Monday, December 10, 2007

If I May

Allow me to tie together the previous two posts. First, the continuation of our saga, or ...

When Good Plans Go Bad

We left our heroines in the frigid cab of a $300 e-Bay pickup truck, stuck in East St. Louis on a cold, drizzly Saturday night. After numerous attempts to start the truck, hoping against hope that the engine was flooded, it became apparent that the smell of gasoline wafting around us was coming from under the truck, nowhere near the engine, and we were going to need rescued. Our only possible rescuer was Ev's ex-husband, who lives a convenient half hour from St. Louis, so we dug around in the truck for a couple of handfuls of change and trudged back across the parking lot to find a pay phone. It was now 3:00am, and since we don't carry anyones phone number with us, we called directory assistance. After spelling his name and the name of his town several times, we were rewarded with a phone number ... and no place to write it ... so Ev jotted it on the back of her left hand. (By the end of the weekend the back of her hand held at least six important phone numbers, most of them belonging to U-Haul establishments, she'd had taken to calling it her Blackberry and Rob had declared his intention to buy her a stylus to poke it with for Christmas.)

We roused Rob from sleep and he offered to come right then and get us. In hindsight that would have been our best choice, but we chose to get a room instead, and told him to meet us in the hotel lobby at 8:00am to see about getting the truck running.

That's when we were confronted by the first in what was to be a long, long line of unhelpful people offering some of the worst customer service imaginable. The desk clerk said she'd be happy to accommodate us if we could wait an hour and a half until she'd finished her 5am room audit, then IF she discovered a vacant room it would only cost us $77 for the privilege of staying there for three hours. In the meantime, they had no coffee shop or restaurant, but she was kind enough to tell us there were vending machines, but only for the use of registered guests. That was helpful.

We figured it was going to cost us another hundred bucks either way, and they offer free coffee and sodas in the casino, so we slogged back through the rain to enjoy their hospitality for a few more hours. Unfortunately, Illinois casinos have a weird practice of closing for two hours to clean, so at 6am we were driven back out into the sleet to huddle in the truck wrapped in all the jackets, gloves and scarves we had and try to sleep.

You can't sleep in a freezing truck. You can doze a little, but your feet turn to blocks of ice and the pounding rain on the metal roof keeps waking you up. Eventually, the miracle of sunrise occurred, and we waded through the puddles to the hotel lobby to await our rescue. True to form, Rob arrived exactly on time, jovial and well rested with hugs all around, ready to take on whatever challenges would present themselves. The poor man had no idea what the next eight hours would hold.

After a perfunctory attempt to get the truck running, it was decided that the truck needed to be towed home. "Not a problem!" says the ever-optimistic Rob. He was planning to come to our house on Sunday anyway, to bring Carrie a table and chairs, so he called his girlfriend and changed the plans somewhat. Now he'd need to borrow her SUV, rent a car dolly, load the truck on it, and then head to Southern Illinois. We piled into his warm, comfy car to drive 30 minutes back to where he'd just come from, spent another half hour admiring his girlfriend's house remodeling (and lusting after her meticulous tidiness) and drove off in her brand new 2007 Ford Explorer to get the car dolly. Piece of cake.

The first U-Haul we stopped at was pleased to assure us that they did, indeed, have a car dolly. Yay! However, it was presently on a one-way rental to South Carolina. Excuse me, but if your car dolly is on it's way to South Carolina without plans to return, then YOU DON'T HAVE ONE.

Rob called the regional office of U-Haul and they told him there was one in Granite City, north of St. Louis. He called Granite City. They had no car dolly. That's okay, Rob knew there was another U-Haul in Belleville, so he headed there. On our second cirle around Belleville without seeing a U-Haul I suggested that we take the pussy way out and find a phone book.

There is no U-Haul franchise in Belleville. There are U-Haul franchises in St. Louis. Rob called several of them and found one that had a car dolly on the lot, not going to South Carolina. They'd hold it for us. Forty-five minutes later we pulled into Nosser U-Haul on Gravois just in time to watch Nosser finish the process of renting it to someone else. His excuse was that "corporate" told him he had to, and that reservations made through corporate supersede reservations made by the franchise. "That's odd," I said, "because the other two times we've had equipment rented out from under us our reservations were made through corporate, paid in advance, and superseded by the jack-offs in the franchise." I don't really believe Nosser got superseded by corporate. I could tell by looking at the unbelievable filthiness of his establishment that Nosser had about as much use for corporate policy as he did for cleaning supplies. I believe he's a "buck in the hand trumps a reservation" kind of guy, and we were five minutes too late. Still, Nosser wanted to be helpful since he'd just fucked us over, so he called several other franchises in St. Louis and found us an alternative. Not a car dolly, but a car HAULER, which would bump the price up from $69 to $129, but it was now going on noon and we were getting desperate.

