Last week, when I was being cynical, Jennie left a comment in which she suggested that the erosion of news began with the CBS show “60 Minutes.” I told her that she reminded me of a story about that show, and she encouraged me to share it. Note: I’m not blaming Jennie if you don’t like this post – she’s way too nice to toss under the bus. My blog, my responsibility. Anyway, let’s jump back to 1978.
In September of 1978, I moved from New York City to Seattle Washington. The owner-operator driver and his buddy did a good job of schlepping my furniture 2,900 miles (4667 km), but the moving company they worked for was awful. The estimated cost was way beyond reality. This was at a time when interest rates were 9-percent and climbing, so having someone else’s money made a big difference.
I had researched moving, as best one could pre-Internet and I knew what to do. The cost of the move was a function of weight and distance. Distance between the two points was fixed, regardless of the route of the truck, so the only variable was the weight of your belongings. The single-most important thing to do was to get an accurate weight as soon as possible. I knew they had over-estimated. The agent told us the estimate was likely a “little higher than necessary,” but that that was good, because if it was under, I would have to have cash or a cashier’s check before they would unload. In a new city, that might be hard.
It had been suggested that I follow the driver to the scales and get a copy of the slip. Unfortunately, the driver said: “I can’t do that, we have a load already on the truck, and it hasn’t been weighed.”
I had made arrangements to have my new landlady meet the movers. Everything was labeled as to where it was supposed to go. That took a lot of work, but surely it would pay off once I got to Seattle and everything was where it belonged. Except, when I got to Seattle, the movers hadn’t yet arrived.
Long-distance movers go wherever the next job is. From New York, they picked up a load in New Jersey that was on its way to Tennessee, and so forth. You never know how little you have until you see it expertly stuffed into the back of a 40-foot trailer.
When the movers did arrive, they apologized for having picked up a load in Portland that wasn’t weighed and said they wouldn’t be able to give me an accurate weight until they dropped that load in Phoenix. The driver gave me a “ballpark” estimate that indicated I was owed a refund of almost $2,000.
Of course, on the way to Phoenix, there was another load, and another load, and so on and so forth. This dragged on for weeks.
In October, while I was impatiently waiting for the bureau of weights and measures to rule, 60 Minutes did a segment on the various ways major moving companies were ripping people off. Overestimating the cost and delaying an accurate rate was #1. No surprise, but misery loves company, so at least I had that going for me.
The following week, during the “Letters” portion of the news show, a Vice President from the moving company holding my money wrote to thank 60 Minutes for exposing the problems in his industry. He claimed that his company was different, but that the bad actors were giving the entire industry a bad name.
I called 60 Minutes to ask if I could send a letter in rebuttal to that guy’s letter. I spoke with a member of the production crew. He was interested in my story, and the fact that I had documentation of the more than 6-week delay of my substantial refund. He said I could give him the information and my “letter” would surely be read on the air. Then he asked me:
“So, Dan, do you want your fifteen seconds of fame, or do you want your money?”
Well, having just moved cross-country, and having encountered more unexpected expenses than I could ever imagine, what I needed was the money. He said he would make a phone call on my behalf.
Remarkably, the moving company was able to get an accurate weight that very day. The estimated weight had been more than twice the actual. I had my refund two days later.
Some pictures from our weekend with the critters.