Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Greyhounds and U-Hauls and McDonald's and birthdays and other disgraces.

Man, what a week this has been. My two readers are probably tired of looking at that last post over and over again, and I'm sorry. I don't have regular Internet access anymore but I have a lot to say, so I apologize if my posts are rushed and sloppy for the next couple months. Also, I'm sorry if this font is super huge or super small; Blogger is actin' a fool today.

As I predicted in my last post, my luggage did get lost for a time.  So let's start with my move back to Wisconsin, eh? 

It was a dark and stormy night last Saturday, June 23. Well, except change "dark" to "white hot" and "stormy" to "dusty" and "night" to "day," but it really was June 23. I told you I'd ordered a U-Box portable storage cube to be delivered to my apartment in Phoenix on that day, which conveniently did not show up. Armed with my confirmation number for this order, I called U-Haul and was transferred 13 times, only to find out that they didn't even have an order on file for me. After getting transferred to several different managers, I was finally told that the U-Box would be delivered by 1pm that day. Since I couldn't see the driveway to my complex from my apartment windows and I didn't want to miss the U-Haul guys, I waited outside in the blistering 109-degree heat between 12:55 and 1:30. Then 2pm rolled around and still no U-Box. I figured it just wasn't coming at all, and my mind started racing with alternatives, because I had to be out of that apartment within 2 days. I checked with PODS and with other moving truck companies, but they were either too expensive or didn't have any equipment available for that weekend. I contemplated posting all of my belongings on Craig's List and getting rid of everything I owned immediately. I called U-Haul again multiple times, but they still had no record of me ever ordering a U-Box and no record of anyone telling me it would be delivered by 1pm.

I really had no idea what to do.  There was no other affordable way to get that apartment emptied in 2 days unless I had that U-Box.  I started to cry.  Then I took a bag of garbage out to the Dumpster. And lo, plopped in a random part of the parking lot, there was my fucking U-Box. Apparently it had arrived sometime after 2pm, but the drivers didn't call me or knock on my door when they arrived, and instead just double-parked it and ran off, without bothering to ask where they should park it, without answering any of my questions about it, and without having me sign any rental agreement or anything. Then I had to call my apartment manager and explain why it wasn't parked where he'd told me to park it, and explain why it was taking up two of my neighbor's spaces. I guess it was a good thing they weren't going to be my neighbors for much longer...

But whatever. My U-Box was there and it was Saturday afternoon and I needed to get that sucker packed. So using my mad Tetris skills, I managed to stack an entire household's worth of stuff into that little 5'x8' cube. I called U-Haul again to have them pick up the U-Box on June 25 and take it to their storage facility, the same day I'd be boarding my bus to Wisconsin. They said, "Okay, we'll pick it up on June 25."

On June 26, when I was passing through goddamned Texas, my apartment manager in Phoenix texted me saying that the U-Box was still on their property. Another flurry of calls to U-Haul revealed that, as I suspected, they had no record of a U-Box ever being delivered to my apartment at all, and there was also no record of me calling them to schedule a June 25 pick up. I was getting really fucking tired of being transferred from one department to another to another to another, only to finally get on the line with a customer service rep who'd look at the notes on my account and say, "Hm, that's strange." Hm, that's strange that you have a confirmation number but no order. Hm, that's strange they told you it would be there at 1pm. Hm, that's strange they delivered a U-Box to you and didn't make any record of it. Hm, that's strange there's no record of you calling to schedule a pick-up. Hm, that's strange that a U-Box number hasn't been assigned to you and your credit card hasn't been charged yet. 

Yeah?  Well, you know what, U-Haul?  It's YOUR company doing all this strange shit, so maybe instead of looking at my account with awe and cross-eyed confusion, you should figure out why you're unable to deliver the products and services you advertise. I mean, I had never asked for anything unusual or made any oddball demands. I placed a no-frills order for a storage service that your company claims to provide.  I'm no business mogul myself, but if you can't perform the service, then stop advertising it.

