Nailing David Brooks on the Head

James Grimmelmann· nails David Brooks right on the head·:

David Brooks is an intellectual money-launderer; he repackages the elitist misanthropy that is conservatism into vaguely humorous but reassuringly bland “observations.”

What bothers me so much about David Brooks is his insidiousness. Conservative clowns like Jeff Jacoby· preach only to their own choir; everyone else tends to write their drivel off as.. well, drivel (“the demonizing of John Ashcroft during the past four years has been just about the ugliest spectacle in US politics·”). I actually suspect that the Boston Globe carries Jacoby’s column despite it’s liberal leanings because Jacoby makes conservatives look stupid.

David Brooks, on the other hand, is an undercover agent, and he appeals to a lot of my fairminded left- or liberal-leaning friends. His message is: “Hey, I’m one of you. When I lambast liberals in a pleasant friendly way, I’m really just making fun of myself and my “bobo” values.” He attempts to reduce the opposition to a set of social quirks; a preference for organic goods grown under fair conditions is equated with blue hair and piercings.

Of course, Brooks is to some extent correct that people’s politics are driven as much by socialization as reason and passion (my own characterization). But his superficial attempts to inject some humour and self-deprecation into the debate belie a deeper anti-democratic agenda that only reveals itself when Brooks is writing for his own conservative audience.

See also David Plotz·’s article in slate·, Why liberals are turning on their favorite conservative, for a more in-depth critique.

U-Haul Sucks

Given the great success of my Hotmail sucks blog entry (number four in google at the time of this writing), I thought I’d take a stab at U-Haul. My writing doesn’t appear to have had a huge impact on Microsoft, but maybe I can start a movement with U-Haul. (Query whether blogs can help fix market dysfunction).

My experience with U-Haul has been bad. I don’t quite understand how they can continue to exist as a company.

I needed to rent a small truck for a day to move a couch a couple of months ago. I only needed it for a Saturday, and U-Haul was the only option that would let me do a one-day rental on the weekend and return the truck in a fairly convenient location. (For a rental starting on a weekday, I recommend Penske, which has never caused me any problems.)

The first thing I discovered is that you can’t actually “reserve” a truck with U-Haul. Instead, you “request” a truck. Although the email confirmation comes from “” it includes the following disclaimer:

Your pickup location is a PREFERENCE ONLY. The U-Haul regional office for LYNN, MA is now in charge of your reservation. They will call you by 5PM on the day prior to your pickup date to schedule your exact pickup location and time. To change or cancel your reservation, please contact us no later than the day prior to your pickup date. Our phone number is (800)344-2212. Reservations cancelled on the day of pickup are subject to a $50 cancellation fee.

So they won’t guarantee you any pickup location, but they will charge you a $50 day fee if you decide the location they pick for you doesn’t work. What if airlines worked this way? “We’re sorry, your ticket to leave from Boston was only a request; your flight is actually going to take off from Providence.”

It strikes me as terrifically poor logistics that they can’t figure out which trucks will be at which locations until the end of the day prior to the rental. I’ve heard stories of people thinking they had a secure reservation on U-Haul and in fact ending up with nothing at all the day they needed to move. I suggest that if U-Haul (1) shouldn’t allow people to reserve trucks it doesn’t have and (2) should be willing to drive trucks where they need to go the night before if they figure out they don’t have the trucks at the correct location. Others have complained similary about U-Haul’s lack of dependability in this area.

As a side note, their price scheme is screwy: it’s cheaper to do a one day one-way rental across a 20 mile area rather than a one day round-trip “in city” rental. Someone at the pickup location told me that this was because they had recently raised their round-trip prices but the one-way prices hadn’t caught up. I suppose this wasn’t a big problem for me, but it does encourage irrational behavior (choosing different pick up and drop off locations) and reflects poorly on U-Haul’s corporate intelligence.

