A Christmas Journey: Ghost of the Past

Highway to Hell

Just because you reserve a U-Haul doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. In fact, to U-Haul it means diddly. Even if you explain that you’re moving 1,000 miles across three states in the middle of winter. They shrugged. So much for planning.

The year was 2,001, two days before Christmas, Mr. Bumble and I arrived at the U-Haul center in Colorado, heading to our new home in Reno, Nevada. We combined our holiday visit with a big move. We were going to be there anyway, so decided to visit and move all at once. I don’t recommend this, by the way. I confirmed our reservation for a small, ten-foot truck. My confirmation apparently drove off the property. Apparently, moving is a popular pastime two days before Christmas.

Our only other option was the only truck left, just the one. It was their 26-foot Jumbo Hauler, big enough to move four plus bedrooms. Considering we also needed to attach our pick-up truck and haul it too, well, it then became a monster, at least 40 feet in length.

L'Enfant

L’Enfant

vs.

The Mother Lode, but even longer than this

The Mother Lode, with our U-Haul truck even longer

DAY ONE – Two days before Christmas

We got off to a late start, hassling with the truck trailer. I had our two cats in my car to keep me company. Mr. Bumble was a bit nervous, I could tell, but didn’t let on to anyone else. We had already moved cross-country twice. This was nothing. We prepared ourselves with walkie-talkies. It would be an adventure.

I drove behind my husband. On our walkie-talkies we conversed:

Me:   Trying to lose me?

Him:  Says I’m going only 40.

Me:  Uh…try 80. 

Right. The speedometer was broken. It’s bad enough when you’re in a different car and it feels foreign. In this colossus, my husband’s whole equilibrium was screwy and out of whack. The truck swerved and whipped around like nobody’s business.

I tried to assure him. “It’s only another 800 miles.” Okay, that wasn’t quite the right thing to say.

If only we would have consulted our handy U-Haul manual, we would have been reassured with tips like this one.

Handy U-Haul Manual Tip #1:

A “disturbance” is improper handling, oversteering or other deviation of the truck from its intended path, due to one or more causes (improper loading, steering inputs, excessive speed, crosswinds, passing vehicles, rough roads, tire blowout, trailer sway or whipping, etc.).

Does a broken speedometer qualify as a disturbance, U-Haul?

A broken speedometer provides you with the unwanted side effect of existing in an alternate reality, one you do not want. Things are not what they seem, and the experience of not knowing, yeah, that’s a disturbance all right. Thank you, U-Haul.

The driving experience intensified when the roads turned to black ice and the snow fell, ever so delicate at first. I got an occasional meow from my cat sitting on my lap. My husband gripped his steering wheel for dear life. He didn’t know up from down, or left from right, wrestling with the truck monster, swerving like a maniacal serpent through treacherous mountain roads. When we did stop off the road, he looked increasingly clammy and startled, dizzy from hyperventilating.

If only we consulted our manual, we would have known this tip.

Handy U-Haul Manual #2:

AVOID crashes by slowing down. Reduce your speed from what you would normally drive your car under similar road conditions. Drive defensively – anticipate stops, brake early and never follow closely.

Duh. Sure, this is good advice if you have brakes. It became obvious that the brakes were not at full strength. No brakes, no slowing, no stopping. Just panicking and sweating, profuse sweating.

We stopped somewhere in Wyoming for the night. While I was in the lobby checking into our motel, my Bumble husband flew through the parking lot toward the lobby entrance, and ripped off the overhang. The overhang lay littered in pieces all over the parking lot, while my husband was nowhere. He blasted through like a tornado.

If only this tip would have been relevant.

Handy U-Haul Manual #3:  

U-Haul trucks are taller than passenger cars. If you don’t know the overhead clearance, get out of the truck and make certain that you are clear of any obstruction. Do not guess.

I stared at the hotel clerk, “Did he just rip that thing off?”

Then, in a most southern accent, “Yes. I do believe he did.”

Oh, man. I shuffled off calmly, without another word. Maybe they would think it was the wind.

DAY TWO – Christmas Eve

The snow fall picked up, followed by more black ice, counter-steering, and wrestling with the truck beast. I had moments when I considered abandoning ship altogether. We don’t need that junk we’re hauling, I’d tell myself. We can probably pick that stuff up at flea market. We could get our photos and our precious belongings, and save ourselves.

No late trucks

But then, thought of our warning, and our late fee…

When we reached Nevada it was dark, with at least a couple of feet of snow on the ground. We were starving and stopped at a casino for a Christmas Eve breakfast; pancakes, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy. It was fabulous. Nothing ever tasted so good.

We began to relax when just half-way through our meal, we heard sirens and perceived what looked to be flashes of blue and red. Merry Christmas. We knew. We made our way outside and saw at least two cops cars and people gesturing wildly, yelling and cursing.

Handy U-Haul Manual #4:

Always set the parking brake when parking. Move the shift selector firmly into park and then firmly set the parking brake.

