A freight elevator is a wondrous machine. You might not think about them very often. You might not think about them at all. You might think they’re just another elevator.
And you’d mostly be right. But there’s one thing that sets a freight elevator apart from your normal run-of-the-mill elevator: you can’t call them.
You might not have known that’s the term for pushing the little up or down arrow. Yep, most normal elevators are “called” when you push the button. A freight elevator doesn’t get called. It sits wherever it is, doors open and inviting, waiting for a passenger to drive it from the inside.
Now, if you know me (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this site, then you probably do know me) then you’re probably wondering where I’m about to go with this metaphor. But you’d be wrong gentle reader, this isn’t a metaphor, it’s a story about a freight elevator - specifically the freight elevator at the apartment where I now live.
Now freight elevators are strange little beasts. If you think about it, it’s like a really well trained dog. It’s always right where you told it to stay, unless of course someone else runs off with it. That can be pretty frustrating if you’re using it for freight, say for instance during a move. So most places will have you reserve the freight elevator, as my new complex does.
I had a reservation for 9am to 1pm on Saturday and from 11am - 3pm on Sunday as a backup. Armed with the dates and times, I set out to find a mover on Thumbtack. Within minutes I had several quotes, all for roughly the same amount. I started with the first mover and asked two questions: “Do you have availability that Saturday morning?” and “Can you complete the entire move by 1pm?”
The first mover wasn’t available. The second could but could only send two guys and was concerned about the fact that I was moving from a second floor to a second floor with a narrow time constraint. The third said they could send three guys and could definitely finish by 1pm without any issue. I agreed on $99/hr and we were all set. They would come armed with blankets, wrap and dollys. And they would tear everything down, wrap it up and put it all back together.
The second mover, Marisol Castillo with Castle Movers, messaged back several times offering better rates, a 3 man team, and was also confident they could get everything in by 1pm. They were very professional, courteous and wanted to work with me to get my business. You know, everything you’d like in a service company. I declined saying I’d already found a mover and didn’t feel comfortable bailing on the deal.
This story really is all about a freight elevator, but I wanted to plug Marisol and Thumbtack, because they really did a great job in what they set out to do. In the course of this story, there are several people and businesses who shine as exemplary, and these were the first two.
The company I went with was Reliable Movers. I arranged everything with Nick, who I assume is the owner. I called Nick back a week before the move just to verify that we were all good. He said, “Yeah, I’ve got you down for 1.” No. No, I need to be finished completely by 1. I explained the reservation for the freight elevator. He understood. I asked if his guys were going to be able to get me moved in by 1. No problem.
It’s important to note that when it comes to freight elevators, you might not know the first thing about them. Folks who move other folks, they use freight elevators any chance they get. When the building is tall enough, you have to reserve it. This isn’t new. This wasn’t a surprise.
But I was surprised that Saturday morning when I received a call at 7:45am. It was from Reliable, I think his name is L.C., but I’m not sure. It was raining that morning and projected to rain well past 1pm. He wanted to know if I thought we should push the move back to 10 or 11 to see if it let up. I didn’t think we could possibly get everything moved that quickly and asked if we needed to push it back to Sunday. While he was checking the schedule I said that there’s only about a 5 foot gap between the apartment door and the truck - my stuff isn’t going to get that wet. So if they didn’t mind getting a little wet, I certainly didn’t. He assured me they didn’t mind working in the rain. So I suggested that if they were worried it might slow them down, they could head over as early as they wanted. He said they’d head over. I laughed and said I’d grab a quick shower before they got there. He said, “Look for us.”
By 9:30am, I had the bed disassembled, everything boxed and staged by the door. It just had to get wheeled on the truck which, rather inconveniently, was not there. Believe me, I looked for it. I called L.C. back, but it went straight to voicemail. I mentioned that they might want to back the truck down the street in front just so they didn’t waste time figuring that out when they arrived.
A little after 10am, I didn’t bother leaving a message when it went straight to voicemail again. I called Nick instead. He told me that his guys said I explicitly told them they didn’t have to be there until 11. I told him I was under the impression they were on their way at 7:45. He got someone else on a 3-way call, had me say it again without them talking and then we all hung up after he said his guys were on the way. About 20 minutes later I received a call from Lee saying they were headed that way and they arrived at 11:15.
