Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Road Trip Interlude: The Great U-Haul Debacle, or, The Ballad of Roger and Joan

Pulling a U-Haul is often necessary for a cross-country move, but it’s definitely not ideal.  The trailer's unwieldy, the towing vehicle becomes slow to accelerate, and every hill feels like a struggle.  Our particular trailer had a delightful tic: when you turned on the right blinker in the car, the trailer’s right blinker went on, and when you turned on the car’s left blinker—the trailer’s right blinker went on.  We didn’t report this to U-Haul while on the road for fear they’d make us unload the whole damn thing and switch it out for a new one.  Under those circumstances, the blinker situation didn’t seem all that bad.

But as mentioned previously, our biggest issue was fear of U-Haul theft. I think any rational person would share that concern if they had all their personal belongings in one tin-shed-on-wheels.  And if Neal and I have a motto for travel, real estate, or life in general, it’s this: Trust No One. 

For me, this has been a learned position, a result of life experience.  After being robbed—twice—while living abroad, I had no choice but to wise up.  Later on in my travels, when a Spanish kid (barely a teenager) on a bike approached me to ask what time it was, I was ready for him.  I wasn’t wearing a watch—he could see that—and knew I’d have to reach for my phone.  Sure enough, when I did, he made to snatch the phone out of my hand.  Older and wiser, I yanked my arm away quickly.  He rode away empty-handed.  I’d learned not to trust anyone, not even a baby-faced kid on a bike.

A year after my abroad experience, I moved to New York City.  Happily, in my four-and-a-half years there I was never "taken in," pick-pocketed, or worse.  That’s largely due to luck, I know, and the fact that New York isn’t as bad as some would lead you to believe.  But I like to think that it was also due in part to being cautious, to being skeptical of any stranger who approached me, no matter what they looked like.  (A nun who used to collect money blocks from my office—“for the children”—was most certainly not a nun.  Her habit may have told one story, but her hard-edged features and raspy whiskey voice told another.  Sure enough, she was exposed as a fraud by a local newspaper about a year after I first began ignoring her pleas for “donations.”)

Neal fared nearly as well as I did in New York.  (There was one incident on the subway--a drug-addled man demanding money.  Fortunately, both my husband and his wallet escaped unscathed.)  “New York inspired the craziness in me,” Neal said to me on our cross-country trip, then amended his statement. “Actually, it was probably always there.  New York just brought it out.”

The “craziness” he was referring to was this business about the trailer.   Neal was convinced someone was going to steal it.  He has other, lesser fears too.  Such as, that the weight of the trailer (which we named Joan) would cause his car (Roger) to permanently sag in the back.  Each day we faced the impossible debate: once we checked in at the day’s hotel, and wanted to go elsewhere, did we bring Joan or leave her in the parking lot?

Enter the cinderblock.  If it wasn’t enough that we were traveling with all of our worldly possessions (save for our cat, who was on summer vacation at my parents’ house) we carried a fucking cinderblock with us from Ann Arbor, and took it all the way to Seattle.  (Anyone know how to properly dispose of a cinderblock, by the way?)  The purpose of the cinderblock was twofold.  First, if Joan and Roger were hooked together overnight, the block was placed under Joan’s tongue so that some of the pressure was off Roger.  This was not recommended in the U-Haul manual.  This was a crazy ritual we imposed on ourselves, so that every day, sometimes multiple times a day, Neal would have to position himself with his hands on the tongue of the trailer, say, “One, two, three…” and on “three” would heave the trailer up while I shoved the cinderblock under it.

Second, the cinderblock also served as anchor/security system when we left Joan behind.  It took both of us to lift Joan up and off the hitch.  Then, we’d hook and lock her chains to the cinderblock.  Again, this procedure was performed every day, often more than once a day. 

In Missoula, I got grease on my shirt during this process, right before we were headed out to dinner.  I ran back up to the hotel room uttering a stream of curses.  After dinner, while in my new outfit, I strained my wrist during the lift and spent the rest of the evening with a bag of ice on it.  I’m happy to report there was no lasting damage and my wrist was just fine the next day.  Which may have been a teensy bit disappointing, since a cast definitely would have gotten me out of trailer duty for the remainder of our trip.

Postscript: Joan was turned into a Seattle U-Haul facility with no major problems.  The wonky signals were a result of bad wiring on the part of the hitch installer.  She is not missed.

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