Risk Management

When I was about to graduate from college, with that valuable English degree, I went over to the NIU Placement Office to see if anyone was hiring.  There were a couple of companies recruiting on-campus for something called Insurance Underwriter.  I went to the library, read a couple of articles about what an underwriter is and does and then figured, well, even though this sounds pretty lame, I’ll probably get drafted (into the Vietnam War) soon anyway, so why not get one of these jobs that actually pay money (a princely $7000 a year) in the meantime?  The trouble with that thinking was that the year I lost my student deferment, was the first year of the lottery draft, my birth date came up 351 out of 365, so I was pretty much stuck in that job unless I quit.

I did find out during those three years that the thing insurance people do best is drink.  How fortuitous that the closest bar was just across the parking lot, and The Princess and I had an apartment two blocks away.  Tough duty, that daily trek to work, then to the bar and back home again, only to do it again, and again, and again.  Sounds a a bit like the movie, Groundhog Day.

I could’ve stayed in underwriting for my entire life, but the drinking, man, that was getting monotonous, and just a bit dangerous.  So after three years I quit, and went back to school for an MBA.  It was a tough period of detox, those grad school years.  I have no recollection of it myself, but The Princess alleges that at one party, I was found out in the back yard, on all fours barking at the host’s dog…I guess you could say, “howling at the moon.”  After two years and with my MBA in hand, I was once again fishing around for a job.

This time I got a call to come for an interview at a fancy pharmaceutical company for a job in a department called Risk Management.  Once again I read a couple of articles, found the description of the work not too distasteful, took the job and found after just a short time that working in Risk Management was a lot like working for an insurer, but with one notable exception.  Now someone else paid for the drinks…uh oh.  I remember one day in particular on that first risk management job, I had taken the train into the “loop” for some meetings.  An insurance broker or insurer bought lunch, and of course, drinks.  I know that somehow I made it onto on the train, because when it got to the end of the line, well past my stop, the conductor woke me up to tell me that I had to get off the train.

By now you’re asking yourself, “What’s he telling us all this for?”  Well, the incident I’m about to describe has nothing to do with drinking, but a lot to do with what a hot-shot risk manager I think I am.  For the second month in a row, March contained a “Friday the 13th.”  I thought, you know, this might be a good time to practice what us risk managers call, “risk avoidance.”  I’ll just stay close to home and keep myself busy with stuff around the house, thereby avoiding all of those nasty things that could go wrong.  So I spent most of the day giving the Camry a spring cleaning, including a nice, shiny wax job.  The day came to a quiet close, and I congratulated myself at once again avoiding some horrible triskaidekish fate.(1)

The following Monday I was back to my normal routine.  Twice a week I get up at 5:15 am and arrive at Starbucks just after their doors open at 6:00.  I picked-up a Brucio (a four-shot Grande Americano) as usual and drove on to the site of my volunteering gig.  Everything was going smoothly, and I arrived in the parking lot right on time.  I had some stuff in the backseat that I needed to take into the building, so before I opened the back door I put the Brucio on the roof.  It was as I was leaning into the backseat that I felt something hit me in the head.  The amount of time it takes to realize that your day is about to turn horribly shitty can sometimes be measured in seconds, but in this case it was just a fraction of a second.  What started as just a few drops of hot Brucio on my head and shoulders became an explosion as the the cup hit the door sill, the lid popped off and hot coffee splashed inside and outside the car and of course on me.  Argh!

It was still pitch dark out, so the true extent of the vehicle disaster wasn’t obvious until hours later.  But in the restroom, as I tried to make myself presentable enough to continue with my job, my analysis of the accident (more classic risk management) had already begun.  I quickly came to the conclusion that the event that precipitated my current troubles was Friday the 13th!  If I hadn’t stayed home that day, I wouldn’t have waxed the car.  If I hadn’t waxed the car, the roof of the car would not have been so slippery, and the Brucio would have stayed where it belonged rather than ending up on the Bruci.

But wanting to make some sense of this all, I wondered, is there a lesson here?  I’ve given this a lot of thought.  A good answer might be that sometimes one gets into more trouble hiding from risk than embracing it.  You know, don’t let fear hold you back.  Another lesson could be, and I firmly believe this one, never ever put anything on the roof of your car.  But probably the root cause of all my trouble was, as usual, The Princess.  Why?  It’s really pretty obvious; she didn’t warn me that on Friday the 13th, to wax the car…well its a “slippery slope!”

Thanks for reading.

(1) Triskaidekaphobia:  fear of the number 13.

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