This story has a happy ending.
In the months leading up to our move, Rachael and I had to figure out what precisely we should do about moving our stuff. We knew that coming to Portland would require some downsizing, which we were very aggressive about back when we were still in Athens. Still, we knew there were some things that we would still need, even in an apartment half the size of our old townhouse. The big question was how we were going to get it from point A to point B.
We considered a few options; we could have hired a moving company to pack and ship our stuff for us on one end of the spectrum, or we could have rented a truck to fill up and drive cross country ourselves on the other. It was essentially a matter of finding out how much money we were willing to spend versus how much work we were willing to do ourselves.
What we settled on was a compromise between those two extremes. While we were still in the planning stages of our move, we had some friends who were a little further along in their cross country moving preparations whom we helped with move out one weekend at the end of my school year. They had opted to do something similar to a moving Pod, which is a big metal box that you reserve from a moving company, have dropped off in front of your house, then fill up with your stuff before having it picked up and shipped for you. The thing is that there are lots of horror stories about moving using Pods; some of the companies that use this moving model are unscrupulous and hold your stuff hostage when you arrive until you pay extra fees that weren’t disclosed up front. Rachael and I definitely didn’t want that to happen to us (we’d figured out how much money we wanted to budget for our move overall, and since our pay from our new jobs doesn’t start until the end of September we’re trying to live leanly in the meantime), but our friends told us they were using a similar service from Uhaul.
Uhaul can be a hit or miss sort of company, primarily because its rental service is done mostly through franchises with independent owners. We figured that the U-Box would be more trustworthy since it would be operating through the larger corporate network of Uhaul storage facilities. We priced the U-Box, decided that we were comfortable with the cost (roughly two thousand dollars to rent it, tow it to and from our house in Athens ourselves, ship it across the country, and unload it in Portland), and reserved it.
Leading up to moving day, Rachael and I did a lot of work to make sure that the stuff we were taking with us would fit inside the dimensions of the U-Box. After seeing the one that we helped our friends pack, I was pretty confident we’d fit it all without any trouble, but Rachael was more skeptical. In the end we were both sort of right; we packed it right to the door, floor to ceiling, but we couldn’t fit in one kitchen chair (this was okay because we already had four packed in, so it would have been an odd chair anyway). I was sad that I forgot to take a picture of the inside of the crate, because that was a packing job that we were both extremely proud of in the end.
So we got our U-Box loaded and we dropped it off at the Uhaul in west Athens. Our contract stipulated that it would be shipped out to Portland some time between July 1 and July 10, with it being ready for us to access by July 15.
At this point, stop and go back to read all my posts about our cross country road trip. That was great fun, and it’s a good reminder that we were doing stuff and enjoying ourselves while in the process of our move.
We got into Portland on July 20, a full five days after our box was supposed to have arrived. Because of a lot of complicated circumstances, we arranged for our lease to our new apartment not to start until July 28. We had an agreement with some locals to dog- and house-sit while they were on vacation for a week in exchange for a free place to stay. The plan was to get into our apartment on July 28 (that was a Friday), and then the next day on the 29th to go the Uhaul and get our stuff out of storage.
That’s a full two weeks between when our U-Box was supposed to be ready to access in Portland and when we were ready to go get it.
So Saturday rolls around, and Rachael and I get up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed like the morning people we are, and we head over to the Uhaul place and tell them we’re there to unload our U-Box. There’s a bit of shuffling and waiting since I forgot that I needed to call the storage place ahead of time so they could get the crate out of storage for us, and I’m a little embarrassed about this hiccup. We’re liable to lose an hour of good work time because of my mistake, and Rachael and I have already secured the help of local friends to move our stuff into our apartment that day.
Finally they bring the crate out from storage and set it out in the back lot where we can park the van we’ve rented and start loading up. Rachael and I go to open the box and we immediately see a problem.
“That’s not our lock.”
The manager, who seems like a perfectly nice guy, sputters a little bit and says that he’ll go check the paperwork, but he’s pretty sure that’s the crate that’s connected to our contract.
Rachael and I are trying to be calm, but we’re both thinking the same thing: either they’ve swapped our box with a different one, or someone at some point in the shipping broke the lock off our box and replaced it. Neither possibility is a good one.
The manager comes back and says that it looks like the label on our box may have been switched a couple days before it shipped out, but otherwise there’s nothing in Uhaul’s records that indicate something untoward has happened to our U-Box. We insist very strongly that there’s no way for us to open the lock on the crate sitting in front of us, and Uhaul needs to figure out what’s going on. We return the van we’ve rented, get a refund on it, and head back home to figure out how to salvage our planned moving day (we ended up going to IKEA to get some of the furniture we needed to replace instead, so it wasn’t a total bust).