This tip also did not apply. My husband parked the truck on a very slight, ever so slight, hill. I know what you’re thinking. He attempted to park away from all the other cars, plus as you can imagine, there was nowhere to park this thing. While we ate our delicious meal in the casino, cars had parked it front of the truck. The parking brake, yes, it was engaged, gave in, and the truck nose-dived into a pack of cars. Like dominoes they toppled with at least seven cars smashing into one another. Quite simply, we had ruined their Christmas.

The next day, we made it to our destination and spent Christmas with our family. All’s well that ends well, yes?

Epilogue

Months later, my brother-in-law, lawyer extraordinaire, settled the case against U-Haul out of court. With our police report identifying the truck’s faulty brakes, we were not held liable. If you’re reading this and your car was totaled that night, I’m really sorry.

The brakes were deemed life-threatening. We’re actually quite lucky we didn’t crash or drive off a cliff.

After our saga, whenever we saw a U-Haul truck on the road or passed by a U-Haul center, we yelled, “Fuck you, U-Haul.” It made us feel better. As time passed, when we encountered U-Haul we simply flipped them off. Now it’s more of a second-nature, knee-jerk reaction. Oh, did I just give U-Haul the finger? Oh, I guess I did. Well, how about that? U-Haul haunts me to this day.

Are you surprised I found this picture? I'm not.

Are you surprised I found this picture? I’m not.

If you are thinking about moving over the winter, I have one word of advice: Don’t. Just wait until spring. There’s a reason animals hibernate during the winter.

And, Merry Christmas! I wish you a wonderful holiday. If you are traveling, please travel safe.

photo credits all via photopin cc: Genista; wrenoud; smenzelRob Blatt ; as_much

Reference: U-Haul Instruction Manual

52 Comments on “A Christmas Journey: Ghost of the Past

  1. I heartily chuckled all the way through Amy. I am so sorry for your traumatic experience but it was Christmas Vacation funny. Alls well that ends well. My husband actually totaled his car on Tuesday. But he wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t in the passenger seat (where it was hit), and insurance will take us back to zero. Thank God no one got hurt in the making of thiese stories.

    • Thanks, Shalagh. I can only write about this years later!! I’m so sorry to hear about your husband totaling his car. How frightening to be in an accident! Thank God you were not in the car! Oh, scary. I wish you guys a safe and merry Christmas! -Amy xoxo

  2. What a horrible ordeal, but it made for a great story, so there’s that. :) Your husband probably lost two years of his life driving that thing. Talk about stress.

    • Thanks, Carrie! Yes, at least two years of his life, and that much to recover from this thing. Horrible ordeal is right! It was a nightmare. I think I can write about it now with the distance from it. It feels good to laugh about it.

    • Absolutely! Thank you, Karen. I laughed and laughed when I found this picture! I hit gold. Of course, it’s moving, but then if you’re moving with U-Haul…good luck!

  3. Amy,
    God, what a nightmare! We’ve never driven through Wyoming in the winter – mainly because when we drove up to Yellowstone in the summer, we noticed gates and signs everywhere that said “Road closed, return to the nearest town.” These are in place in the event of a snowstorm and the need for “safety.” And the thing about Wyoming is, even when there is a town, it often consists of a post office and few houses. So glad you guys made it somewhat safely and what a great story! Hope your holiday is a good one – and that you’re staying put this year!
    Cathy

    • Thanks, Cathy. If only we would have known about those signs in Wyoming, right? That would be a terrible place to break down. And, we had no cell phones. They may not have worked there anyway. It was a miracle we got there safe! We were lucky, but also felt someone must have been looking out for us. I’m glad I survived to tell the tale. Thanks for reading! We may be driving, but just a small car : ) Happy Holidays to you! – Amy

  4. wow Amy! What a hellish trip! I felt so sorry for your husband, because I know what it’s like to drive one of those monsters! with a trailer! Oh boy, we could exchange horror stories! I am just so happy you both made it and sued them! Good! One day, I will have to post my 2 stories about Uhaul and my cross country adventures! Big hugs to you and husband! Have a wonderful Christmas……

  5. Don’t think we have Uhaul over here (thank God!) Sounds like a complete nightmare -well done for surviving it! My fave bit of advice from Uhaul: “Avoid crashes by slowing down”. That’s very clever – do you think they thought of that all by themselves? :)

    • Yes, yes!! That’s brilliant, isn’t it? I laughed when I read that. Oh, really, U-Haul? A wonderful piece of advice. And, notice how it’s in all caps…like duh? Make you sure avoid a crash, all right. Do they think we want to crash, I don’t know. :)

  6. That’s hilarious (at least, it is because it ended with only property damage.

    I think I’ve driven that exact same truck. And 8 months after, I met the wife of the fed-ex driver, the side of whose truck I ripped off.
    Small world…

    • Oh, Guapo…It sounds like you have your own tale, and it was as much fun as mine! I have a feeling a lot of people have U-Haul stories. It is a good thing it ended in just property damage. We were lucky! Merry Christmas to you!

