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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Help Send A Message to U-Haul: #freepalmer

*** UPDATE ***
#freepalmer to #palmerfreed

Thanks so much to all who have lent your voices, posts, tweets, and most of all, your care and concern to this effort. We have a solution! In fact, as you may have seen in tweets and facebook links earlier, we have been able to get on the road, and we have made it to Ft. Worth, found some wifi and wanted to send an update. We’d have done it earlier, but to be honest, we wanted to get moving.

There are many to thank, but I’ll start with Mr. Don Chandler, the Regional Shop Manager for U-Haul in Abilene, TX. Don and his team (for he is not working alone) came up with a great plan that should get us to Nashville sometime tomorrow, Sunday. He has said that he wanted to find a solution that would be the way he’d like to be treated (maybe a golden rule?) and I believe that he has done that. He has secured a new, smaller truck that we can drive while pulling a trailer, while a tow truck has taken our broken down vehicle to Abilene. There, they will load the contents into a U-box pod and deliver it to our home in Nashville.

Don also sent one of his regional team members from Odessa, about 100 miles away, to take personal care of the process on the ground in Pecos. Mr. Chandler and his team have treated us well, with great empathy and communication all day.

The social media aspect of this has absolutely helped to get us a solution, and I can’t thank you enough for your help and ideas. I’ve heard from so many great people, including Anna Ortiz, whose mother lives in Pecos, TX and offered help. Steve Holt (!), a youth worker in Cincinnati that I don’t even know, who called and said that he has 2 former students within 2 hours of Pecos ready to help at a moment’s notice. Adam McLane, my friend and co-worker, has been a huge help in spreading the word as well. And Beth Lee for tweeting Sir Richard Branson and asking if he’d jet pack in to Pecos to get us. There are many, many more.

As I told Don Chandler, my intent with this social appeal was not a vendetta, but to get extraordinary help in an extraordinary time. And I appreciate that he, his team, and his supervisor, were willing to do just that. Yes, I am tired, frustrated, anxious and emotionally thin. We are about 400 out of 1,100 miles into the drive, and have many other details to sort out before this is through. But I can see some light, and that’s what I needed. So please, consider thanking Don Chandler and his team in the venues where you were able to move the needle and gain his help. Here’s what I’m posting and tweeting:

Thanks Don Chandler & team, & @UHaul_Cares, for answering the call. #freepalmer #palmerfreed Update:

I’ll update more later, but for now, a thousand thanks to each and every person who has helped. It is amazing and humbling to see the response from family, friends, and perfect strangers. You have each had a significant affect in my life. Peace to you all.



I need your help. You know how there are times that you can’t seem to get help from a company you’re working with, and you don’t know what else to do but write and post? Well, it’s that time for me. You see, in the past 52-ish hours, my U-Haul rental truck has had 4 mechanical issues needing to be addressed, including one that necessitated me calling 911 to get medical help for my dad, who passed out from heat exhaustion as a result of the truck overheating and not allowing the AC to work.

In that time I’ve spent 4 hours on the phone with U-Haul representatives and their affiliate companies trying to get help, find solutions, and arguing to ensure that I could safely get my dad to the nearest airport (170 miles away) in a vehicle with air conditioning so that we would not be in a situation to need emergency medical assistance again. As of this writing, I am sitting in a hotel in Pecos, TX, awaiting word about what sort of help U-Haul can give me. This is where I need your help to apply pressure to U-Haul. I’ve tried to be as gracious as possible on the phone, and I believe that the recordings that U-Haul does will bear that out. Nonetheless, it’s time for U-Haul to stop finding the lowest-common denominator solutions and to do the right thing and take care of the situation for real.

If you would, please:

1) Post to Facebook: @uhaul: do the right thing. help dave palmer, Ref # 47123. #freepalmer

2) Tweet: @uhaul: do the right thing. help dave palmer, Ref # 47123. #freepalmer

3) Email and ask them to pay attention to this case. Please include the link to this post and the above reference number:  Ref # 47123

I appreciate any and all help with this. I really just want this debacle to be over so that I can get settled and see my family. I’m tired of arguing with U-Haul and calling them names in my head that I never want my kids to hear. I’m tired of wondering if the truck I’m driving can make it another few miles. So below is the quickest recap that I think I can do. Thanks all.


