Archive for February, 2010

2800 miles/4days: Part II-Procuring a Truck

Posted in Reflections with tags , , , , on February 27, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

For those of you just joining the journey Part I can be found here. -J.S.S

After deplaning in lovely South Bend, Indiana, I called my wife to tell her I had arrived. She informed me that I needed to call Judith to let her know I was there and where to pick me up. I got off the phone and it rang before I could dial. It was Judith asking if she should park and come in or if she should just wait outside passenger pick up. I told her not to waste time parking I would see her in a minute. 30 seconds later I rounded a corner and spotted her purple Easter egg of a Ford Aspire through the glass doors 100 yards ahead. The comfort of an American sub-compact  would be a roomy delight after a day in tiny, crowded airplanes whose seating, I can only imagine, was designed for kindergarteners, surely not for a man over 6’ and 200 lbs.

I got in the car and we pretty rapidly started talking business. It was after 3 and we had a truck and trailer to pick up before 5. I asked if she knew where the U-Haul place was. She informed me that my beloved wife had informed her that I knew all of that information. I would think I should know what I know, but I surely know enough not to argue with my wife whether present or not. I did have the forethought to have saved the U-Haul rental place’s number in my cell. I made the call.

It should be remembered, that while I have driven around the Michigan/Indiana border area (called Michiana locally which being a native Michigander I find terribly distasteful) I really have little idea where I am going without a local telling me where I was. I had been to Niles enough that I could get around to what I needed by myself, but I had no clue where in South Bend the airport is so no idea where I was at present. The rather polite lady on the other end of the phone gave me an address that meant nothing to me before telling me she was at a storage facility across from Wal-Mart and Lowe’s. I actually knew where that was. Both Judith and her husband had worked at that Lowe’s. Looks like we have smooth sailing ahead.

Wrong; or, to borrow from a Veggie Tales song, I “could not be more wronger.” 5 minutes after talking to the U-Haul lady, she called me back to ask me what I had reserved. For those of you that have not made a U-Haul reservation, you should know that one does not simply rent a truck, or a truck and a trailer, there are add-ons: furniture dollies, appliance dollies, miscellaneous other dollies, and moving blankets. And I had some of all of it in numbers that I could not remember. But was I not talking to a woman that should have a detailed reservation invoice on a computer? She informed me that she was asking because her computer was down and she wanted to make sure she had the right stuff pulled out for us. Fortunately, she only needed rough details so that she could call and get the finer points from another office. 

A few more minutes and my phone rang again. It was my mom asking where I was. I had intentionally not said anything about going to Michigan on Facebook or anywhere else to avoid having to turn down any invitations or obligations more than the mammoth obligation I had already made. I, however, had not accounted for my wife posting my airport exploits on her status update. What did I think about my mom coming to Niles for dinner? Well, on one hand, I love my mom, I don’t talk to her often enough and definitely don’t get to see her often enough, so it would be great. On the other hand, I was rapidly developing the feeling that my head had multiple vises on it, squeezing inward from all directions and my eyeballs might shoot out at any moment, something that I attributed to the fact that I had not slept sufficiently and ate not but peanuts though it now neared dinner and waiting another 3 hours to eat so she could make the trip from Detroit was simply not acceptable. Besides, like the Blues Brothers, I was on a mission…from God. Possibly overstating, regardless, much to do, can’t wait to eat, sorry, mom, maybe next time I fly across the country to move someone back across the country from whence I came, I will schedule some time for dinner. I know she understands.   

When we arrived at the U-Haul office, they had gotten all of the details and just needed us to finish the process. We were now in Michigan and the first problem was my Texas driver’s license. As I was not local (though I had lived in Michigan most of my life), they needed 3 personal references. I gave them my mom, whom I had just turned down for dinner, and Judith and Brad. Of course, one of my references was waiting in the car outside, one was in Texas, staying at my house and working at a job that I had got him while I flew to Michigan to help his family move down and join him, so the fact that I had just greatly disappointed the third reference didn’t concern me much. Besides, even disappointed, mom would give me a good reference; I think.