After showing them the parking situation and my apartment, I told him that I didn’t see any way we’d make it by 1pm. At first, he didn’t either. We walked back out to the truck, and I told him it was a half hour to the new place, so unless they could load in 40 minutes, it just wouldn’t be possible. He said he thought they could do it. I was a little incredulous, but these guys are professionals. So they backed up the truck and started loading.
Two of them - there were two guys who hopped out of the truck. At this point, it was pretty much moot how many clowns they had fit in their oversized circus car, but I was expecting 3. On the plus side, I was only going to have to pay for 2 at $75/hr. They were a little shocked I was expecting 3, since they would never send 3 guys out for a 1 bedroom. Even though the quote for 3 guys at $99/hr was after I said it was a one bedroom. Even though the reason I went with Reliable was they were going to send 3 guys even though I knew it was overkill. When a freight elevator is on the line, $24/hr is what I call peace of mind.
By 12:15, they had loaded on the truck a few pieces of furniture and most of the boxes. There was stuff outside the truck and staged on both floors next to the elevator. But it was obvious there was no possible way we could hit 1pm even with a couple miracles. After a few calls to the new place, I was able to reserve 6pm to 8pm. The guys talked to their boss, and he wanted them to go do another job. They said it was either that or pay them to sit around for 5 hours. But we couldn’t just leave my stuff sitting all over the complex, so they had to move what was sitting around back into my apartment. They also had to secure off all my stuff to keep it separate from the other job’s stuff they were going to haul in the same truck.
At 1:30, after about an hour of them undoing a lot of the work they had done in the first hour, they left for the other job. They assured me they’d be back at 5 to finish loading. We were going to drop off my bed at a friend’s house, so we could do that on the way and still somehow magically get to the new place by 6 and finish by 8.
Now, I spend a good deal of my time as a software developer poorly estimating how much time it will take to do something. I know a poor estimation when I see it. And a half hour to load the rest of my stuff was clearly a poor estimation. But they had a lot of my stuff in the truck, and I felt pretty powerless at that point to protest. They demanded payment for the work they’d done and undone, and demanded it in cash. I paid them and went to the new place to collect my keys, as the office would be closed by the time we got there to move in.
I got back to the apartment, and finished disconnecting the washer/dryer. Wrapped all the art. Boxed up the stuff I was planning on coming back for later. For the record they didn’t have to take anything apart and the only thing they restored was my washing machine connections. I didn’t ask them to do any of that, I’m just saying that they didn’t have to do any of that work in the time they moved. My brother came by to pick up the stuff I’d set aside for him and the niecephews, and thankfully, to restore a tiny bit of my sanity by letting me vent. At 4:45pm, I called Nick.
When I was at the new place picking up keys, I met the freight elevator. I had been in a freight elevator before, but never at the controls. This was power. It goes when you tell it to go. It stops when you tell it to stop. It stays where you tell it to stay. You live and die at the whim and whimsy of a normal elevator. In a freight elevator, you are king of all you survey, which granted is a tiny metal box. But you’re king of that tiny metal box. I see why you have to reserve it - that’s a war waiting to happen, a war I would gladly fight.
But I wasn’t so mad-drunk with power that I failed to witness The Walk. You can’t pull a truck up to the freight elevator. You have to park the truck on the street and walk everything to the freight elevator through the parking garage. It’s roughly half the width of the complex. The complex is pretty wide.
When I called Nick, I shared this new nugget of information. Maybe it would be enough to convince him that it might make sense to send another guy out if we only had a 2 hour window. I didn’t want it to come as a surprise, and surprisingly he wasn’t surprised. Most buildings tall enough to have a freight elevator that works off reservations tend to have The Walk. He reminisced for a bit over The Walks he’s had to take on jobs before, and said that if anyone could do the move in 2 hours, it was the two guys on my job.
Now, I want to stop for just a moment and stress that I really like Lee and Arron. They’re great guys and I’m very thankful for their effort. But… well, let’s continue.
