My Brush with Death and Cat Urine
By Seana Sperling
I was embarking on a move and searching for economic ways to do it. Since I had let my driver's license lapse by four years, I couldn't rent a U-haul and I was wary of driving all the way by myself for fear that I'd hit snow and have some kind of scary crash. I began to look through the yellow pages and make calls to movers. They were all incredibly expensive except for one. The display ad promised "careful service." When I called, the old man sounded a little strange, but what do I know about the moving business? I listed everything I had to take and he claimed he could take me, my hamster and all my stuff for about $895.00. This of course still seemed a little steep for my budget.
I started looking for alternatives to movers. There was ABF U-pack, where you could rent square-footage in their truck and you were responsible for loading and unloading. That would have been approx. $540.00 according to the amount of stuff I had. Then I figured the cost of the plane ticket and all the things I'd have to do for the hamster, such as get a health certificate, special carrier and pay a special $50.00 fee and I thought it would be pretty comparable to the amount the old man said he'd charge. The U-pack trailers are dropped off and there can be as much as a five-day wait for delivery. I really wanted to go with my stuff, so I would have a place to sleep when I got there and the old man's price was very near the alternative. This was my thinking when I made my fateful decision.
I called the old guy back and told him I'd condensed (as in taken apart my book cases and such) and asked for a discount. He offered about $70.00 off so I said OK. At this point I talked to him about the truck and my understanding was that it was some kind of panel van or step van. He asked my address, but I noticed he didn't ask for a zip code. I asked if he needed that for the contract. He said, "Well I'll bring a bill of lading with me on moving day and you can sign that." I paused for a moment. "I really think we should have some sort of contract." Right then I should've known he was a kind of fly-by-night outfit, but it was getting close to the day and I had to make arrangements. Also, in his yellow pages-display ad, his Mover Identification License number was listed, so he looked reputable. He told me he would come by at 7:00AM Saturday.
Saturday arrived, a clear and sunny day after two straight weeks of rain. I had rounded up 13 of my wonderful friends and they were all remarkably on time. The mover was not! While we waited we carried everything down to the parking lot. At about 7:40 I was looking off my balcony and I saw a beat-up dark blue van with some kind of extended top, come up the street. My friend Tatia was standing there with me and said, "Maybe that's it."
"No way." I said. "That's way too small."
It pulled around the back. I went downstairs and two old guys, dressed in grubby clothing jumped out and opened the back, revealing a not too clean looking area that already had fishing poles and other items stuffed into the overhead.
"Are you Sam, the mover?" I asked, desperately hoping he was visiting someone in the building.
"That's me." He said as he walked over.
"You told me it was a panel van or step van. My stuff is never going to fit in that."
"Oh mb, it'll m fit all mb right," said his companion that spoke just like the character Boomhauer from "King of the Hill."
I went around to the front and looked in the cab of the van and noticed two bucket seats. "Is he going too? I asked Sam.
"No, we'll drop him off in Bellevue, but I'll pick up my wife there."
"Where's she going to sit?"
He looked around at my stuff. "She'll sit in that chair right there." He pointed to my desk chair.
One of my friends, Andy came up behind me and said. "Maybe it's good she's going, " He whispered, "so you don't have to talk with him the whole way."
"Yeah, but it's going to be too crowded. Where will I put the hamster?"
Sam the mover appeared behind me. "Oh, I've taken lots of pets. We'll find a place."
I sought out Abby and Pete the lawyer for legal counsel. "What can I do here? I don't think everything's going to fit"
Pete looked in the direction of the van and frowned. "Well, I'm not sure I'd want him to load up a bunch of my stuff and not be sure about the rest. Do you think he could get a trailer?"
I turned to the mover. "All this stuff is never going to fit and you told me it was some sort of panel van. And NOW there's another passenger. This is not what I signed on for."
"I told you it was a RAM van! Don't worry. I can make it fit. By the way, are you really attached to that couch? It's pretty beat-up."
"Do you have a trailer or something?" Pete asked.
I looked at Earl and shook my head. Earl said, "Look, the reason she hired a mover is because she wanted to take her stuff with her.
Suzanne and Greg came over to me as I walked towards the apartment. "Let's just try it and then we can see."
"Do you think that thing's road-worthy?" I asked.
"It's older, but it looks road-worthy." Suzanne said.
