How I spent three days of my Christmas vacation with a 14-foot U-Haul truck

Once again, dear readers, I’ve waited far too long since my last post. Then again, a lot has happened since Christmas Day. I’ll fill you in in installments, though, so that you’re not overwhelmed. Here’s your first one:

How I spent three days of my Christmas vacation with a 14-foot U-Haul truck

You may or may not know that I still own an apartment in Washington, DC, where I lived for 8 years before moving to Paris in 2010. Since I haven’t really worked since 2009, maintaining a mortgage on that piece of prime real estate no longer made any sense and I put it on the market a few months ago. (Incidentally, if you’re looking for a beautiful, 1100-sq.-ft., 1927-build, Beaux-Arts apartment in Adams Morgan, send me a message and I’ll put you in touch with my broker!) What that decision meant was that I needed to move a LOT of furniture and personal effects out of the place, so Michel and I planned a three-day excursion to DC right after Christmas to load up what was left of my stuff and move it back to my parents’ place in South Carolina. That couldn’t possibly be TOO difficult, right?

My Old Place
My Old Place

Serendipitously, my friends Scott and Paul were going to be in Washington at the same time during a stay over before their flight back to London, and Scott graciously offered their assistance with loading the U-Haul. I was grateful, of course, because I had been obsessing over how much stuff was in the apartment and how Michel and I would handle all of it ourselves. To thank them, I offered to treat Scott and Paul to whatever fine dinner they might be craving once we’d finished up the work. It wouldn’t take too long, I thought. After all, many hands make for light work!

The big day started on a good note. I picked up the U-Haul bright and early and, although the size of it was a little daunting, I got the hang of maneuvering it through the streets of Washington in pretty short order. Backing it into the building’s loading dock, on the other hand, was a slightly different affair. Thankfully, Simon—the concierge at my building who happens to be a former truck driver—offered to take care of that for me when I told him after a few unsuccessful attempts that I was just going to park the thing in the alley. Michel and I then spent the next few hours packing up personal effects—mainly boxing books and bubble-wrapping glass. Right before Scott and Paul arrived, though, I decided that we needed a head-start on moving the actual furniture and that one of the two sofas would be best place to start. That’s when the nervous breakdown happened …

First of all, the sofa in question is simply very heavy and quite unwieldy. It’s a Mitchell Gold, so it has really solid construction, and it has this mid-century, low-profile design, which just means that while it’s not tall, it is long and deep … and that would be the reason why we couldn’t get it into the freight elevator. DUM, DUM, DUM, DUM, DUM! So there we were, standing in the middle of the hallway with a sofa wobbling back and forth on a furniture dolly and no discernible way to get it out of the building.

It's a lot heavier than it looks! Trust me!
It’s a lot heavier than it looks! Trust me!

Now, if you know me, you know that I don’t deal very well with these kinds of unexpected adversities. Michel, on the other hand, kept calm and eventually convinced me that we didn’t need to chop the sofa into pieces and throw it out of the window. That’s when the phone rang. It was Scott telling me that he and Paul were downstairs and were on their way up. Apparently, my despondence came through loud and clear: when they arrived on the scene, Scott told me that he was relieved to find that the problem was just an immovable sofa and not that Michel and I had decided to divorce from the stress of packing boxes. I frantically explained the problem to our rescuers, and cooler heads determined that the only solution would be to take the sofa …

down the stairs

three floors down

that’s six flights.

To make a very long, very heavy story a bit shorter and lighter, we managed it … along with yet another sofa, an armoire, two dressers, a coffee table, a kitchen table and four chairs, a living room chair that’s a lot heavier than it looks, and so many boxes of books, we couldn’t count them. The “baby” Bowflex stayed in the storage unit for disposal at a later date. (Which reminds me, if you’re interested in one of those, let me know and we’ll talk!) Scott and Paul were so hot, sweaty, and exhausted by the time the truck was loaded that they decided not to take us up on that dinner offer … or maybe it was because we were so hot and sweaty?  In any case, we’re truly grateful for your help, Scott and Paul, and we’ll eventually catch up with you on this side of the Pond for that thank you dinner!

