Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Elvis drove a truck

"If you ever crawl inside an old hollow log and go to sleep, and while you're in there some guys come and seal up both ends and then put it on a truck and take it to another city, boy, I don't know what to tell you."
--Jack Handy
Yes, Elvis started his career as a truck driver for an electric company. But I bet it was just apick-up truck and not a 26' U-Haul Super Mover. If it had been, I'm willing to bet the King wouldn't have even made it to 42. Because I'm telling you right now, they are a death trap on wheels.

I speak from recent experience. Tess and I spent the Memorial Day weekend moving her into my house (now our house). She sold her house and it closed last week. This ment we could finally consolidate our households. In preparation we have been jointly purging possesions and rented a very large storage unit. But even after all of this, we still needed to rent a truck to move a portion of her furniture into my house and the rest into the storage unit.

That's where the U-Haul came in. First, never try and rent a truck on Memorial Day weekend. Second, never, and I repeat never rent a 26' truck unless you've completed one of those truck driver schools they are always advertising during daytime television. If you do make the mistake of renting a 26' truck, at least find out how old the vehicle they are giving you and whether or not it has an automatic transmission. We didn't.

Lesson hopefully learned: always ask the right questions upfront. I knew I was in trouble when the U-Haul attendant brought this whale-sized truck around that looked like it had just been on a tour of combat in Iraq and told me to step into the cab so he could explain a few things about the equipment. I consider it a major red flag when anyone has to "explain" equipment to me that I will soon take out on the freeway at high speeds.

The first thing he pointed out was that the truck had five gears plus reverse. And this puppy had you shift up for reverse, down for first, up for second, down for third, up for fourth and down for fifth. This is, of course, the exact opposite of the standard shifting pattern of a passenger car or pick-up truck. Then he pointed out various lights and gauges I needed to monitor before I could actually start the truck. "You need to turn the key half way, watch that light there...once it goes on, turn the key all the way, pump that lever, flip that switch and then scratch your right armpit," he said. "It should start right up and your on your way."

I don't consider myself a stupid person. But often, put in an unfamilar and undesirable situation such as this, I draw a blank and simply nod. And that's what I did.

But when the import of the situation began to sink in and I realized that I hadn't a clue as to what the guy had said, I began to formulate a response that I think would have been something like, "Do you have anything smaller that doesn't require flight training to operate?"

But before I could stammer out a protest, the attendant was gone, presumably to help another customer purchase some styrofoam popcorn to pack some dishes. Tess stood outside the truck cab staring at me. "Do you want me to drive?" she asked. Okay, I'm a guy. There's no way I'm going to admit to my new wife that I'm scared to death of trying to start this monstrosity of motor mechanics, let alone drive it.

"No, honey," I said. "It should be no problem. Lot's of truck here, though."

Tess looked skeptical and suggested we ask for a smaller truck. I couldn't bear the thought of the attendent smirking at me as he brought around a "smaller" vehicle I could handle. I shook my head and told her to follow me in her car.

Okay, what followed can only be described as akin to riding a bucking rodeo bull on the road to hell. The truck must have been built in 1960 and only had lap belts. From the moment I turned the key and observed all of the appropriate lights and switches and fired up the engine, I thought I was on a space shuttle. I eased the dinosaur into first and jolted forward. Second was easy, but third gear took some finding. All the while, the truck was bouncing about it was having a seizure despite U-Haul's claim of:
"On select 26' and 24' models, the Air-Ride Suspension gives cargo an extra soft ride, using inflatable rubber bladders in place of stiff metal springs. The Air-Ride can even be deflated when the vehicle is parked, which lowers the floor for easier loading and unloading."
There was no way this truck had anything akin to "air-ride suspension." And I swear it was permanently stuck in the lower floor position. I've been on horseback riding outings where I bounced less than driving that piece of crap. And I had this stupid Garth Brook's song stuck in my head the entire time I was on the road:
"Well the picture in the paper showed the scene real well
Papa's rig was buried in the local motel
The desk clerk said he saw it all real clear
He never hit the brakes and he was shifting gears"

One of my major anxieties about driving big trucks is the lack of visibility. My game plan was to keep the whale in the right lane so all I would have to worry about was traffic on my left. This is easier said than done when you have about 40 miles to travel on major highways. My backup plan when I had to get into the left lane was to pray people were smart enough to steer clear from a 26' U-Haul being driven by a middle-aged man shrieking like a little girl.

I thought I was doing pretty good until we got to Tess' house and she approached the truck visibly shaken.

"You almost ran three cars off the road," she said. "I was scared to death and you were driving too fast."

Having been riding the truck from hell, I kind of thought I was the one who should have held the monopoly on being scared to death. We both tried to shake off the drive and began the loading process.

Now I don't claim to be an expert packer, but I tried to pack heavy boxes on the bottom and wedge them in tight enough to prevent moving. And I don't know why I thought the furniture I was stacking in there would be protected by the "air-ride." Maybe it was my incompetence. maybe it was the fact that the truck was too big and the load was too small. Maybe it was driving a truck that bounced around more than "Mr. Toad's wild ride." And maybe my spatial relationship skills at packing aren't as finely honed as I'd like to think, but suffice it to say, despite driving at a greatly reduced speed to our house, the load...well, let's say...shifted.

I felt terrible. Who wants to start out a marriage by trashing your wife's possessions? But all things considered, Tess took it well. We unloaded some furniture at my house and then I steered the barge down the freeway to our storage unit and unloaded everything else.

It was with great relieve that I guided that behemoth into the parking lot at the U-Haul and stepped down from the big rig for the last time. Both Tess and I agreed that, when we are through fixing up my house and sell it, we are hiring movers to move everything into where ever we end up.

Because this trucker's gear-shifting days are over.


Anonymous said...

I will never do business with U-Haul. They have stolen from a friend by charging for miles he didn't drive. When the friend challenged the U-Haul employee he friend was told that "he couldn't prove anything." U-Haul's equipment is... well you found that out for yourself didn't you?

If you ever need to load a truck again here's some unsolicited advice:

Pack the boxes like you were sending them UPS with lots of good old cancer causing styrofoam. I've had good results by lining all my boxes with 1" styrofoam board that home improvement stores sell for insulation. Over the years the boxes will be kicked around as they are transfered from the garage to storage to wherever anyway so think of the extra work fitting the foam as a long term investment.

Palletize the boxes in the truck and then shrink wrap the hell out of everything. Make sure you tie down the pallets to keep them from shifting (rolling) around.

And the other drivers? Lay on your horn, lean out the window and chant in your loudest drunken frat boy war cry "DAR-WIN! DAR-WIN! DAR-WIN! WHOOOO!" It's survival of the fittest baby. You're a Man with a Truck and combined you've got a ton on almost everyone else on the road.


Naughti Biscotti said...

I was holding my breath the whole time. Glad to see it all turned out alright. Tess is wonderfully understanding not to beat the tar out of you. You should have let her drive :)

Time said...

I don't imagine we'll be dealing with U-Haul again, either. But then we haven't seen the final bill, yet.

If I was moving as far as you did, I'd likely take the lengths you did. But we are local nomads. Nice trick with lining the boxes with foam, however.


I would have let Tess drive, however, I am a gentleman and I'm not sure her feet would have reached the pedals. :)

Anonymous said...

Harrowing experience to be sure. As for almost running three cars off the road... No blood, no foul.

Time said...

Thanks Lights in the Wake,

I kind of saw it that way, too. Some people like to think the road was half empty and I almost ran people off the road. I prefer to think that it was half full and I still didn't hit anyone.