Now we had but to pay. Due to the fact that I would be the only person on the sojourn to Texas old enough to legally drive the rented U-Haul, the money to pay for its procurement was deposited into my account. So knowing that the money was there to clear the charge, I handed the lady my debit card, which was rejected. I immediately, as with all banking related problems, called my wife. “WHAAAT?!?” she said. Or maybe she said “What?” but I tend to think it was more like the first version. The money is there, she looked at the account online and verified that we could easily clear the charge required. She said she would call me back after she called the bank. I explained the situation to the nice lady and waited for my wife to call back. When she did call back, it was on conference call with a bank representative. As it turns out we were attempting to go over the determined limit for a charge against our account which needed special permission. She asked for my permission and gave me two questions to verify my identity. I don’t recall the first question or whether or not I got it right; the second question was “what was the driver’s license number used to open the account?” I opened this account when I moved to Texas when I still had a Michigan license which I had to surrender when I got my Texas license. I explained this to the nice bank lady and told her, in short, I have no idea what that number is. She summarily informed me that based on my answers given to the security questions she was rejecting my request to temporarily increase my charge limit.

Now to say that this would be a wasted trip without the procurement of a moving truck would be an extreme understatement. I came here to move someone, and Judith’s Easter egg simply lacked the capacity to handle the load, especially with passengers taking up valuable cargo space. My wife quickly asked the bank lady who sounded like she was about to hang up if there was another way to request a limit increase. She said that if we had an online banking account with them we could submit a request through their site. To me, she sounded like she was talking to people that she didn’t believe were the actual cardholders and I was sure that she was tracing my cell phone and that it was a matter of time before the FBI showed up to haul me away. I carefully watched the street for black SUVs and men in black sunglasses talking into their coat collars. The woman on the phone continued to answer my wife’s questions and walk her through the process and assured us that once the email came through, the request would be fast-tracked.

At some point prior to arriving at the U-Haul facility, Judith was kind enough to stop and pick up some Excedrin for me. With the U-Haul lady giving me dirty looks because of my rejected card (obviously a dead-beat) the bank lady giving me odd tones (obviously a felon committing card fraud) and the sheer prevalence of black SUVs, the Excedrin was not working. It was now very close to the 5:00 PM closing time of the U-Haul place and looks became a bit more agitated. The nice lady continued to say “oh, don’t worry about it” and “we don’t mind waiting” but I knew that she was communicating with the bank lady. She wasn’t waiting for me to work out my banking issue and the payment to clear, she was waiting to be the one to point me out to the FBI when they arrived; “that’s the one right there” she would yell, “cuff him.” Maybe lack of sleep and food makes me paranoid; was that a black Suburban that just turned in?

Eventually we were told that we were cleared. They scanned the card again and it rejected again. 5 more minutes of figuring out the problem and it was approved. I had by this time released Judith from her post waiting as she was supposed to hand off Aeden, her son and my only nephew. I was relieved that I was not going to have to call her back and equally relieved when the U-Haul manager waved off the men getting out of their Suburbans. You don’t get me that easily FBI. As I walked around the truck for the inspection, I marveled at how small it seemed. The first edges of doubt crept in. Could all of the worldly possessions for a 3 person family fit in such a space? When it was booked the possessions were described and we were assured that this was the vehicle we needed. It seemed small though. Until, that is, I started driving it and came to that second frightening moment of doubt. I am dangerously under qualified to be driving a 17 foot box truck, especially with a trailer.

This second doubt would be shown clearly in my ineptitude as I tried advanced movements like backing up. The first doubt I tried to guard privately knowing that if we said upfront that it wouldn’t all fit, we would have more empty space after defeated packing. Besides maybe I was wrong, maybe they didn’t have that much stuff. And, there was the Easter egg that we would be towing behind on the trailer that could be packed with some smaller stuff; chocolates and jellybeans and other assorted treasures that plastic eggs are meant to carry.

I managed to make it to the house without curbing the trailer. I then promptly showed my lack of skill by deciding to try to back in. It didn’t take long before I gave up on that dream, circled the block, curbing the trailer at least once, and pulled directly into the drive. Of course I would eventually have to back it out, but I could worry about that later; it was now 6:00 PM, and I still had not eaten. Had I given my mom the go ahead, she could have made it in time for dinner.

Before leaving to go get dinner, Judith gave me a quick walk through of the house and everything that was going: appliances and furniture and a mountain of boxes.

“Do you think it will all fit?”

Not a snowballs chance in hell.

“Oh, yeah, it will all fit.”

Part III can be found here.

2800 miles/4 days: Part I- Airtravel

Posted in Reflections on February 16, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

6:00 AM is not a time that I should be anywhere but in the shower or still in bed. Yet there I was at Midland International Airport ready to board a plane to Dallas where I would switch to a plane heading for Cincinnati where I would switch planes one more time to head for South Bend, Indiana. All places that I enjoy being less than Midland, Texas. Yet there I was out of love, kindness, familial obligation to fly to South Bend to help my sister in-law move from Niles, Michigan to Midland. I had made the foolish statement that I would help my wife’s sister and family move down to Texas in any way I could and now I had to live up to it.