Anyway, finally, on the afternoon of June 27, another manager called me to proudly announce they'd "successfully picked up my U-Box and it's now in storage!" Oh, yay. That's what was supposed to happen DAYS ago. And now they aren't charging me for the insurance option I specifically ordered—presumably because they still have no record of me ever ordering anything—so if they wreck my stuff, they're probably going to say, "Oh, well you didn't choose the insurance option, so there's nothing we can do." Now I have to call them again and be put on hold, then be transferred to another number, which'll be the wrong number, then I'll get transferred again to another wrong number and the clerk on the other end of the line will get all huffy like I called the wrong number on purpose just to bother her, and then my call will get transferred again, then dropped during the transfer because the other clerk is new and doesn't know how to work the phone yet, and it's going to take weeks of phone calls to resolve this garbage.
I wish I could have afforded a moving truck and driven everything to Wisconsin myself. The only option I could afford was this U-Box, though. I KNOW you get what you pay for, but sometimes you can't pay for anything better. I guess a lot of other people are in the same position:


I don't understand why people say private companies are more efficient than the government. Have they ever dealt with a private company? Have they ever worked for a private company? Bureaucracies are bureaucracies, and they are ALL inefficient and ridiculous and drive everyone crazy. That is their nature. It doesn't matter whether they're privately or publicly run.

So in the middle of this U-Box debacle, I was patronizing another one of America's most respected and admired companies: Greyhound Lines, Inc. For 47 hours and 2,000 miles, as a matter of fact. 

This was my 17th trip by Greyhound bus, and the 17th of which I have made completely alone. I first started riding them when I was 18 years old, and 9 of those 17 trips have been cross-country, and 8 have been shorter, within-state trips. Did you know I have taken a Greyhound trip every single year from 2000 to 2012, with the exception of 2007 and 2009? Fascinating, I know. You, my friends, are reading about one experienced Greyhound rider.

That is not to say that I enjoy taking Greyhounds. I mean, there are innumerable things to hate about them, but one thing I do that makes Greyhound riding a little more bearable is bring a surgical mask with me and spray the inside of it with one my favorite perfumes, and then wear it around my neck, so that when someone near me on the bus has really bad breath or keeps dropping ass after eating a rotten chili dog, I can throw that mask over my nose and breathe without dying. 

  That's the sweater I was wearing when I smelt a terrible stench.

Perhaps such masks send a subtly hostile signal, but I dare say there's nothing wrong with maintaining a little extra personal space in a crowded area by letting people assume you've got the plague.

Now, being the experienced rider from the north that I am, I am aware that Greyhound's policy is that you must take your luggage from one bus to the next every single time you switch buses. For this trip, a single bus took me all the way from Phoenix to St Louis. My luggage was on that bus when it left Phoenix, I swear on my life.  But 1,500 miles later, when we arrived in St Louis at 3:30 in the morning on Wednesday, my luggage was gone.  It was missing from the bus I put it on.  I circled and circled and circled the bus, looking for my bags, but they weren't there. After all the other passengers had collected their luggage and left, and the bus was empty—the seats were empty, the storage compartment was empty, the parking lot was empty—I was standing there alone, at 3:30am, with no fucking luggage. I hunted down the driver and some baggage guys for help, and they sneered, "You're supposed to transfer your own luggage."

YES, I KNOW THAT. I again explained that I hadn't had any transfers since Phoenix, and still my luggage was gone. The driver looked confused and said, "Well, maybe they took it off in Tulsa and sent it to Indianapolis first." Yeah, 'cause that makes perfect sense. To go from Oklahoma to Wisconsin, you go through...NOT Indiana. The baggage guys said that if my luggage had the proper ID tags, they'd end up at my final destination eventually. And I didn't believe that for a second.  

At that point I remembered why for many years I have refused to check any luggage while traveling and instead have crammed everything into carry-ons. This was the 4th time my luggage had disappeared while traveling. It happened once when I was flying with Lufthansa, but I did get my luggage back eventually. The other two times were with Greyhound--I once got my luggage back, and the other time, I never saw my luggage again.

Suffice it to say my trip was not going very well at this point.

Fortunately, one of my brothers—let's call this one Gator—had offered me the use of a spare bedroom at his house, so at least I had a place to crash (in my dirty clothes) when I arrived in Wisconsin on June 27. Thursday I went to my mom's to swipe some of her clothes, and while I was there, the phone rang, and she and my other brother Bray (I know this is confusing but I've seriously got 6 brothers, y'all) stood there squinting at the caller ID, and I was all, "Pick it up! It might be the Greyhound station calling to say my luggage arrived!" And sure enough, it WAS the Greyhound station saying my luggage had arrived! Joy to the world! By that point I'd worn and slept in the same set of clothes for 4 whole days, and that's my new record. I hope I never beat that record, because I don't know that I've ever looked so wrinkled and rumpled and unfit for civilized society. 

So that was how my Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday went.  Now for the next couple days. 

