A Christmas Journey: Ghost of the Past

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.



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?


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