At this point, we were told that it would be Monday until we could get any news on what was going on with our U-Box because the corporate traffic office was closed on the weekend. That wasn’t super reassuring, but the manager gave us his cell number to contact him, and we figured that first thing on Monday we could call and see what was going on.
Monday we called, and we were told there were a few possibilities for where our box might be. Maybe it got switched with a box that was shipped to Seattle; maybe it hadn’t left Athens yet. Portland Uhaul wasn’t sure because they were still trying to get in touch with the other branches.
Tuesday we called, and no one at the storage place got back to us. Since we weren’t having any luck there, we found the number for the Portland area Uhaul traffic office, and we asked them what was going on. The manager there was very nice, and she gave us her cell number so we could call her for updates. By the end of the day she said that Uhaul’s corporate office had authorized Portland to open the box that had arrived with our shipping label so that we could confirm whether or not it was ours. Rachael and I were willing to go down to the Uhaul that day to take care of this, but we didn’t hear back on whether this was okay before the end of business, so we had to wait until the next day.
Come Wednesday, we got up and headed back to the Uhaul place for the second time that week. It ended up being a fast visit once we got hold of the manager; he pulled the box, unscrewed the latch (this was more than a little alarming since he demonstrated you can get into a U-Box without ever having to cut the lock off), and opened it up. The contents of the crate were definitely not ours. We found a suitcase inside with some contact information on it, snapped a picture for reference, and emphasized to Uhaul that they needed to find our box.
Thursday was relatively uneventful, in the sense that we got no news and all the Uhaul people for whom we had contact information were really dragging their feet on getting back to us.
Friday, Rachael and I decided (after some advice from friends) that we should get the ball rolling on filing insurance claims on our crate. We hoped that we’d either motivate Uhaul to get serious about finding our U-Box or at least make progress towards getting reimbursement for our things being missing. The traffic manager told me she could file a claim on my behalf, and so I asked her to do so that morning. When I called back that afternoon to check in, the claim still hadn’t been filed, but I was informed that the manager from the storage place would contact me shortly with my claim info. I told whoever I was on the phone with that he should call me back before the end of business.
We got our claim, and then the second weekend without our stuff started. We decided Saturday morning that since we weren’t having much luck with the local branches getting anything done or keeping us informed, we would just call the Athens branch and try to get the manager there to help us out. I called them up, explained our plight, and they gave me a number for contacting the manager. I left him a message that morning and asked him to call me back.
At the time that I’m writing this, almost a week later, I still have not spoken directly with the general manager of the west Athens Uhaul branch.
Rachael and I decided that we were going to take Sunday off from pestering all the Uhaul folks. Even without our stuff, we figured we should try to enjoy at least one day in Portland without worrying about what was going on. We went for a hike; it was nice.
On Monday I was pretty burnt out from making calls. I asked Rachael to take a shift, and she talked to the traffic manager, who gave her contact information for our claim agent and the president of marketing in the Athens region. The hold up all week appeared to have been a disconnect between the Athens branch and the rest of Uhaul; their story consistently was that they’d been unable to get in touch with anyone at that store. Given the byzantine nature of Uhaul’s phone system (you can call a facility directly, but if no one picks up then it automatically redirects to a call center without telling you), I’m inclined to believe them, though there’s definitely a strong whiff of CYA behavior going on.
I talked with our claim agent who was seeing the incident report for the first time that morning, and he said that he would handle it from here; we should just call him directly for updates. Rachael got in touch with the marketing president, and within an hour the Portland manager had texted me a picture of a U-Box lock that he’d received from Athens. It was our lock. We told him that Athens had permission to cut the lock off so they could check the contents, and we gave him a description of what they should find inside. A few minutes later, we got a second picture of the interior; there was our stuff!
Needless to say, Rachael and I were relieved.
The next step in the process is waiting for the U-Box to ship for real from Athens and arrive in Portland. I just got an email this morning saying that it’s supposed to be ready for pick up by August 24. It’s wonderful that our stuff isn’t lost, but let’s remember that we were supposed to have access to it on July 15 regardless of whether we were in town or not. Whenever it arrives, it will have been unavailable to us for over a month, and entirely because of an error on Uhaul’s part.
Needless to say, we’re going to demand a full refund. We’ve been living off just the things that we brought with us on our road trip for two weeks longer than we anticipated, and it’s possible it could be another two weeks before we can get our stuff. So, y’know, we feel like a full refund is probably justified.