Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Caveat Donator: Pars Secundo

I previously wrote about an incident where my husband and I received a lien notice. in October of 2013, against an auto we had donated and had not seen since the previous February.

Here is the location of the original entry:

In the meanwhile, I am putting the takeaways here, right at the top. That way, if you don’t have time, or otherwise don’t want to read this story, you can go away having been completely and utterly informed by this article. Don't worry if these takeaways seem unrelated; you'll thank me for this information later.


#1 - DO NOT DONATE CARS! If you want a group to benefit by a gift from you, sell the old clunker you have for parts, file all the paperwork yourself, and hand the group a check. Read farther down if you want find out why this is better.

#2 - Transparency means that everything organizations and institutions don't want you to see is farmed out to a contractor, where the opaque becomes more opaque; no one you need to talk to is reachable by phone; you can’t get a report in under 4 weeks, though the data is all digitized; and no one is accountable to the truth but you.


As I mentioned in that previous article, I sent $20.00 to the DMV to get the history of the car, so I could prove I no longer was responsible for it. This was indeed the best $20.00 ever spent. I received the documents in November; they proved we no longer owned the car. I collected these, along with everything else I had relating to this odd incident, into a file. I had already returned the lien notice to the DMV indicating I had no interest in the vehicle and was not the owner of it. I waited for the other steel-toed boot to drop.

Last Thursday, we received a call from a collection agency. Clunk. That was the other boot.

The collection agency was calling to tell us our credit rating was at risk if we didn’t pay a bill for towing and storage of the vehicle we no longer owned. I explained we had a release of liability and that we never saw the vehicle once it was towed away from our home, and further, we had never received a bill from anyone and expected to pay nothing.

I faxed documents over to the agency and the woman called back to say that their legal advisor would look it all over and call me to let me know what the resolution was.

Tuesday morning, after a holiday weekend, the call came. The documents I provided were insufficient, I was told—we would still be obliged to pay. I reiterated that I had never seen a bill from anyone, and had no idea how much money was involved. We are not legally obligated in the matter of this car, I yelled into the phone; this is a matter of public record! I asked the woman to fax me all the information pertinent to their case. (They are actually required to do so, by law.)

The more I thought about this, the madder I got. How in the world did this happen? I called the donation center that handled the car and left an urgent message, asking for a return call. I emailed Consumer Action with my story, asking for advice.

Then, I started doing research on the web. What was up with this collection agency?

Well, what was up is that they have an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau. The complaints I found on Yelp resonated with what I was experiencing. Interestingly, this company had been named in a class action suit against a consumer credit reporting agency that allegedly disclosed consumer credit scores to that collection agency and possibly others, in clear violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, so that consumers could be targeted based on their financial vulnerability. Lovely. The collection agency settled with plaintiffs out of court. Well, you know what that means…


Knowing there was no reason for me to be charged for the towing and storage of someone else’s wrecked car, it was time for me to play hardball back. I drafted a very terse note to the general manager of this agency:
We have been receiving phone calls from your collection agency regarding an automobile (VIN # -------) that we have not held title to since February 5, 2013. This is a matter of public record through the Department of Motor Vehicles, to which you may apply for verification.

We find it curious that we are receiving phone calls from a collection agency when we have never received an invoice or a collection notice. We can only conclude that you are making a fraudulent claim against us on behalf of your client.

If your office persists in harassing us in a matter that does not concern us, or if our credit rating suffers at your hands, we will take legal action. In the meantime, we shall be contacting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the FTC regarding your activities.


I sent this missive by certified mail on Thursday, January 23rd.

Friday came and went. Nothing was faxed to me by the collection agency.

The Consumer Action people got back to me with advice, and the donation center spoke to my husband, who forwarded all the documents pertinent to them.

Saturday, we received a bill from the collection agency, our first contact by mail. The amount they want is nearly $3,000.00. This bill was dated January 13, 2013, but was obviously sent overnight, possibly retro-dated, to cover for the fact that they had forgotten to send us a bill. Most things sent from that ZIP Code to ours come overnight or in two days. The reason they had to send this is that, by law, they are not supposed to communicate with us by phone until we have received something in the mail in writing from them. The postmark on the envelope is January 24th.


We are surrounded by technology, and everyone and their brother seems to have access to my information, yet that is somehow insufficient to prove something as simple as “we haven’t owned the car since February that was involved in an auto accident the following October”. We still have to push the paper around. Even though we have pushed paper at them, they persist in their quest.