So I walked into lovely MAF and was immediately greeted by the display indicating that my 7:10 flight was delayed until 8:10. I had an hour and a half to change planes in Dallas so I should still be fine. I checked in, went through security, wandered around the one little store, and found a seat to vegetate for a bit. Around 8:00 we started boarding the plane. Seated on the single-seat side of the aisle, I settled in for a short flight that I knew would be followed by a dash to my connection in Dallas. The pilot came on the P.A. and explained that our delay was due to the crew having a late night because of bad weather the night before and needing to get required rest before flying again. As I wasn’t up for dying in a plane crash, I accepted the need for a rested pilot as valid.

We pulled away from the gate, turned towards the runway, and stopped. We sat for a few minutes in silence waiting for our turn to take off (at least this was the reasoning in my head.) After what was obviously a longer than normal wait, the pilot came back on announcing that the delay was because of a fuel imbalance. Apparently the plane had more than 100 lbs more fuel on one side than on the other and we could not take off until it was within a certain limit. The pilot explained that there was a couple of ways to take care of this issue, but the fastest and easiest was to burn it off. So we sat there with the engines going for twenty minutes or so while I pictured Al Gore banging his head against a brick wall screaming about inconvenient truths.

Finally we started moving again. I glanced at my watch and did some quick calculations. If we went without any more problems, we would land in Dallas 10 minutes before I was supposed to get on my next flight. With not a thing I could do to help the problem, I looked out the window and waited for the flight attendant to come around with the coffee.

When we landed, I looked at my watch again. My connection was scheduled to take off right now. By the time I deplaned, I was 10 minutes late for my flight. There was some rain in Dallas, so I took the chance that there may have been a delay and rushed via terminal tram/train thingy to the gate to find a display that showed a flight leaving for New York. I gave a quick rundown to the man behind the counter at gate 12 who brushed me off saying I needed to go to the ticket counter. Looks like I get to talk to the nice airline ticketing people, which is always a pleasure. I went out through security to talk to a nice Delta Agent. He scratched his head a lot and finally said it didn’t look like he could get me to South Bend today. Wonderful, how close could he get me? A few more mouse clicks and some puzzled looks and he told me to hang as he reached for his radio.

“This is Mike from the ticket desk. Is Cincinnati still on the ground?”

Could it possibly be that Cincinnati was moved off of the ground? This could make things considerably more interesting. Oh, he meant the flight to Cincinnati. I really should have slept more last night.

 “Yeah, Mike. It’s setting in gate 13 right now about ready to taxi.”

Silly me; I had went to gate 12 where it was supposed to be. Mike gave me some quick directions and I started running towards the security check. As I got in line for security, I heard the final boarding announcement for my flight. “That’s my flight” is all I said and two people in front of me stepped aside so I could go through the metal detectors, collect my stuff and do a sock-foot hundred-yard dash to my gate. Running up to the gate, the nice attendant asked if I was Justin Smith. I said “yes” as I pulled the boarding pass from the pile of belongings in my arms.  I continued to hurry down the jet way to emerge into a very crowded plane where I received looks of several passengers that seemed to say “we’re 45 minutes late and you just made it.” I gave my best imitation of a flustered idiot, which wasn’t hard functioning on minimal sleep and bad airline coffee, nodding and mumbling “excuse me” as I brushed more than a few arms and shoulders with my belongings as I pushed back to the only available seat.  I gave a brief explanation to the guy in the seat next to me, as he was looking at me as if I owed him that much at least, and he still continued looking at me like I was an idiot as he told me about haw the plane had left the gate but was sent back to a different gate because of condensation in the ventilation ducts. This was the second time the plane had been boarded by these passengers. No wonder I was getting looks.

I was only supposed to have an hour in Cincinnati. That leaves me with 15 minutes to find my gate and board. Considering I managed to check my gate, talk to a ticket agent, and get back through security in 35 minutes to board a flight in Dallas that was scheduled to take off 10 minutes before I arrived, 15 minutes to catch a connecting flight should be a cake-walk. In Cincinnati, I arrived at my connections gate shortly after boarding started, blended with the crowd (as much as I ever blend) and walked to my seat like I knew exactly where I was going.

At the end of my air travel for the day, I started an hour and a half late, chalked up 2 delayed flights, 2 passes through security, 1 mad dash in my socks across Delta’s Dallas terminal and landed on time in my final destination of South Bend, Indiana. Not bad, now I just had to pick up a 17’ U-Haul with a car hauler, load it and drive it almost 1400 miles back to Midland. And I should probably get something to eat. I was going to do that during a layover, but, well, you know.