As quick a recap as I can do:

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 27 (Time on the phone with U-Haul & Affiliated Agents: Approximately 15 minutes)

My dad and I left San Diego a little after 6 PM, with the truck loaded and vehicle transport holding the car that we are towing. We got no further than 25 miles outside of San Diego, in Alpine, CA, when the truck overheated. After an hour, a repair shop showed up, inspected the vehicle and advised that we down shift to lower gears and kept RPMs low when going up and down hills, as the roads in that area are steep. We took his council, and though it was warm, it was not incredibly hot, so we kept the AC off to keep the engine temperature down. We made it as far as Yuma, AZ, instead of our intended Tucson, and decided to start early to avoid heat, and see if the truck would work better.

THURSDAY, JUNE 28 (Time on the phone with U-Haul & Affiliated Agents: Approximately 86 minutes)

We departed Yuma around 6:45 AM, heading east on I-8. The truck was running hot, but not overheating as long as the AC was off and we watched our speed and RPMs. We drank copious amounts of water and Gatorade, and stopped every 90-100 minutes to rest, cool off and regroup. But my early afternoon the heat was getting unbearable. We decided to stop for lunch and asses our situation, and my dad asked that we pull over right away, as he was feeling the heat. Fortunately we were at an exit with a truck stop in Lordsburg, NM. As we exited the freeway my dad passed out. I parked in the truck stop lot and called for help, and then called 911 myself. 2 amazing gentlemen from an area Rent-A-Center, one with emergency medical training, helped me to get my dad inside as we waited for the EMTs. The EMTs were there in about 6 minutes and did an amazing job of caring for my dad and helping me to do the same. They did not hurry us, and eventually suggested that we get to a place where dad could rest, regroup and asses what we would do next.

They took him in the ambulance to an area hotel where one of the EMT’s daughter works. As I arrived at the hotel with the truck and trailer they were wheeling him to a room and getting us set up for rest. They were angels. The first thing that I knew I needed to do was make sure that my dad was taken care of and not in an un-air conditioned vehicle. I also felt, along with my family, that the best thing for dad was to get him home to Chicago. There was no way that he needed to make the rest of the trip with me. So after  a series fo calls with family, I booked my dad a plane ticket back to Chicago from El Paso, TX, which was the closest airport, at 170 miles away. I then began the process to make sure that he could get there safely and on time.

And thus began my series of calls to U-Haul. As I mentioned, Lordsburg, NM is not close to anything. Aside from the local towing company that helps with repairs for U-Haul, the next closest U-Haul service station is in Deming, nearly 70 miles away. Need a rental car? It’s either 60 miles north in the mountains, or 120 miles to the east in Las Cruces, NM. I spoke with a series of U-Haul staff, demanding managers / supervisors, as the situation required attention from people with decision-making power. I requested that they find a rental car or other safe, suitable transportation to get my dad to El Paso in time for a 4:30 PM flight the next day (Friday).

I was put in touch with a local repair shop (Badlands Towing), and Jim, the manager there. was very helpful, and joins the heroes list alongside the Rent-A-Center guys and the EMTs. Jim came to the hotel we were at, and while my dad rested I took the truck to his shop. He pressure-washed the radiator, which was filthy, and felt that it was the main culprit, not allowing enough air to get to the engine. He said that he felt OK about the truck’s potential, but still said that in extreme heat (over 100 degrees along our entire route), a truck can have issues with heat.

I spoke with two separate customer service managers during the evening, Callie (sp?) and Heather. I believe it was Callie tat contacted Jim at Badlands, but by the time I got back she was off duty and I began speaking with Heather. I told Heather that I was not at all comfortable with my dad driving in the truck, even with the repairs, as the gaps on the road between service centers were long and unpopulated, and that if the truck broke down again we might not be so lucky as to be in a spot where EMTs could arrive quickly. After much discussion, I requested that she modify an idea to have someone from Badlands follow us to ensure that the repairs held. I asked that U-Haul compensate Badlands to have an employee follow us to Las Cruces, where I would rent a car, take my dad to the El Paso airport for his flight, and then I’d return to the truck to deal with it.

At first she contacted a local/regional person that she said had the sole authority to authorize that kind of response. I later learned that this person’s name is Phil Sales (sp?), and it is a name that I hold in incredibly low esteem. She communicated that Phil felt that the radiator cleaning should be enough of a fix, and that he’d authorize Badlands to follow us 20 miles down the road, since any trouble would happen in that distance. I respectfully and forcefully disagreed, as I refused to be 50 miles from the next service station in Deming with the possibility of a breakdown and no AC. I explained that the best case scenario was that the repair was good, and he’d have to pay Badlands a fee to ensure that a customer was safe. If the repair wasn’t enough, then my dad would still be safe from the heat, and able to make his flight, and I’d still be taking care of the truck.

I went on to explain that any other alternative scenario would not be good for anyone, and that aside from any legal, financial or PR liabilities arising from a tragic accident, that the life of an 80-year old man was quite literally at stake. Heat stroke in 100 degree + weather without prompt medical attention can be deadly, and I was not playing around with this; I implored Heather to explain this to Mr. Sales. When she next contacted me she said that Mr. Sales would authorize Badlands to follow us to Deming, and if we wanted him to go any further then we’d have to pay for Badlands’ time. To say that I nearly blew a gasket would be an understatement. I explained to Heather that Mr. Sales needs to understand that I was not trying to bargain, with me starting at 120 miles (Las Cruces), him countering with 20 (arbitrary figure), and then him coming back with 70 as a compromise.

I explained that this was an issue of taking care of people and not to be haggled over, particularly with a truck that had had 2 repair calls in less than 24 hours. Heather stated that Mr. Sales was the only person authorized to make that call. Aside from my not believing that a senior U-Haul person could over-ride their local/regional person, I told her that she needed to understand the gravity of the situation. She said that she understood and agreed, but couldn’t get past Mr. Sales, and she couldn’t get anyone else above her hierarchy at the time. She asked that I call again in the morning when the Badlands shop opened.

At this point I drafted an email to go to the U-Haul Publicity department as listed on their website. They have not yet responded.

FRIDAY, JUNE 29 (Time on the phone with U-Haul & Affiliated Agents: Approximately 142 minutes)

I woke in time to call U-Haul at 7 AM as advised by Heather. She was not on duty anymore, and so I began to recap the issue with various customer service people before finally reaching Samantha. She got caught up on the scenario and offered to call Mr. Sales again, understanding the scenario. In the meantime I called Jim at Badlands and asked him if he’d be willing to go as far as Las Cruces if U-Haul / Mr. Sales approved it. He assured me he would and that he understood our concern. Samantha returned my call and said that Mr. Sales would authorize Badlands to follow us to Deming, 70 miles away, and that if the engine temperature was high, then Badlands could go as far as Las Cruces. I was offended that he was still, in my mind, haggling with me about my dad’s safety, but he was not budging.

At 9:45 AM, we met Jim from Badlands and began our trek east on I-8, with Jim following in his truck. The AC was working decently, but within 25 miles, as we began an incline, the truck struggled to get up the hill. The engine temp rose, though not to a level to over  heat, as long as I maintained a lower speed. When we reached Deming I told Jim what was happening, and he agreed that we should proceed to Las Cruces with him following. He communicated this to Mr. Sales, though I don’t know what the exchange was. My plan was to call a rental car company in Las Cruces. My dad, surprising me, asked Jim if he would take him all the way to the El Paso airport, allowing me to avoid the rental car expense and extra 2 hours on the road; I didn’t care about those things, but Jim said that he’d be happy to help us, as he understood our concern and knew that it was the thing for him to do.

So when we arrived in Las Cruces, we stopped, and my dad got in Jim’s truck for the rest of the trek to El Paso. I called Samantha at  U-Haul again and told her that the truck was running hot and that I needed to take it to the U-Haul repair shop in El Paso, which is a full-fledged U-Haul repair and service center. She agreed and gave me directions to the repair shop. As I exited the freeway according to the directions, I found myself staring up a steep hill. Within about 1/3 of a mile up the hill the truck overheated and necessitated a 3rd service call.

The El Paso shop sent a crew out to work on the truck while I sought shelter at a nearby gas station/restaurant. After about 90-100 minutes, I was picked up by the repair crew, and learned that they had replaced the thermostat and fan clutch. They believed that the problem was fixed, and asked that I take the mountain pass as a test of the repairs, assuming that if the truck could make that pass then it would perform well on the more level roads east of El Paso. The truck did alright, making up the hill slowly, but then running steadily and cooly. I spoke with the shop via the phone and they wished me luck, thinking that the problem was solved.

I went by the El Paso airport to pick up my good friend Brad, who had flown in from Chicago to make the rest of the trip with me. Brad is an amazing friend. We began our trek and the truck seemed to be running well. As we approached Van Horn, TX (pop approximately 2,900), I noticed a light had just come on. Being cautious, we stopped, and I called U-Haul yet again while we filled the truck with fuel. I spoke to a Travis or Trevor, and he told me that Samantha had left for the day, but he would look for another manager. In the meantime, he asked what the problem was. I told him that the truck was running very well, but a light had come on, and with no manual in the truck, I didn’t know what the light meant. This is the craziest exchange since Mr. Sales’ life-haggling over my dad’s health. I asked for an audio recording, but the gist of the exchange was,

Travis/Trevor: “So, Mr. Palmer, the truck is running well?”
Me: “Yes, but I’d like to know what the light means.”
Travis/Trevor: “If it’s running well you should be OK.”
Me: “Do you know what the light means?”
Travis/Trevor: “No sir, I do not.”
Me: “Can you please find out what it means? This truck does not have a good history.”
Travis/Trevor: “Um. OK. Hold on a minute while I look.”

After some research, Travis/Trevor said that it was a power train light, and that the power train may have sustained some damage. I expressed that Van Horn, TX seemed to have nothing aside from a gas station/diner and an unsavory looking hotel that might not even be running. And in the time that it took him to look that up, we had turned the truck’s ignition after filling it with fuel, and the light was off. I recall that he thought that we should continue with caution. I was getting a call from my sister at the time, and told Travis/Trevor that I needed to take the call, as it had to do with my dad’s travel, and requested that he have a manager call me back about this issue.

Two hours later, with no return call from U-Haul, the truck was running fine when we heard a sound that was like a giant fan blowing as hard as possible. It came out of nowhere. I immediately pulled off at an exit we were approaching, and the AC shut off, the hazard lights stopped blinking, and our headlights dimmed to almost nothing, even with the high beams on. As we struggled to move down the road the power train light went on. The truck hobbled in to a hotel in Pecos, TX. I called U-Haul yet again, and after nearly 26 minutes waiting for a manager, I was connected to David, my 4th U-Haul manager during this debacle. I reviewed the history, and said something to the effect of,

“David – this has been an extraordinary experience for me, and not in a good way. I need you to do something extraordinary with customer service and take care of this for me. I’ve had 4 repair calls for the same truck, a 911 call to get medical attention for my dad, arguing for the safety of my dad, not to mention the expense of his buying a plane ticket home, my extra nights on the road and the fact that I’m still not even half way to my destination when I should be arriving there now. You need to do the right thing here. Get my belongings that are in the truck, and trailer with my car, to my destination in Nashville. I’m not driving this truck again. I know that you contract with companies to drive trucks for other people, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask. You need to solve this.”

Customer Service Manager David said that he would see what he would do but wouldn’t have any answers until the morning (it was almost 10 PM by this time). He also said that things like other drivers were handled by other departments. I stated that this was not the time to look to a standard customer service playbook, but to come up with an extraordinary response for an extraordinary situation. I understood that he’d need to work on it overnight, and that the right thing to do was to come up with a real solution. I said that I’d expect a call at 7 AM per his timeline.

It’s 12:55 AM Saturday as I finish writing this, and I need help to get U-Haul to pay attention to this in a meaningful way. No more band aid solutions, no more haggling over tiny solutions. It is time for a BIG solution to help a customer who has been through a hellish experience get to a destination safely and in a reasonable amount of time.

The only people who have gone out of their way for real on this trip have been non-U-Haul employees: The Rent-A-Center guys; The EMTs and their family members who helped us; Jim at Badlands Towing. Every U-Haul employee has erected a barrier to serving us, while these other folks immediately acted to help.

If you’d be willing to post to Facebook and Twitter that’d be great, as would an email to U-Haul’s PR department. The info that I think would help are at the top of this post.