In February and May, I released all that juicy information about the plan to relocate my wife, my dog, and my self from Hercules, California to Massachusetts. I had been assigned to Boston as the Executive Officer of Coast Guard Base Boston. Anyway, with a temporary hostel picked out, all we had to do was follow the plan I outlined previously.
And it was a good plan. Thanks to my wife, everything was set. All we had to do was sit back, relax, and watch the pieces fall together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Yeah, not so much.
The first problem we encountered was shipping my wife’s Jeep Compass.
When I asked my Coast Guard administrative staff to offer suggestions for how to ship a car across country – something I’ve never done – they offered up the uShip.com website.
Let’s click the Pause button for a second.
You may be wondering why I would have to arrange to ship my own car. Shouldn’t the military do that for me?
The short answer is no. If I had received orders outside of the continental United States, like Hawaii for instance, Uncle Sam would pay the costs to ship a vehicle but it would be my responsibility to arrange the actual transportation. It’s easy for overseas since there are only a few places the government ships from. One of these is the Vehicle Processing Center – or VPC – in Los Angeles. If I had received orders to Hawaii, I would have driven the Jeep to LA, dropped it off, caught a flight back to the Bay Area, and met the Jeep on the other side. Since my orders were for the continental United States (CONUS) and not overseas, the whole shebang is our responsibility.
This includes all the costs, too.
The way the government sees it, since there is no reason why my spouse couldn’t drive her own car across country, they shouldn’t have to pay for shipping it.
I suppose that makes sense. Unfortunately they do not take family needs into consideration. We did not want to have to drive a second car more than 3,200 miles across America with a dog in the back seat.
We decided that sending her and puppy ahead was the best idea.
Okay, click Play.
Not knowing any better, we went ahead and offered up our request to have the Jeep shipped. What we didn’t know was that uShip.com doesn’t ship cars, they broker brokers.
When you enter your information in the website, it offers up your request to a series of other brokers who subsequently bid. In a perfect scenario, you’d get multiple bids from various brokers trying to get your business. Once you accept an offer, the broker is “hired”. The company then finds a local shipping vendor willing to transport your vehicle from point A to point B. In our case, this is where things began to go south.
Within an hour or so of posting our request, we received a quote of $1,100.00 to ship my wife’s Jeep. I was expecting that amount so we accepted the offer. For the next three or four days, we talked with the brokerage via e-mail. They sent us a series of questions designed to obtain as much information about the vehicle as possible. This would ensure the vehicle was picked up on time, met their specific requirements (i.e., it was not a Winnebago), and that the vendor knew who was releasing and accepting the Jeep on the other end. When all was said and done, we were told, via e-mail, that we wouldn’t hear from the local vendor until one or two days before pick-up.
So we waited.
Well, maybe not too patiently. My wife reached out three days before the Friday it was to be picked up to confirm everything was in order.
And it’s a good thing she did, too. The brokerage was on vacation.
Holy smokes, we were in trouble! Based on our calculations, the quoted pick-up date would have had her Jeep arriving in Massachusetts the day before she flew in from California – a perfect time since she had plans to have the dog groomed (Hey, don’t judge. You wouldn’t want a smelly dog in your house either after it had spent 12-hours locked in a crate!). Now here we were, the day before it was supposed to be picked up, without anyone to ship the vehicle.
So we did what all people do: We shifted into panic mode.
Leveraging the power of the Internet, we found another broker – outside of uShip.com – and called direct. Located in Glendale, California, we explained our situation; that we were military, that we had orders, that we were left high-and-dry by our previous vendor. Because of the short notice, Glendale said they would do it but at a slightly higher cost: $1,295.00. More importantly, they could pick up that weekend.
The Sunday before the Monday when the household good shippers would arrive to pack our stuff, we met the car carrier at the end of our street. Up when the Jeep and away it went.
We rested a bit easier that night.
Since car carriers work cash on delivery, the deal was that we’d pay an initial deposit via credit card – which we did – and arrange for payment at the other end. Car carriers do not accept debit or credit cards (at least this one did not). Instead, they wanted payment in cash, cashier’s check, or money order.
No worries. My wife would be in New England by then and could easily have obtained the necessary payment in the required format.
If only it were that easy.
On Wednesday, less than three days after the Jeep was picked up. I received a call from someone saying that they would “be there by 4 pm that afternoon.” Since we were waiting for the household good packers to arrived, I assumed it was them. The packers had already made a name for themselves by showing up late the previous two days. A little flustered by their showing up a 4 in the afternoon, I asked, “Well, how long will it take you to finish up?” We had a ton of boxes that remained upstairs and the garage hadn’t been packed yet.
The voice on the phone said, “Five minutes.”
Dumbfounded, I literally exclaimed, “What do you mean, ‘five minutes’?” Then it dawned on me, “Who is this again?”
Tom. Tom. Yeah, I know a Tom. He was that friendly Eastern European guy that hadn’t showered in a few days. He was also the guy that was driving the auto carrier.
The auto carrier?
Tom was calling to tell us that he was less than an hour away from the Jeep’s new home in Dracut.
Son of a biscuit! We did not plan for a three day transit.
Under the gun – again – we slid back into panic mode. Where would we find someone to front us more than a thousand dollars? More importantly, would he or she be able to get to the bank before it closed?
Could this intrepid person do all this in less than an hour?
As a friend of mine would always say, “It’ll all work out.”
And it did. My wife’s brother came to the rescue and offered to loan us the money. He also arranged for my wife’s nephew to get to the bank and retrieve the correct payment. By the time Tom showed up, they were all set to execute.
In the end, the Jeep successfully survived the cross country trip no worse for wear. It is now under the careful watch of my wife who is slowly integrating back into the New England lifestyle as I await my drive across country in a week or so.
Although it all worked out, I am very disappointed by the poor communication. The fact that our first broker went on vacation without letting us know seems like a horrible business practice. A simple e-mail saying they could not help us would have been infuriating but would have given us time to find someone else. The fact that the car carrier underestimated their timing – by five days – also seems like bad practice. It would have been nice to hear, “We value you as a customer. In that respect, we plan on driving non-stop across the country and will deliver your Jeep to Massachusetts by this Wednesday.”
Sadly, we never received that e-mail and those words never crossed Tom’s lips.
I wish I could say this was the only difficulty we’ve had but it was not. Next time I’ll talk about how the household goods move went – or at least what we’ve seen of it so far.
There’s every reason to suspect we’ll never see our stuff again.