Okay, the way we read it is that the bottom feeding collection agency is in collusion with the towing company to work one kind of fraud. But we realized there is probably another kind of fraud going on here, and it has to do with the auctioning of vehicles.

When we organized the documents from the DMV in the order in which each event took place, we realized that after the car was auctioned in late February, to the person or company whose address is in Mexico, there was no more paper trail. This is significant, and I will tell you why: if the car was purchased by a Mexican concern, one would assume it was taken to Mexico, particularly as there was no further registration of the vehicle.

However, the car was being driven by California resident in October. Where did that person get the car? And why didn’t the seller properly release liability and transfer title?

Such an occurrence cannot be an isolated one. If it happened with the car we auctioned, the potential is great that many vehicles purchased at auction are being resold without transfer of title.

The implications are chilling. How many people have purchased autos that subsequently disappear from the system? How many similarly unregistered vehicles are on the road, even as we speak, with drivers who are uninsured, possibly even unlicensed? Such “ghost” vehicles not only endanger us if they are involved in accidents, but these cars could be also used in the commission of crime. These vehicles, subsequently abandoned, are virtually untraceable to any person but the last person who registered the vehicle before it was sold.

Fortunately, in our case, no one was injured in the accident involving the car.

We are not done with this story, Morning Glory. We don’t know what will happen next, although we are hoping the case will be closed. Will we have to go to court? Stay tuned...

In the meanwhile, here are those takeaway messages, one more time:


#2 - No one is accountable to the truth but YOU.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Down in the Tube Station At Midnight (or anywhere, anytime of day)

Every so often, I have a guest commentator on my blog. Today, my guest is my husband, Rick Dougherty. At the dinner table, Rick related the story you are about to read. I felt it was vital and important; a story that needs to be shared and thought about deeply. This is a story about people in the Bay Area, about homelessness, about addiction, about suffering. It is also a story about intuition, compassion and engagement. I hope you will take this story to heart.


I was coming home from work in San Francisco today, heading down the escalator to the BART station, and noticed a young man in a grey hoody and jeans standing near the turnstile. His backpack lay against the column behind him and, as people walked past to head down to the trains, he was asking for fifty cents.

Normally I would have walked past, but something about him caught my attention. He had a very gentle demeanor, a soft voice and spoke very well. He was very thin but didn’t seem to be ill or worn like so many of the homeless do. I had taken this all in as I put my ticket into the slot and walked through the stile, and was about to move on but instead, just out of curiosity, I turned back and asked him where he was going. For a moment he looked a little puzzled, so I said that fifty cents wouldn’t take him very far. Then he gave a slight smile and a conversation ensued that moved me deeply.

He told me he was just trying to get enough for something to eat, and when I asked him where he lived he said he was from Danville but hadn’t been home in three years. He had been sleeping on benches at the airport along with many other homeless people. The police would walk past them every night on their way to eat but so far didn’t seem interested in them. I asked why he didn’t go back to his parents and he said that they had thrown him out of the house because he had become hooked on heroine.

Before it all fell apart, he had seemed to have a great life in store. He loved baseball and was a great pitcher, a lefty with a 90 mph fastball, and had received a full scholarship at St. Mary’s. But at the end of his sophomore year a teammate saw him shooting up at a party, and when the news got out, he was not only off the team but was expelled from the school.

He said that in the past three years he had overdosed eight times and that each time the medical team had been able to revive him, the last couple of times only barely. You’d think having gone through that he would have learned his lesson, he said, but within half an hour of being released he was out looking for his next fix.

I told him my own family had been riddled with alcoholics and I had learned that the only person who can save an alcoholic, or an addict of any kind, is themselves, so there was nothing I could do for any of those family members but walk away. I said that it was because of that experience that I was reluctant to give him any money. To my surprise he said, “No, don’t give me any money. I’ll just go buy heroine with it.”

I asked if he had looked into any treatment programs that could help him, and he said that he didn’t think he could make it through the twelve-to-fifteen month programs. But if he didn’t even try to grab onto a rescue line, I replied, the there was no chance at all that he could change his fate. But if he took that very first step, he might begin to feel the confidence that he could control his life and could regain the determination to see it through and pull himself back up on his feet.

He shook his head again and said he wasn’t sure he could do it. I told him that in the end there were parts of him trying to run his life, his body and his mind, and that he would have to decide which one would run it in the end.