As I said, I'm staying with my brother Gator for the time being. His former stepdaughter had been staying in the spare bedroom before me, and he'd warned me that she left a big mess and I'd have to clean it up, which was fine. His former stepdaughter is only a couple years younger than me and she and I played together as kids on occasion, although we hadn't stayed in touch since her mother and my brother got divorced several years ago. Anyway, at first glance, this spare bedroom looked like it was littered with her clothes and garbage, but as I was clearing it out, I was shocked to find legal papers, letters, diaries, photographs, and, um, paraphernalia that revealed that she'd had some serious legal troubles as well as battled heroin addiction and alcoholism. I couldn't believe my eyes. The last time she and I hung out, she was a shy little blond girl with big plastic glasses. Now I was putting away her Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous books that she got from rehab. It was so incredibly sad, and unfortunately explains why, when she and I bumped into each other two years ago at a family event, she had no idea who I was and couldn't remember me at all.  

In other family news, I set up a Facebook account for my mother, who turned 75 last week. I mean, she's had a computer for some years now, but she's always been one of those people who only uses it to listen to music and play solitaire. Last week I stopped by her house, and I thought it'd be fun for her if she could keep up with all the blurbs and pictures the rest of our family posts of their kids and pets on Facebook. So I uploaded a nice picture for her profile, then showed her how to navigate the menus, send friend requests, and manage her privacy settings. It's cute that now her grandkids are posting on her wall, saying "I love you, Grandma!" but now she's also "liking" everything and sharing photos from HGTV. I think I've created a monster. Maybe I'll have to post a few articles on her wall about Internet addiction? Or maybe write a comedy sketch about it. Hell, I could write a comedy sketch about everything she says and does, just because she's old, and old people say and do funny things when they're learning to use technology. Maybe that's a good summer project for me: Go hang out at the old folks' homes and get material for comedy sketches. Is that exploitative?

On top of all of that, the library has re-hired me for part-time work and I start tomorrow, and today is my birthday and I am 30. And what am I doing today? Nothing, as is usual for my birthday. Well, I'm blogging. I'm sitting at McDonald's because they have WiFi and Gator doesn't have Internet at his house, and McDonald's is the only thing that's open today that does. Am I going down to see the fireworks today? Probably not. You can only see so many fireworks shows in your lifetime before you realize that they're all the same, and that they're meant to entertain children, not adults.

Remember this post from last year when I was turning 29? Well, I'm certainly not any smarter or richer or more accomplished now that I'm 30, unfortunately. This past year has been terrible, like a graveyard spiral, like a roller coaster that only goes down and not up. I'm in more debt and in worse health, and I'm much more aware of my shortcomings and limitations. I don't feel 30, but more like 50 or 60. I've held so many jobs and moved around so much that I feel like I should be retiring soon. On the other hand, I feel bad that most people my age have spouses, children, cars, mortgages, and careers already, and I have none of those things, and probably never will. And that sucks.

You know what I hate about my birthday? The fact that it coincides with a national holiday. That means that no one can hang out or do anything, because they're out of town doing fun stuff with their own families and significant others. And I just happen to belong to a family that does nothing on the Fourth of July and which also doesn't bother with the hassle and expense of birthdays at all—no cakes, no presents, no parties, no nothing for anyone. I threw a party for myself once, with fancy plans and advance invitations sent out to all my best friends and, I kid you not, every single person canceled at the last minute, saying they were going off to have fun somewhere else. I bet you anything that would not have happened if my birthday was on a normal day, like August 12 or September 9.

You know what's annoying? Is when people tell me to have a party on some other day than my actual birthday. That is the stupidest idea in the whole wide world. Why would I do that? Then it wouldn't be a birthday party anymore--it would just be a regular party, and then my real birthday would still be this blank, empty day where most things are closed and all my friends are busy and I'm at home doing laundry or mopping floors or some shit. Which was my original problem in the first place!

You know what else is annoying? That we live in a culture that teaches us birthdays matter, that they are cause for celebration and that the day should be fun somehow. Who invented that expectation, that entitlement? There are many cultures in the world where they don't keep track of the exact day you were born and don't mark the anniversary of that event. I'm envious of that norm, because if no one even knows when their birthday is and there's not even a word for it, then no one could feel bad about it. No one would know exactly how old they are, or be excluded from ordering kids' meals or senior brunch specials, or be scolded or punished for dating someone x number of years younger/older than they are. No one would feel gypped or abandoned or lonely or sad on their birthday.

Anyway, I need to finish my milkshake and get out of here, this McDonald's, this restaurant mega-chain that has been the subject of insidious documentaries, that has spawned pejorative terms such as "McMansion" and "McJob," and that basically represents everything that is wrong with this country. And here I am, patronizing it because I'm addicted to the Internetz and the Google. And chocolate milkshakes.  

A disgrace!