At 5:30 Lee called to say they were on their way back. They arrived just after 6. With my super powers of time estimation, I realized that they were going to need at least an hour to get everything back to the truck that they’d almost put in the first round, and there was more to do after they got that done. There was no way we were going to make the 8pm unload deadline. I called the new complex to speak to the night desk attendant.
Chris is a great guy - patient and helpful - but he didn’t think there was any way the residents wouldn’t, I believe he put it “raise sin,” if I tried to move in at 9pm on a Saturday. He was very apologetic that it was inconveniencing me, but I assured him that I understood it was either inconvenience me or everyone else and that I just wanted to check. He reserved the elevator, that majestic beast of burden, for 8am Sunday so we could start first thing in the morning.
So, they finally got the last of my stuff on the truck at 8:30, a half hour after they were supposed to have all my stuff unloaded a half hour away. Well, for round two at least; it was almost a full workday past when they had agreed to have it moved. Coincidentally, it was then that we also realized the truck was pinned in the gate.
The gate to the complex closes a little after 6pm every day and doesn’t open again until the next morning. Technically the only thing on the other side of the gate is the Leasing Office parking, but even if your car is on the wrong side of the gate after it closes, you just pull up and it opens, no worries. So you might think that if the gate closed on the truck, then we could just pull up, it opens, and Bob’s your uncle. But I mean it pinned, not penned, the truck in between the fender and the step at the narrowest part of the cab.
They were able to back the truck off the gate, but when the gate hits something it just stops. It doesn’t retract, and it doesn’t finish closing after the blockage clears. It just stops till the next time the timer says to move. And you can’t push it back - not without disengaging the motor.
Now, I’ve lived at this apartment for a while. I knew the old manager pretty well, but he left a while ago and his replacement has only been at the complex for a few weeks. I know the facilities guy pretty well, except for the fact that this particular Saturday was his last day, and I had only briefly met his replacement. I called him, out of desperation, but as I left a message I remembered him saying he has a new phone for his new job. I texted the old manager, and he knew that you could disengage the motor somehow, but didn’t remember what to do. I called the emergency number for the building, but since they were switching facilities guys, the number currently wasn’t directed to anyone and just gave an error message.
We messed around with the motor control box trying to figure out how to open the gate. I was trying to balance getting the inevitable fine from the old complex with paying for the guys to sit there all night smoking. Finally the old manager called the current leasing agent who called the old facilities guy on his new phone. He disengaged the motor and the truck was set free around quarter after 9.
I had to pay for 3 hours, one of which was redoing the undoing of the original doing earlier in the day, and another was sitting around waiting for the gate to give a rousing rendition of Ali Baba’s cave. It was at this time that Lee told me I was going to have to pay for overnight storage. I was again pretty incredulous, which is now the second time I’ve used the word in this account. In all fairness I was incredulous more than twice, but I don’t want to muddy the incredulity bits with accounts of moderate intensities.
I bring this up because I have been in fact muddying the incredule waters all along. Because it was at this point in the evening, after a full day of packing Friday and a full day of shenanigans Saturday, at the peak of feeling like it can’t get any worse on the absurd scale than this, that I was told the following - if I was willing to give a 5 star review on Yelp that “he” (presumably Nick) would probably waive the storage fee. All he really cares about is getting that 5 star review.
In hindsight there were so many amazing comebacks. “Oh I’ll leave a 5 star review, just one star on 5 different websites.” Or maybe “Ha, then I guess I’m paying the storage fee.” Sadly no, all I could muster was weakly mumbling “You’ve got to be kidding, there’s not a 5 star review in my heart.” Honest, yes. Forceful, not even remotely. But when you’re talking to a guy who has your every worldly possession in his possession, forceful seems a little out of reach. Especially immediately after the extortion attempt.
So as they drive off after assuring me that my stuff would be safe for the night I realized a very important fact. I’d been moving stuff all day too. I was on my feet all day, and I just wanted to sleep. But all that was left for me upstairs was a fairly dirty wood floor. I called my brother. It was going to be a little ironic to have him come out to get his stuff only to have me crash on his couch that evening, but I was confident my sister-in-law would eventually have compassion given the rest of my day.
