance company today, I never would have known.”
“Why did you call?” I asked. Outside, the wind was howling louder. Rain, which minutes ago had been coming down as a normal spring shower, started pounding the pavement more fiercely.
“I wanted to ask about their auto insurance,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could get a cheaper plan through them. So I called my agent, and he had no idea our homeowner’s policy was cancelled, either. He pulled our file and then became really flustered. Said he’d have to talk to his supervisor and call me back.”
“When he called back,” my boyfriend continued, “he said they already cancelled our policy. Our agent seemed mad that they didn’t bother telling anyone — not even him, whose job is to know.”
“Hmmm.” I wasn’t too concerned. We’d just buy different coverage tomorrow. “Did we miss a payment?”
“No, we were on auto-pay. They withdrew money directly from our checking account every month. But here’s what’s interesting: they didn’t withdraw anything last month.”
“So they just — stopped taking our money? But they never notified us of the cancellation?”
“Yep.” Hail began pounding the siding. The cat scurried underneath the couch. Her pupils dilated as big as her eyes.
“Isn’t that like the movie Office Space — instead of quitting his job, the guy just stops coming to work? Isn’t that what the insurance company did to us — instead of notifying us that they cancelled our policy, they just stopped withdrawing from our account?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty lame,” my boyfriend agreed. The lights in the room flickered for a second. “I should file a complaint with the Georgia insurance commission.”
The lights flickered again, and he suddenly looked concerned.
“Paula? Unplug your computer,” he said quietly. The hail was pummeling the windows like kids throwing rocks.
I moved from the couch, walked to my room and unplugged my computer at precisely the moment the lights in my room blew out. A blinding flash of lighting next to the window illuminated the room.
My phone beeped with a text-message from my roommate: “Pulled over on the shoulder of 10th St. All traffic lights out.”
I wondered about our triplex across the street. It’s a 101-year-old Victorian home in the heart of downtown Atlanta, surrounded by century-old trees in a tight cluster of super-urban density. Springtime Georgia storms are always wrecking havoc in this neighborhood. Just a few weeks ago, a tree fell on a power line one block away, triggering a small fire and causing a 12-hour power outage. A week before that, a neighbor’s parked car was crushed by a falling tree.
My eyes had adjusted to the electricity being down. One small red emergency light kept our hallway illuminated. I could see the outdoors by the glow of the early-evening haze. I stood in my room, with all the lights down, watching the rain pound the parking lot behind my apartment.
Then Everything went Dark.
Suddenly everything went dark. Even darker than when the power failed, minutes ago.
“What’s going on?” I thought, and then I realized — a tree had just fallen onto our next-door neighbor’s house. The foliage from the branches pressed thick against my window.
“Honey?” I called out. “A tree just fell onto the neighbor’s house!”
“I see that,” he said. He was standing in the living room, staring out the window, which wasn’t obstructed by leaves. “It’s really messed up their roof. See that? Hope it’s not raining inside their house right now.”
We waited out the storm another half an hour until the rain finally started to subside and the flashes of lighting grew dim. I heaved a sigh of relief. No frantic calls from the tenants at our triplex across the street. We had made it. We were in the clear.
“Let’s go to dinner,” I said to my boyfriend.
It was at dinner that we got the text message:
“Kinda big tree fell in backyard. Didnt break anything but its blocking the apt. stairs and walkway.”
And a few minutes later, my phone buzzed again:
“Someone may have mentioned it already, but a large limb came down in the backyard during the storm … blocking the exit to my apt. Who removes those?”
Oh sh*t. As the French say, “merde.”
I looked at my boyfriend. He didn’t know what was happening, but he guessed it was bad from the look on my face. His face mirrored back a panic-stricken expression.
The tree had crashed just inches from the outdoor stairwell …
The small branches and leaves were blocking access to the stairwell, barricading one of our tenants inside. But the heavy limb — the part of the tree that could actually split the stairwell in half — had missed the stairwell by inches. The heft had fallen onto the driveway.
Another tenant’s motorcycle was parked at the opposite end of the driveway. The heavy limb had missed it by inches.
Miraculously, there was no damage. The house was fine. The roof was fine. The stairwell was fine. It was as if God Himself had said, “How can I make this tree limb fall at exactly the perfect angle such that nothing gets hurt?”
And then God added, “Just for fun — or maybe to teach them a lesson about the importance of homeowner’s insurance — I’m going to make it happen just hours — HOURS!! — after they discover they don’t have coverage. But don’t worry, kids — I’ll spare your house from damage.”
Whew! What. A. Close. Call.
We spent the rest of the night chopping off branches with a sawzall, clearing the stairwell so our tenant could go to work in the morning. Today I’m heading to Home Depot to buy a chainsaw (yep, little 5’1″ South Asian girl wielding a chainsaw), while my boyfriend is going to sign up with whatever company will give him homeowner’s insurance — NOW.
“I’m getting insured with whoever will do it the fastest,” he told me. “Price be damned.”
And just to make sure we’re notified the next time our coverage is dropped, he’s mailing a $3,000 check to pay upfront for the next 12 months.
“If they drop us, they have to refund the unused portion,” he reasons, “and then we’ll actually KNOW that they’ve dropped us.”
Meanwhile, as I write this, a crew of about five guys are outside my apartment window, chopping down the tree that crashed into our neighbor’s house. I can hear them arguing about the best way to cut down the tree without further damaging the home or the fence by the limbs hitting the ground. We’re going to have that same argument later tonight, when my boyfriend gets off work and it’s our turn to chop down the heavy tree limb across the street.
The cat hasn’t left her hiding spot under the couch. Between last night’s hailstorm and today’s chainsaws, she thinks she’s in Armageddon.