The car hauler was across St. Louis, but Rob was still cheerful and we were still laughing, so Yay! We found the U-Haul place, paid the ransom, signed the contract, backed the Explorer up to the car hauler and that's when the shit hit the fan for real.

Enter: The Prick. The Prick is a tight-assed Missourian about 25 years old and full of Corporate Pride under his jaunty U-Haul knit hat and Store Manager badge. He sprints across the parking lot to inform us that we can't hook that car hauler, or any other piece of equipment owned by U-Haul, to a Ford Explorer under ANY circumstances. It's a "safety issue" because Explorers tend to roll over when pulling U-Haul equipment. Rob, a professional OTR truck driver, assures The Prick that he isn't going to roll his girlfriend's new SUV. The Prick refuses on the grounds that he'll lose his crap-ass job. Ev demands to see the policy in writing. The Prick goes back to the office and sanctimoniously pounds on his computer to pull up the policy that states his position. Except that it's not a safety issue. It's a liability issue, and the issue is that Ford and U-Haul have been suing and counter-suing the pants off each other for years trying valiantly to place the blame for Explorer/U-Haul roll-overs. So, despite the fact that EVERY SINGLE VEHICLE U-haul rents is made by Ford, the Explorer is auto-non-grata and its use will not be tolerated. At the bottom of the policy is a little script for U-Haul employees to use, which goes like this:

"What can I do to overcome this issue, accommodate your needs and make your move easier?"

Ev stepped back around to the customer side of the desk and said, "I'm going to give you an opportunity to overcome this issue and accommodate my needs. What are you going to do?" The Prick was taken aback and reiterated what he couldn't do, which was rent us the frigging car hauler. I told him we couldn't sleep in the truck and we had to get it, and ourselves, home, and asked him how he would suggest we do that. He suggested a tow truck. We explained that we live 150 miles from St. Louis. The Prick came up with an accommodating offer to rent us a moving van AND a car hauler at the discounted price of $190 plus tax. I lost it. I asked him if he seriously believed that it was "safer" to put a sleep-deprived driver behind the wheel of a notoriously crappy U-Haul truck towing a car hauler 150 miles through sleet than it was to put the car hauler behind a brand new non-crappy Ford Explorer driven by a well-rested professional driver. He chose not to take the opportunity to demonstrate anything resembling common sense, and clung to the corporate policy with Prickish tenacity. We agreed to pay the increased ransom and while we were waiting for The Prick to dot all his "i's" and cross all his "t's" Ev said to me, "My real hope is that all the Ford executives pile into an Explorer and drive it as fast as they can through the front window of the U-Haul corporate office -- and everyone dies."

The Prick was offended. He told Ev she was "upsetting" him by "dissing his company" right in front of him, and that was no way to act when he was trying to help us out and giving us that spiffy discounted price. I muttered that if they didn't have a corporate-wide bad habit of giving away reserved equipment, and/or we'd been five minutes faster, we wouldn't need his god-damned discount or his crappy truck because we'd be halfway back to Southern Illinois dragging Nosser's $69 car dolly behind the Explorer. Nosser wouldn't have cared if we'd hitched the fucker to a blind three-legged mule if we got there first and had money.

The Prick was dangerously close to invoking the right to refuse service to anyone, so we shut up and signed his paperwork. A mere half hour, and three wiring harnesses later, we drove out of The Prick's lot in a 24-foot moving van that ran like shit, dragging a two-ton car hauler, and followed our now spare driver and vehicle through the narrow streets of St. Louis, across the river and back to the dead e-Bay truck. Our next problem was one of physics. It's impossible for two people to push a ton of dead pickup truck across a parking lot and then apply the amount of force necessary to overcome inertia and shove it up two narrow ramps onto a car hauler while the third one steers, especially when they're cold, wet and hungry and two of them haven't slept in 36 hours. If you add two young, beefy, well-rested casino security guards, however, you can get it done.

We drove BACK to Rob's girlfriend's house, gave her back her vehicle and regaled her with the story. Since it was already 4:00 and we had a U-Haul we decided to load it up with Carrie's table and chairs and let Rob and his girlfriend salvage what was left of their day. At this point we felt like we'd survived the ordeal, so we had a good long laugh and agreed that if we were going to have a disaster, these were exactly the people we'd want to have one with. Ev makes light of the situation and keeps going. I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Rob keeps a cool head, makes jokes and acts like there's nothing in the world he'd rather be doing. We all make suggestions and we all listen to each other. No one has to be in charge. It's like a companionable scavenger hunt and we remind each other what a great story this is going to be. Disasters just reinforce all the reasons we love the stuffing out of each other.