It went to voicemail.
I could get a hotel, there are plenty of them. But I had several valuable things in my car that I didn’t want to carry into a hotel just to get up early and carry to the new apartment. So I went to the new apartment. At least it has carpet in the bedroom.
That was a rough night. I’m too old to be sleeping on the floor. I didn’t have anything. No toiletries or clean clothes. I was expecting to be finished that afternoon with all my stuff sitting haphazardly around the very place I was haphazardly sitting. I didn’t even have toilet paper. I drew a bath and had to drip dry. My clothes were too disgusting to use as a pillow. I finally fell asleep around midnight. I didn’t sleep long.
At 3am, unable to sleep any more, I started filling out the form that apartments have you do to note all the pre-existing damage. As I’m walking around, I’m starting to notice all the little things I didn’t notice when I was touring. The faucet in the kitchen is one of those pull out sprayer kinds. The main closet has an outlet up high next to the upper shelves. All the corners on the doorways and windows are rounded off. The crown moulding is finished even in places where you wouldn’t notice if it wasn’t. There’s crown moulding. The manuals to all the appliances are above the microwave along with a sample bottle of oven cleaner. The doors that lock have the little key to unlock them above the trim. I didn’t even know there was a little key. I’ve always used a little screwdriver. And there’s not just one key, there’s one above each door.
There’s more, but I’ll stop. There were so many little things that were right as I was walking around looking for little things that were wrong. I smelled bad and I was still angry and exhausted, but I was happy. They even left me a bottle of wine as a welcoming gift. No corkscrew or glasses, but sincerely, more than perhaps any other time in my life, it was the thought that counted.
I got going pretty early that morning. Found a donut shop with a decent croissant sandwich, though nothing like Corner Donuts in East Dallas. Best donut shop ever, in case you were wondering. Lee called around 7:30 to say they were heading over soon. Around 8:30 I decided I might as well try to sleep for a bit longer until they showed up. They showed up at 9:30.
By 1, they had everything moved in and were ready to take the bed to my friend. By two, she had the bed, a little grassy and sweaty, but it was delivered and we were done. Four and a half hours. We started to settle, but I told him I needed to go to a bank, since I could only pay for 2 hours. They said after everything I’d been through they’d just charge me the 2 hours but if Nick asked I should say it only took them 2 hours. I handed it over and drove off.
Five minutes later I get a call from Lee saying that I shorted them $40. I gave him $160, which at $75/hr is two hours and a rather chincy $10 tip, but he said that those two hours for some reason should work out to $200. At this point, I decided that I’d pay for all the work they did, which by my reckoning was another hour and some change. So I pulled $100 out a bank, they met me, we settled and they took off.
Now, again, I want to stress - I like these guys. They worked themselves to exhaustion. Saturday was the day after Aaron’s birthday. I’m sure he didn’t want to work that day; he said he just went back to sleep after they called to wake him up. I get it, and I don’t blame him at all. They showed up the next day talking about how sore they were. You know, after sleeping in their own beds and not on the floor or anything. Those guys work hard and I appreciate their work. They were just trying to hurry the job because of that gorgeous hunk of scrap iron and steel cable of a freight elevator and her reservations. Yes, she’s a her. Yes, I know she’s a her. We spent some quality time together over the past few days. She’s a stunning lady. Makes you feel like a king.
Which is why (the hurrying, not the freighty-lady-vator), when I got home and found that my table was scratched up on the side, that both my nightstands were damaged on top, that my liquor cabinet is banged up on the bottom and pushed in on the side, that my toolbox is dented in on the bottom, and that my antique steamer trunk has a handle ripped in two, I wasn’t overly surprised. I wasn’t even surprised to find my plasma TV screen cracked. To their credit, none of my fragile boxes were damaged and all my glass furniture and lamps came through unscathed. But it’s hard to stomach paying almost twice what I payed for the last move to have substantially more damage while still taking over twice as long to get here.
Really though, it’s my fault. Hiring a moving company called Reliable Moving and More is like getting a lawyer who works for Honest Lawyer and Associates. I should know better. Now you know better too.
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