  7. I don’t think I will EVER look at a U-Haul truck the same again! Thank God no one was injured and your brother-in-law came to your defense. It could’ve been a lot worse. Sounds like a scene from a movie!
    Fortunately, my family won’t we be traveling far this holiday so we’re in good shape. Merry Christmas, Amy!

    • I’ve never looked at U-Haul either, Anka. We haven’t used them since and don’t plan to. I’m glad you’re not traveling. We will probably, don’t even know yet, be driving some. But, thankfully, not this far! Merry Christmas to you, Anka!

  8. Yikes! That sounds like the sort of thing that would happen to me, B.F! Makes for a very good story, but probably not worth it – if you have to actually go through the experience(s)!
    Anyway, wishing you and your family a much less eventful and very Merry Christmas this year! :)

    • Thanks, SIG. I certainly could have done without all the drama, to be sure. But, at least I could write about it. It’s not too painful to think about now since it happened so long ago :) No moving this Christmas! That in itself is just wrong. Merry Christmas, SIG!!

  9. Great story but the horrible ordeal is not for me. Gotta wonder whatever happened to the “safety first” mantra. At least that is in the past, and hopefully won’t happen to anyone else. Meanwhile, Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    • Yes, it was horrible. At least I can laugh about it now. You have to laugh. At least no one was hurt. It was one those things where you didn’t quite know how bad it was since you were in the middle of it. I hope by telling the story people will think about safety. Merry Christmas to you, Frank!!

      • At least the rear view mirror of time has softened the event … Cheers … Oh … hope you can stop by sometime. :)

  10. What a frikken nightmare! I would have been in tears after the first half hour. I was laughing between squeals of horror reading this. I’m so glad you survived and lived to tell a very interesting tale. Merry Christmas to you and I’ll never be using U-Haul after reading this! :D

    • Thanks, Dianne! Yes, it’s good to laugh about it now. I don’t think I even knew how horrible it was while I experienced it. I don’t think I even cried, because I had to keep strong. Avoid the U-Haul at all costs. :) Merry Christmas to you!!

  11. I can totally relate! I hate U-Haul, too!!! We drove one from Utah to Indiana. It was a nightmare deluxe. Ugh. Never again.
    Thanks for sharing this. Luckily it makes for comedy gold with some time and distance between you and the trip. A Great and satisfying post!!!
    Lisa

    • Lisa,
      I just knew someone else would have a U-Haul story. Utah to Indiana, that must have been quite a trip! A nightmare deluxe…I had to laugh. Yes, never again! Comedy gold, that’s fine compliment and makes it all worth writing. I do feel it’s one of those stories I needed to get out and it feels good to laugh about it now. You know. Thanks so much for reading.
      Amy

  12. I wish I had read this before I started my move. You could have saved me a lot of grief. The move was supposed to have taken place on Friday the 22nd, but as of today we are still driving two and a half hours there and back every day (not today) trying to finish up. Hopefully Thursday will be the last trip. And we didn’t even use U-Haul. Although, I have used it in the past and yes there is a story.
    I hope your Christmas was great this year.

    • Hi Michelle. Well, if there’s anything I’ve learned from moving and transitions is that sometimes all the planning in the world won’t make a difference. Know that you’ll get through it and it won’t last forever. Soon, you’ll be in your new location and in forward motion. I wish you best. You will have to tell me your U-Haul story some day. My Christmas was pretty uneventful this year and we stayed put. No traveling at all. Of course, I didn’t see a lot of my family either. Hang in there! Hugs!!

  13. Stupid U-Haul, love the picture. I cant believe that happened! Hopefully I won’t have a similar experience when moving to FL. Chris will be driving the U-Haul!

    • Good luck you two! Please check the brakes!! Hope it is a smooth move. I’m so excited for you, La La.

      P.S. Can I use a pic from you “Yeses to these Dresses” post for an Award post I want to do? Of course, I will link it back to this post. I’ll say something like, “La La agreed that we could borrow these dresses.”

      • Of course! I am so behind on my responses, I’m sorry it’s late! I loved that you thought of me with the wine the other day!!!

      • Thanks, La La. Absolutely!! The Malbec was a great choice. Don’t worry. I know you’re in the middle of move and all. I hope it’s going well!

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  15. I am glad you lived through this, if only to make me laugh by telling this story. I too have a list of companies that I automatically give the finger to, and I can’t say that any of them actually ever threatened my physical being. I think you should have been allowed to kick a member of u-haul management in the shins.

    • Oh Jen, thanks! Yes, I’ve learned in writing this that I’m not only the one who would like to give U-Haul a swift kick, the whole lot of them. It’s therapeutic to write about it now. I’m glad you got a laugh out it. It’s good for me to laugh about it now!! I’d like to see your list. I bet you have some good stories.

  16. Be careful flipping off the U-Hauls because as you know you are flipping off whoever is driving them and they don’t know why. So sorry and thankful no one was hurt. You or anyone in the parked line of cars the U-Haul hit.

    • No, I’m more discreet than that. Ha ha. I don’t hold anything against anyone who must drive a U-Haul. It was fortunate that no one was hurt. This is why I can laugh about it now. If someone was hurt, it would be an entirely different story.

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