A Dollar Per Thousand

1991 was a big year in the Nazarian family. In May, I graduated from Lehigh with a B.A. in English & theatre, and my big brother Doug graduated from Duke Law School. If that wasn’t enough in August of the same year, Doug was getting married to Jeanette, his wife of now nearly 23 years.

The graduations went off without a hitch and when August arrived, so did the wedding.

After their honeymoon on Cape Cod, my brother and his new bride stopped over in Rochester, on their way to their new life in St. Paul Minnesota. We helped them load up a U-Haul truck with all kinds of family cast-offs including a faded, pale blue, velvet couch from the 1970s, and the 19” TV we had grown tired of smacking when it would flip-flip-flip for the first thirty minutes it was on.

We all assisted in the packing of all of their college books, and wedding gifts, including a ceramic sombrero for serving chips and salsa, which Jeanette thought was hideous, but Doug loved… because it was hideous.

The loved and hated ceramic sombrero

The loved and hated ceramic sombrero


To make their journey even more fun, behind the truck they were towing a trailer on which rode their brown Volvo 240 sedan. The Griswolds had met the Clampetts and they were headed west!

Doug was to spend a year as a clerk for a Federal Circuit Court Judge, and Jeanette had plans to do several things as she applied to medical schools.

The plan was simple, go to the twin cities for a year, and when the clerkship was over, move to wherever Jeanette ended up in medical school. It was a fairly safe bet that wherever in America there was a medical school, there was probably a need for lawyers.

And so it went. The young couple lived their lives as expected, and as they emerged from the harsh Minnesota winter, they had a plan.


Jeanette had been accepted to medical school and the University of Maryland in Baltimore, and Doug was to join a law firm in DC. They found a row-house apartment in Baltimore a block from the newly constructed Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Jeanette could walk to med school and Doug could catch the MARC train to DC from the stadium.

All in all, it was a solid plan.


Doug’s new employer was paying for the relocation, so after the clerkship wrapped up, they packed their entire life in boxes and handed it all over to the  gentlemen manning the Bekins moving van.

They trusted Bekins with  all of their worldly possessions.

They trusted Bekins with all of their worldly possessions.


Jeanette hopped a flight to Baltimore to spend some time with her family while Doug drove the Volvo the 1,100 miles from their old home to the new. After a stopover in Pittsburgh, Doug arrived in Baltimore, picked up his wife and together the headed over to the apartment to wait for the moving van.

They arrived at the apartment late morning on a Saturday in the summer of 1992. Cell phones were not yet common, so when the moving van did not arrive right on time they didn’t bother to call; they just waited. Minutes turned into hours, and after several of those, my brother, who is not known for his patience in such situations, dropped a handful of change into a payphone down the block to see “just what the hell was going on.”

After getting the Bekins office on the phone and giving his name, there was an uncomfortably long silence followed by the representative saying, “um, Mr. Nazarian… we’ve been trying to get in touch with you.” Not good.


Apparently, somewhere in the middle of Ohio, their moving van had burned to the ground. The story was told as follows:

After picking up the Nazarian’s stuff, the van stopped and picked up the possessions of two other customers somewhere in the upper Midwest. Once loaded, the rig made its way east to deliver the contents to three locations in the mid-atlantic region. As they transected Ohio, the gentleman riding shotgun noticed in his rear view mirror that the paint on the side of the trailer was bubbling. So, with a complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of combustion, these two “rocket scientists” pulled over, ran to the back of the trailer and threw the doors open post haste.

Of course, as soon as they opened the doors, the fire that was once a smolder immediately escalated to a fully involved conflagration given the new oxygen source provided by fear and ignorance. Well before any fire brigade got to the scene, the content of the trailer was a total loss.

So, there were Doug and Jeanette sitting in a nearly empty apartment on a sweaty Baltimore Saturday afternoon. Doug was to start his new job on Monday – his suits were all in the moving van. Jeanette was to start medical school on Monday – she had only the shorts and t-shirts from the carry-on she’d taken on the plane. They were in quite a pickle.

As all the Nazarian kids had grown and matured, our Dad had introduced us to USAA, the only insurance company my family had ever used. We first learned about insurance when we received our learner’s permits and were required to cover the increase on the family policy. When Doug went to Law school and was living in an apartment, Dad introduced us to renters insurance.

It only cost about a dollar a month for every thousand dollars of coverage, and the policy provided “replacement value,” so if your fifteen year old  TV was stolen, the insurance would buy you a new TV, not just give you the $20 the old one was actually worth.

Doug and Jeanette hung up the payphone, sat and digested the news for a few minutes then called USAA. They had a renters policy, and my brother had called ahead to let them know they were moving which activated “in transit” coverage for all their belongings. Without any further questions, USAA said they would be taking care of the situation and would deal with the moving company directly.

Before the end of the day, a representative from the insurance company hand delivered a check for $5,000 “just for starters” he said.


The next day, Doug and Jeanette re-enacted the “obscene amount of money” scene from Pretty Woman in stores all over Baltimore.

They were both able to start their new professional adventures on time and well dressed.

It turns out that when you sign the triplicate form on the moving company’s clipboard, you are agreeing that your stuff is only worth so much per pound.  (Remember The Power Of The Clipboard can also work against you.) In the case of Doug and Jeanette, the moving company’s liability was limited to around $4,000 total. After all was said and done, the USAA policy paid out more than five times that.

Remember that “replacement value” feature I mentioned? Well, in addition to having all their clothes replaced, they were able to buy a brand new couch to replace the blue velvet one, as well as a shiny new TV that did not require regular smacking.

Unfortunately, all of their college books, photo albums, wedding presents, yearbooks, and other items of sentimental value were lost and couldn’t be replaced with any amount of money.

Several weeks after that fateful call from the payphone, a package arrived from the moving company. Inside a large box were two smaller boxes of books, one cushion from the blue velvet couch and… the ceramic sombrero.


When shopping for Christmas gifts later that year I found the ceramic 10 gallon hat.  I had no choice, I had to get it.

When shopping for Christmas gifts later that year I found the ceramic 10 gallon hat. I had no choice, I had to get it. If one cheesy serving dish is good, two are better.


Of all the things to survive I suppose it makes sense that it would be the non-flammable chips-n-salsa sombrero, though I’m sure it would have been the first thing they would have been willing to sacrifice for a single photo album or yearbook.

We place our trust in companies and their employees every day, but we are wise to remember that when it comes to IQ, half of the world is below average. Let that sink in a minute.


Renters insurance is something that is often overlooked by young adults just starting out, but it is very affordable, and it can make all the difference when crazy stuff happens, even a college student in an off-campus apartment should consider it.

Six months before the fire, I had moved to Manhattan and taken out a USAA renters insurance policy. In the ten years I had that policy I never had to make a claim, but I think about what I paid into the system and what Doug and Jeanette got out of it and I still consider it a bargain.

Copyright © 2014 - Stephen S. Nazarian - All rights reserved.

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2 thoughts on “A Dollar Per Thousand

  • I love this post, Steve! You created such a vivid picture of Doug and Jeanette sitting in their apartment in Baltimore, ready to start a new life, with that awful news about the van fire. Thank goodness the sombrero dip bowl survived. Glad it worked out for them, by and large, and I will always tell my kids to get renter’s insurance (both my student-kids and biological-kids).

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