After we loaded up the furniture and the beer, made a few jokes about Rob being hung like a yeast, hugged everyone and got on the highway, the full impact of the past 24 hours hit us like a ton of bricks. We were starving. We were so dead dog tired we couldn't keep our eyes open. We tried to keep talking to each other to stay awake but we sounded like drunks, slurring our words and not making much sense. As hard as I tried, I caught myself over and over again, snapping awake and realizing I'd stopped answering Ev and she'd stopped talking, and looking over just in time to tell her to wake up and open her eyes. We were deadly and had no business doing this, but there was no choice but to keep going. By now it was pitch dark, still pouring rain, and it must have been at least 10:00pm. I looked at my watch and it was 5:30.

We stopped about an hour from home, desperate to wake up and get something to eat, but when our food arrived we both took a few bites, felt queasy, and pushed it around our plates too tired to eat it. Back into the truck with our take-out box.

When we got within a half hour of home we got an exhilarated second wind and spent the rest of the drive congratulating ourselves on still being alive, being such hardy and intrepid problem solvers and having such excellent taste in partners. We parked the truck at the bottom of the hill on the least mushy part of our water-logged acreage, carried the two cases of beer into Carrie's house so they wouldn't freeze and dragged our sore, cold, wet, hungry, exhausted, sorry middle-aged asses up the hill to our fireplace, our worried kids, our cats, our bathtub and our warm, comfortable bed.

And that's how it all would have ended if the whole mother-fucking assembly hadn't sunk up to its axles in the mud overnight. Which brings us to:

Fuckity Fuckety Fuck Fuck Fuck

After Ev wrote her last post this morning she called me at work to tell me she'd hit the wall. I sent her to work, finished up what I needed to get done and came home early. I called U-Haul's roadside assistance hotline and told them our tale of woe. They told me that once we pulled it into our driveway we became responsible for it, and roadside assistance wouldn't assist us. We'd have to tow it or pay to keep it until the ground dried enough to drive it out. I asked where they were located and they said, "Arizona."

"Well, let me tell you about Southern Illinois," I said. "There are no paved driveways here. There are dirt roads, and it's been raining steadily for a week, 24 hours a day, so those dirt roads are mud. We didn't need this much truck, we didn't want this much truck and we had no place to put this much truck BUT in the mud. Would you rather we'd left it on the two-lane highway in front of our house??" I gave up on the roadside assistance people and called the local U-Haul franchise, thinking that fellow Southern Illinoisans would understand the problem the Arizonans couldn't. Boy, was I wrong. The Prick in Training parroted back the corporate policy that it was our responsibility and if we chose to wait until the ground dried they'd charge us for the extra time we kept it.

Larry, our favorite mechanic, sent a tow truck to pull the U-Haul and car hauler out of the mud for free. The friendly tow truck driver had the whole mess pulled out in about 15 minutes, I drove it to Larry's shop and dropped off the Ranger, then had Katie follow me in my car to return the U-Haul to the Carbondale franchise. I wasn't on the contract and I didn't take it with me, which inconvenienced the young man behind the counter. I gave him the contract number, which I had on the note in my pocket with their roadside assistance number, and at the first hint of assholery I told him to pretend he'd found the god-damned truck in the parking lot and the key in the drop-box, and I left. On the way home I narrowly missed hitting a deer.

For boring middle-aged women who live in quiet, uneventful rural Southern Illinois we have entirely too much excitement in our lives.


Anonymous said...

Go ahead and open your Secret Santa package. You deserve a little joy and laughter.


BOTH OF YOU are not to leave the state again until JUNE! Jeez.

Ev said...

But you've got to's an interesting life. Weird and stressful, but interesting.

Remember when Webbie used to insist that our relationship wouldn't last? Now you see why it does.

marl said...

i don't blame you in the least for gunning for the wonks at u-haul. fuckety fuck fuck indeed. i'm pretty sure i'd have been a lot less graceful in the face of the disaster of your weekend.

i KNOW for sure my sister would have shot first & taken names later. she's just a bitch. i'm the nice one.

Anonymous said...

If you were from Jersey you would have said, "Fuck you, you fucking, fuck." But you are from, just where is IL?

Suzanne said...

Holy shit. You know beat my husband and his brother for having the most ridiculous, horrific, evil U-Haul towing story ever. (There's involved being in Penn. when their Ford Taurus died and being forced to rent a car to pick up the 20 foot long U-Haul truck that neither of them knew how to drive, then hitching the rental car to the U-Haul to drive it back to the car rental place, dropping the rental off, hitching their dead car, and then driving for 24 hours straight to MI.)