The next morning at 7:30, we rolled out of the loading dock in our 4-ton truck (loaded with another ton of my stuff) to begin our 435-mile trek down Interstate 95 to South Carolina. It was a pretty easy drive until we crossed the 14th Street Bridge onto I-395 in northern Virginia. Let’s just say that keeping a truck that size in the right lane with merging traffic every 1/4 mile while being passed on the left by cars running 75 mph is not exactly the most restful driving experience. My shoulders are still tense just thinking about it. Eventually, though, I got in my zone and we rolled on down the road, stopping a few times to eat and a few more times to fuel up. (8 miles per gallon doesn’t stretch a 40-gallon gas tank very far. I’m not quite ready to see my next Amex bill, that’s for sure!)

That's how I roll.
That’s how I roll.

Finally, at about 5 pm, we rolled into the yard at my parents’ house in Bishopville, exhausted but ready to unload as much of that furniture as possible. Boxes of books were unloaded onto the deck, boxes of glass went inside, and then it came time for the sofa … the infamous sofa … the one that had to descend the stairwell in DC … the one that couldn’t get through the door at my parents’ house!

9-1/2 hours later
9-1/2 hours later


I really should have taken a photo that evening to capture for posterity my Mitchell Gold sitting outside on the patio covered in a tarp. Oh well, I’ll just leave it to your imagination.

After that, we decided to move the armoire … the 500-lb. armoire. Now, back in DC, the armoire was fairly easy to move: we tilted it back, slipped the dolly underneath, rolled the dolly into the freight elevator, rolled it out to the loading dock, and shifted it into the cargo space of the truck. At my parents’ house, though, there was no loading dock and the bed of the truck’s cargo space was three feet off the ground. Maybe we could put it on the dolly and roll it down the loading ramp? That seemed like  a good idea until we realized that the incline of the ramp, coupled with the top-heaviness of the armoire would mean that it would probably tumble over and crush somebody on its way down the ramp. I was ready—once again—to turn my furniture into firewood, but my mom interceded and said she’d call a local furniture store the next morning. Surely someone could come help us or at least rent us a handtruck. (Of course, I had lacked the foresight to rent one of those back in DC.) We emptied the rest of the truck and decided to eat dinner and put the armoire out of our minds for the rest of the evening.

© U-Haul
© U-Haul

Thursday morning, we awoke to day #3 of the U-Haul saga. Before resorting to begging for assistance from a furniture store, we decided to give the armoire one more try. Michel had the bright idea to lay the armoire down on its back—a delicate enough operation given its weight—and then slowly push it out of the cargo space until enough of it was hanging in mid-air that its own weight would ease it to the ground. Then we’d just stand it up. Bracing ourselves for sprained muscles, smashed fingers, and/or split boards, we put the plan into action … and it worked like a well-oiled machine! Of course, we then had to move the armoire across 15 feet of dewy grass, up the steps to the deck, through the dining room, and down a hallway to its resting place in my old bedroom, but that was a cakewalk after having gotten it out of the truck. After that, we loaded a few pieces of furniture that my parents had sacrificed to make room for my things … along with that infamous sofa that wouldn’t fit through the door … and headed off to nearby Hartsville, to put my sofas in my uncle’s place. (Remember? There was a second one in the truck that we didn’t even try to get into my parents’ house.)

Again, it's a lot heavier than it looks!
Again, it’s a lot heavier than it looks!

So, after 3 days and 487 miles together (not to mention about 60 gallons of gas), dropping off the U-Haul that afternoon was like saying goodbye to an old friend … one you never, ever want to see again. The lesson I’ve learned from this experience is this, dear readers:

Hire movers or, in the alternative, furnish your home with only lightweight furniture from IKEA. Your back will thank you.

© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

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