He nodded solemnly, as did I. I wished him well and we shook hands. Then I headed down to the trains.


This is a simplified version of the story from the way it was told at our dinner table, but that is the whole story.

There are a great many things that could be said about the story you have read, but the one aspect I want to draw your attention to has to do with engagement

I know that I have had similar encounters with people, over the years--people who were, for all intents and purposes, struggling to deal with something. Who knows what it was that made Rick turn back? I can only think there is some sort of intuition involved. 

We will never know if anything Rick had to say to this young man will have a lasting impact (he has survived overdosing eight times, but cats only have nine lives), but I cannot help but feel that when we follow the intuition that tells us to engage,--that it is not only okay, but we need to engage--this opens a pathway for positive change.

In your dark night, whose face was it that made you smile? Whose warm hand touched yours? Whose kind word or funny joke? How was the darkness dispelled? What unexpected encounter changed your life

When you pass people huddled on the street or in the tube station or in the airport, what is it that will make you talk to one of them? Are you tethered to a virtual muffler, or are you tuned to what is happening around you?

Whose life might you unknowingly influence for the better?

One last thought: We shall all be changed, of that there is no doubt. If we shall all be changed, let it be through compassionate, caring engagement.

Friday, January 17, 2014

How Does The Garden Grow?

We are miracles of being. We are packets of life that burst into a world that is often unprepared for us, although it is furnished with the potential to serve all our needs.

As adults, perhaps we spend too much time weighing the potential of life to serve us, while not enough time in service to that integral nature that sustains miracle upon miracle, and has done since opposite somethings began to attract, in those first unprecedented moments of creation.

For sentient individuals, this span of existence, in whatever form we take, is so brief and brutally free, while filled with such inexplicable beauty in each moment that is our now, I wonder why any person would isolate themselves in the virtual.

Reality and realism are a calling. Immersion in what-is, above what-can-be, is an essential landscape I fear is missing from the lives of many. This is not to say that what-can-be is unimportant or missing from the world. What-can-be lies within a limitless field of creative potential.

Sadly, most people frame their lives, whether they will admit so or not, within prisons of what they deem are “inevitabilities.” Mortality aside, nothing is inevitable. Therefore, all things are possible.

What-can-be could be seen as that which you grow in your garden. What will your garden contain? What will you grow? From whence shall the seeds be harvested? How often will you water the young seedlings that sprout after you have the seeds you have acquired? What culture will you grow? How will it impact the world?

These odd questions are vital, yet rarely directly addressed in our upbringing—the upbringing that shows us primarily how life must serve us. Parents too seldom pass to their children the knowledge of culture—where it comes from and how it is perpetuated—beyond the mere experience of it; I think, sometimes, we haven't learned all that is required to bring culture to birth and nurture it; to build and maintain it; to pass it on to its next conservatorship.

To think this way seems beyond so many people. Artists perhaps, may have the greatest potential and sensitivity to the philosophical implications of life in service to beauty. Too many others feel that sort of dedication is someone else’s domain and responsibility. Too many others believe that culture is and should remain free, and by that they mean, existing without investment. Somewhat like parents who expect schools to train their children to be good people, yet invest nothing or little in seeing to that themselves. Somewhat like people who decide how to vote based on what they read in checkout counter tabloids or what they see on Fox News.

Is this how the garden grows, the garden of you and of all of us?

From one impulse through many impulses, from one voice through many voices, from one set of hands through many sets of hands, your life flows. Infinite messages flow through all your experiential pathways. To which and to how many shall you respond? And what will be the result of that response or interaction?

Life is a series of callings within the single, yet infinite, garden of being. Yours is to choose. “Life is all about choices,” a friend once reminded me.

The paradox of life is that it supports you while you support it.

How will you nurture what has nurtured you? This is a vital question, a real question.

Everything depends on your answer.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fallen Leaf

The falling leaf
tumbles in song,
a sentiment swept along
by the relentless wind,
whose soulful breath provides
counterpoint and amplitude.

The tumbling leaf
brushes by the cheek
of the budding rose,
arousing its petals
to release divine fragrance,
by way of blessing and gratitude.

The tattered leaf
leaves bits of itself
embedded wherever it lands,
continues, even while it dies
to sing, in joyful abandon,
life’s magnitude.

Never ultimately sung, this leaf,
atom by atom, dust to dust,
over the whole wide earth,
nurtures the sacred soil,
indicating an essential truth:
to a single miracle, death and life allude.

© 2014 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen