The Cost of Being a Salmon Swimming Upstream
After eleven years in New York City, I moved back to my native northern Virginia suburbs a few weeks ago. I’ve been planning this move for most of 2014, and thinking seriously about it since my younger nephew was born in 2013 and I realized I would only be That Lady Who Brings Us Books Every Six Months to him and his older brother unless I made some changes. Since I can do most of my work anywhere with a reliable Internet connection, in mid-October I packed up my entire adult life and shlepped it south on I-95. This is what that cost me.
Moving van rental: $335.43. When I started seriously planning the move, I got a couple of quotes from all-inclusive moving services of what it would cost to pack up my one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment and move my stuff to Alexandria, Virginia. The quotes ranged from about $2,000 to almost $4,000, so rather than spend a couple months’ rent on a moving service, I decided to rent a truck and hire movers. And then I begged my dad to come help me drive the truck. Included in the price was two days’ use of the truck and 280 miles. I paid $48 for U-Haul’s Safemove insurance, and $20 to rent two dozen furniture pads.
Movers: $149.95 to pack the truck in Brooklyn, $153.95 to unload it in Virginia, $80 in tips. When I booked my truck with U-Haul, I used the company’s Moving Help service to hire my movers on both ends. My parents and youngest brother drove up from Virginia a few days before my move to help with the packing, and also so my stepmother and brother could drive down in the car with my TV, my houseplants, and other delicate stuff.
My movers, both two-man teams, were more than worth the money on both ends. I decided to hire movers because my new apartment is on the third floor in a building without an elevator, and also because I own a lot of books. Twenty boxes of ’em. My sixty-year-old dad tends to think he still has the physical capability of a twenty-seven-year-old, and when I moved he was about six weeks removed from surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, which he gave himself by lifting weights. I didn’t want him hurting himself again. Instead my very capable movers did all the hauling and no one got hurt.
I had forgotten to go to the ATM so I borrowed cash from my go bag to tip the movers $20 each.
In Virginia, my movers showed up right on time and introduced themselves by holding up an iPhone—Walter and Darko are both deaf. They unloaded the truck incredibly quickly, with all of us communicating with pointing, gestures, and the occasional note typed out on a phone screen. At one point I looked up on my phone how to say thank-you in ASL. Sure, I still remember how to sign the lyrics to “Day by Day” from Godspell sixteen years after a church youth group production, but that didn’t seem appropriate to the situation.
Packing supplies: $90.49. I may have gotten carried away at the Brooklyn Home Depot, but I didn’t want a repeat of my last move, when the head of the moving crew made me repack my boxes of books because the boxes were too big (and therefore too heavy). So I got heavy-duty small boxes, strapping tape, bubble wrap, and rolls of foam for wrapping dishes. It added up quickly.
Tolls: $50. The biggest portion of that was for the Verrazano Bridge, which is $15 for cars and $30 for trucks. THIRTY. DOLLARS. But if you happen to be driving a rented fourteen-foot truck and you only have $28 in cash after tipping your movers and you look like you might start bawling in the toll plaza, the nice fellow there will wave you through, pityingly. And then you have to find an ATM on Staten Island, because while the Goethals Bridge is free westbound, the turnpike is not.
Food: $200. Since my family drove up to help, I paid for dinner the night before and breakfast the morning of. Breakfast was really an excuse to get bagels from my favorite deli in Park Slope, which I missed so sharply this past Friday I spent half the day moping.
Gas: $91.36. Nearly at the end of the drive on Wednesday, my dad and I stopped for gas. And this stop turned out to be the point where I almost gave in to the rage tears. That morning, mere minutes after we finished packing the truck, the leasing office for my new apartment complex in Virginia called. The apartment I was planning to move into in about twenty-four hours had a leak in the ceiling they’d discovered just that day, and they wouldn’t be able to repair it in time for me to move in. My choices: wait several days to move in while the ceiling was fixed, or move into a different apartment as scheduled on Thursday.
I stared at my phone, stared at the packed truck, stared at my empty (leak-free! Why was I moving again?) apartment. The truck had to be returned by Friday morning. The movers were scheduled. There wasn’t anywhere to put all of my stuff except in my new apartment. I agreed to move into a different apartment, and the leasing agent gave me the new address over the phone. So after my dad took over the driving after lunch in New Jersey, I spent the next hour on the phone with the electric company, the gas company, and the cable company—because I’d already set up all those accounts with the address where I thought I’d be living.
When we stopped for gas in New Carrollton, Maryland, my credit card was declined: renting a truck in Brooklyn and then trying to buy gas in Maryland activated a fraud alert. I went inside to prepay for the gas. The clerk asked me how much I wanted to buy. “I want a full tank.” “How much does your tank hold?” “I don’t know, it’s a rental truck.” “So how much gas do you want?” “A full tank!”
Ultimately I put in fifty dollars’ worth of gas — at $3/gallon, that’s about half the tank on a fourteen-foot U-Haul, if that information helps you in the future — bitched at my dad about The Stupidest Way to Sell Gas I’d Ever Seen, and then got the hell out of Maryland. Before returning the truck Thursday night, I put another $25.16 in it, attempting to put the gauge back at exactly three-quarters full. I failed and U-Haul charged me $16.20 extra, but by that point I was just thrilled not to be driving that fourteen-foot behemoth anymore.
Charges related to playing apartment musical chairs: $17.96, so far. Dominion Power charged me two separate $15 service initiation charges, plus $2.96 in taxes and usage for the two days of electricity I provided to an apartment with a leaky ceiling. I’ve also spent roughly four million years of my life trying to straighten out the address mix-up with Comcast and my new health insurance company, and I cannot put a price on that kind of suffering.
Renter’s insurance: $149, -$38.18. The one thing that went quite smoothly was switching my renter’s insurance from my old apartment to the new one. Since I couldn’t get the keys to my new apartment ’til it was insured, I called the company, gave them the new address, and they immediately issued me a new policy that was fifty bucks cheaper per year than my New York policy. They also refunded part of my 2014 premium for the Brooklyn apartment.
Total cost: $1,279.96. Which is a lot less than either of the moving services I considered. I feel like I made pretty good choices in this move, although I got a little carried away at the Container Store a few days ago, because my new apartment, astonishingly, has far less kitchen and bathroom cabinet space than my Brooklyn apartment did. If I can straighten out all the address confusion before Thanksgiving, I’ll consider it a move well done. And I got to see my nephews two days after I moved in. They are brilliant and adorable and worth it.
Sara Brady is a freelance writer and editor who is once again a Virginia resident. You can find her on Twitter @sarrible and at www.sarabrady.com.