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Is It Really Just The Money ,(The Bonum and the Summum Bonum)?

by Steve Ebner first posted 12/7/2004

Last week I was driving from Fairfax, Virginia, into the mountains to look at two claims in Winchester. I had been there before. There was the trip I took in high school and the ten days I spent on the Appalachian Trail in that area back in 1981. Those prior trips came flooding back into my memory as I began to see the foothills in the distance. It occurred to me that this was just another perk of being a catadjuster. I have lived in many places, been a gypsy most of my life. When I think back, my life comes back to me in bits and pieces, as a bit of what happened in this place and a bit of what happened in that. The traveling involved in this job has taken my wife and I to surprising places. Some of the assignments have allowed me to reconnect with old friends and rarely visited relatives (Philadelphia and Syracuse). Other trips have taken me to places I always wondered about but have never been (Miami and Detroit). And still others have been to places I never considered visiting (Saginaw and Des Moines). If you haven't tumbled to it already, let me explain that this article is going to be intensely personal. If you don't want to read stuff about my personal pilgrimage, don't bother writing to me, JUST STOP READING NOW.

As I had more than a few rural miles to travel, I began to think about why I do this catadjusting. The money is good. There's no doubt about that. But I can make this much money elsewhere and, besides, most of the money is eaten up by a combination of costs on the road and maintaining the family through the downtime. For me, the money is just what allows me to live my life this way. So far, that seems to be its purpose. I'm not getting rich, never really sure if the money is ultimately going to be enough to get through the year. When I started in this business I remember telling several people that the whole point was to have time off with money. I'm not sure that is exactly accurate anymore.

But the very existence of downtime is a great reason to do this type of work. I look back and realize I have always begun each job strongly and finished strongly. It is the middle that bogged down, became mundane and boring. This profession consists of nothing but beginnings and endings. We go into a catastrophe situation, start strongly, see the end in sight, finish strongly and go home to watch the weather channel for the next job to materialize. I have never worked so hard in my life nor have I ever had so much time off. Both feel very good unless the downtime gets too long. The rhythm of working very hard -- then resting very well -- feels like the way things were meant to be.

And there's the adventure. I have held several jobs since I was sixteen a long time ago (day before yesterday). Among other things I have been a canoe livery driver, a waiter, an ordained minister, a shoe salesman, a taxi driver, and (yes, Phantom) I have flipped a few burgers. The best of these occupations have included an element of adventure, a bit of risk that leaves me wondering what's coming next. Sometimes I think the adventure is the thing, why I do what I do. Of course, any one who is in a glamour job can tell you that it often is not all that glamorous. For example, I showed up at a loss last week, let myself in (it was a foreclosure and I had been supplied a key) and went in to discover a wall of urine stench and dog excrement scattered about the house. Gas masks should be standard equipment on some losses. Fortunately there was only water damage in one room on that loss. I had no need to measure every room. Still, I love a good adventure and this career supplies that regularly. It's not really THE THING though. Someone said recently on these CADO pages that the storm is THE THING. The storm is certainly part of THE THING. I remember feeling the adrenaline rush when the 75 mph straight line winds blew our motel door open and I had to struggle like an actor in an old movie to get it closed again. The storm is worth at least as much as the money to me, but there is more. It's not just the storm.

I think when the bottom line is reached, I do this catadjusting thing not just because of the money, the adventure, the travel, or the time off. That's all part of the bonum (the good). The quest for meaning is not done until we recognize the summum bonum (the highest good). In some cases the summum bonum is easy to recognize. For instance, when we roll into town at the heels of the Red Cross and survey the piles of rubble that before the tornado used to be houses and realize we are part of the solution. Other times the summum bonum is evident in smaller ways, like when we go to the home of a young couple with a new infant who just bought their first house and don't have a penny left to replace the siding that is laying all over their lawn. Or it can be less obvious as it was when I went to the Georgia home of a rather wealthy couple who easily could afford to rebuild their tornado ravaged home, only to discover that they had moved to Atlanta because the wife had not been able to sleep through the night since Hurricane Andrew blew through their former home in Miami six years previous. And in times like that a little extra time and handholding becomes part of the summum bonum.

Of course, the highest good is not always performed in the interest of the insured. Often it is performed to the benefit of the insurance carrier and ultimately those who pay the premiums. Sometimes it involves putting the brakes on someone who decided they would let someone else pay for their badly needed roof replacement by taking a ballpeen hammer to it after the nearby hailstorm. Sometimes it involves refusing to pay the price of a contractor who decided to double his prices after the earthquake to the misfortune of every earthquake victim he encounters. 

There are plenty of reasons why I love doing what I do. Your reasons may be very different from mine. But in the final analysis I would be hard pressed to say that there is any better reason to be a catadjuster than that it is important work, this man's quest for the summum bonum.

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