There’s a special room in Hell reserved for movers. It’s right beside the room holding the cable guy who said he’d be at your house between 9 and 4 and two doors down from the mechanic who swore your car needed a new filibusterator. This room, which is called something fun like The Devil’s Armpit, is only 528 square feet and:
- mind-blowingly hot
- completely and totally empty.
The way I see it, The Devil’s Armpit will look exactly like the apartment my wife Juliana and I moved to in Philadelphia in 2005. See, Juliana got a job in Philly so we moved away from Atlanta, family, friends, and grocery stores that sell beer. To help with this adventure, we hired professional movers. By “professional,” I mean “three guys in matching jumpsuits who handled our possessions like a Star Wars collector handles a 1978 IG-88 12” Bounty Hunter Robot.”
“You can never be too careful!,” Bob, the head mover called out as he carried a box marked FRAGILE out to the truck. Meanwhile, another mover walked in front to clear Bob’s path of any dangerous pebbles.
We gladly paid these men the amounts outlined in our contract: $300 (insurance policy), $800 (deposit), another $800 (1/2 the cost of the move. A final $800 would be due at delivery). Bob took the money order, we shook hands, and he and his partners drove off. It would be the last time we ever saw them. It would also be the last time we ever saw our stuff. At least, in any recognizable condition.
Juliana and I arrived in Philly a few days later. It was Saturday and the middle of August. We made the trek upstairs (the elevator was broken) to the 12th floor—to the aforementioned 528 square foot sauna—and waited for the movers to arrive. A couple hours went by. We tried calling the movers a few times only to get an automated error message from AT&T. Finally, at 10 PM, the phone rang.
“YO!,” the thick Jersey accent shouted into the receiver while the sounds of live Jazz blared in the background. “WON’T BE THERE TONIGHT!”
“Where are you guys?!?”
“WE’LL BE THERE MONDAY OR TUESDAY!”
“I want to talk to Bob. He said–”
Monday or Tuesday came and went. The movers, on the other hand, did not. Calls to both the movers and the moving company led only to automated error messages. The one time we actually managed to reach a live person at the moving company, I was told they had no record of our move. Things were looking bleak. They were about to get even worse. We took a trip to the library and Googled “moving scams.” I’ll save you the time of sifting through the dozen pages of moving horror stories by offering you the following summary instead:
We. Were. Screwed.
Here’s the scam. A couple of crooks open a moving company. They’ve got a registration, license, even those dirty padded furniture mats that smell like broccoli farts. Everything checks out. The company is listed on reputable websites and you’ll read glowing testimonials about their service. You’ll sign a contract and the movers will show up and do a real bang-up job. Then they’ll drive off and your story will become a major motion picture summer blockbuster starring Ben Stiller or, if he’s available, Jack Black.
Around 45 minutes into the film—or roughly 312 Stiller pouty faces—your move will be taken over by an “independent third-party contractor,” which is code for “new crooks who are in cahoots with the original crooks.” One day, the new head crook will call and tell you that, due to a scheduling error, they won’t be able to deliver your stuff for about 30 days. They will, however, deliver it to a storage unit somewhere. For us, “somewhere” was Jacksonville, FL.
Three and a half weeks passed. One night, around 2 AM, I got a call from yet another crook. This time, it was a gruff-voiced cretin who sounded like he’d been gargling razor blades. Let’s call him “Sore Throat.” He wanted:
1. A signed waiver that released the movers (the original company we hired) of any liability.
2. $1000 (in addition to the already agreed-upon $800 payment).
If we failed to comply, “Sore Throat” warned, “you’ll never see your stuff again.”
I contacted lawyers, the Better Business Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Everyone said the same thing, namely “you’re screwed.” The Department of Transportation did elaborate slightly, saying that if the planets were to align in a Triple Lindy formation and pigs started to fly and Ryan Seacrest went down to holding only four jobs and—this is the big one—the DOT suddenly increased their staff by, say, 200%, then, maybe just maybe, they might be able to research our claim before the next Olympic games.
Back to the scam. The movers have all the power. Sure, you could sue them…and you’d win. But you’d never see a penny from the judgment. The crooks would simply declare bankruptcy and close up shop. Then, the very next day, they’d reopen with a new name and phone number. Cue Stiller pouty face.
OPERATION: UP A CREEK was well underway and we had no choice but to employ the age-old WHIPPED solution (see Jon vs. Kate). I called Sore Throat and agreed to his terms. The very next day, the moving truck pulled up in front of our building. A tall, lanky guy—another independent contractor—jumped out of the cab and, without talking, opened up the back of the truck.
Inside? Furniture that looked like it had been attacked by a chainsaw. Clothes, covered in mold from spending the past month in a wet storage unit, thrown around. And boxes, stacked floor to ceiling, in the shape of basketballs. Except the ones marked FRAGILE, interestingly enough. Those were shaped like footballs.