I continued to fume and went up to the cab again. There were the two bucket seats with the engine barrel in between and it looked like very little room for another passenger. Was I going to have to share my seat for 11 hours? I also noticed a strong smell of pine and another odor that I couldn't quite identify.
I went to the back of the truck, shook my head again and went upstairs to simmer. Chris and Joe followed me with soothing words. "Don't worry. He already has half the stuff in there and there's still a lot of room."
When I went back down I noticed he had done a miraculous job of packing, but he wasn't being very careful with my belongings, jamming them here and there, wedging them into tiny spots and peeling paint from the sides. "I guess I should UPS my computer and printer and all that delicate stuff."
"Well, I'll bet he can fit it in." Earl said.
"Yeah, but at what cost? I don't want to get there and have nothing but a bunch of broken junk."
Finally, everything was inside except for the hamster. I went to put the hamster at my feet in the front seat and noticed there was no room. When I had spoken to the mover on the phone he had led me to believe it would be no problem to put the hamster at my feet in the cab. The area narrowed to a point just large enough for feet and nothing else.
Then I recognized the other smell, cat urine. At the same time I noticed the large pine deodorizer cylinder mounted on the dashboard, opened halfway. Hello allergies. I quickly closed the deodorizer.
I said my good-byes and then Sam the mover, the Boomhauer impersonator, and I, all crowded into the cab of the van. Boomhauer sat on one of my boxes that had been wedged between the seats and I held the hamster aquarium on my lap. Sam started the engine and I noticed a small rattling sound from the engine. Could this get worse?
As we headed down the Alaskan viaduct, the talking began. First, Sam the mover started talking about how great the old van was and how many journeys it had made. "I took a little colored gal from here, clear to Syracuse, NY a few years back." Next came some patriotic nonsense and then talk of church. I truly was in hell. I realized that not only were we from different generations, but vastly different cultures.
We dropped Boomhauer off in Bellevue. Sam's wife hadn't arrived yet so he called her on his cell phone and I heard, "We'll come down there and pick you up so hurry and get packed."
Next we rattled along towards Auburn and he gave me a running history of every barn, feed store and church. "Now that one right there. That's over 70 years old. They don't make 'em like that anymore." I kept an eye on the dashboard warning lights that could at any minute light up and I noticed that the gas gage was almost on empty. "Do you need to get gas?" I asked. "Oh, yeah," He said. "I know a place." He took all the back roads and then we ended up at a gas station. "It's a little out of the way, but it's the cheapest place in town." He claimed as he jumped out of the cab. I gritted my teeth trying not to think of automatic weapons.
As we drove further into a secluded area near the Green River, I conjured images from the film "Deliverance," and thought about river people taking revenge on me for demanding a contract. I also remembered the fact that the Green River Killer was still at large. How difficult would it be to dump my body, sell all my stuff and keep my hamster? Had I given his phone number or name to any of my friends?
We finally arrived at his trailer, which was in a very secluded area by the river. He went in to get his wife. While I waited for his wife to pack, I yanked down some of my cushions from my couch to make a chair for his wife between the seats. I put the hamster aquarium in a small space that was right behind my headrest. Then I heard some banging and slamming coming from the back of the van. I went back and saw Sam trying to slam the door, but it wouldn't shut because he had stuffed in his wife's luggage on top of my load. One of my boxes was an obstacle, so he was pummeling it with the door. Was he at least a careful driver?
"Hey. Please take it easy with my stuff." I moved the box up. "It'll fit this way." I tried to remind myself to "go with the flow," and "make the best of the situation." Finally his wife emerged from the trailer. His wife, Jean, asked, "Do you mind if I offer up a little prayer to keep us safe on our journey?" I said, "Go for it. It couldn't hurt." While I'm not religious, I thought that anything might be helpful at that point. After awhile I realized Andy had been right-on about the wife traveling along. She kept her husband on track and talking to her. Some of my worries vanished, but I still kept one eye on the dash.
We finally arrived in Boise about 8:00PM and I called my mom and friend Kelli to help us unpack. The apartment was one that I'd lived in 10 years before and I noticed they still had the awful 1970's gold shag carpeting. My mom said, "It looks like it needs to be mowed."
In the end, Sam was really efficient when it came to unloading and his wife helped too. I offered my couch and bedding to them for the night since they didn't have other sleeping arrangements. The next day they left around 10:30AM, bound for Salt Lake and I began to unpack among the shag.
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