The day before the rental, I got a call telling me I could pick the truck up, and they gave me an address. A while later, I checked the address on Mapquest, and it was nowhere to be found. So I used the caller ID memory on my cell phone and called the place back to ask them exactly where they were. It turns out they were not in Lynn, but in Lowell, which would have been about an hour out of my way (for a 15 mile rental!).

I called back the national office and they were a little confused about the difference between Lynn and Lowell, but ended up switching me to a pickup location in Lynn. (The pickup location I had originally requested in Lynn apparently doesn’t exist at all).

In any case, we got the truck, which was in shoddy condition—poor shocks, dirty cab area, and a non-adjustable radio (no cassette or CD, of course). In fact, after I tried changing the channel on the radio too much, it turned off entirely and refused to turn back on.

At the end of the day, I went to return the truck at the destination location, which was supposed to be a Texaco in Roslindale. As it turns out, there was no Texaco in Roslindale. I called the national phone number, and they were rude and unhelpful. They kept insisting that the truck needed to be returned to the Texaco in Roslindale. They also told me that there would be a fee for dropping off the truck after 5pm, so instead I should wait until the next morning so I wouldn’t have to pay the fee. (So, I return the truck later, and pay less?)

The next day I discovered the gas station, which was no longer a Texaco, where the truck was supposed to be returned. I didn’t bring my contract with me, as I assumed these days everything is computerized. When do you actually need physical pieces of paper anymore?

The drop-off location would not, in fact, accept the truck without the contract, and said I would have to go to a location about 5 miles away if I didn’t have the contract, because they had no computer at their location. Huh?

So I went home and got the contract, returned the truck, and thought that was the end of the sad sad story.

Skip forward a couple of months. I just notice an additional $150 charge from U-Haul on my most recent credit card bill, charged from a U-Haul store in Somerville exactly a week ago. I haven’t set foot (or car) in Somerville for months, so I was sure it was a mistake, maybe someone gave the wrong credit card number to the Somerville U-Haul or they made a typo.

So I called the Somerville U-Haul. They told me they couldn’t help me; I would have to call an 800 number. I called the 800 number, and they told me that number was for emergencies only and gave me another 800 number to call. I called that number and they told me “they only deal with trucks” and I would have to call my regional 800 number. So I called my regional 800 number and they asked me what my reservation number was. I told them I didn’t have a reservation number, I had a billing complaint. So they told me to call the national something number. I called that number and they told me I had to call the Somerville U-Haul.

At this point, I told them I had just called five numbers, and they were trying to send me back where I started.

Finally, they agreed to hear my issue. I explained that I had a charge on my credit card from one week ago from the Somerville U-Haul, where I had never set foot in my life. They brought up some records on their computer system, and insisted that what had happened was that I had rented the truck two months ago and kept it until last week, at which time I had returned it to the Somerville U-Haul.

I explained to them that I had actually returned the truck less than 24 hours after I rented it, to the Roslindale “Texaco.” The person on the other insisted (1) that my one way rental was from Lynn to Somerville, not Roslindale, and (2) that I had kept the truck for two months. She also insisted that the only way to resolve this was to call the Somerville U-Haul, where I had started. She was absolutely convinced that there was no way the computer could be wrong. (Wouldn’t you think they might have asked for their truck back if I had kept it an extra two months without asking?)

After a few more rounds of the same conversation, she finally put me on hold to talk with her supervisor. A few minutes later, she returned and said that “the computer had crashed” in Roslindale and they had lost all the information. There was a note that someone was supposed to call me about this more recent charge, but apparently no one had. She told me she would fix it, and within a week the credit card would be refunded.

It’s hard for me to believe that this operation survives at all. There must be other people who were also in the “computer that crashed” who were charged for returning vehicles two months late that they had actually returned on time. It didn’t sound like U-Haul was going to do anything to try to locate those people; instead it was just going to wait and see if they would complain.

If anybody reading this has any connections with management at U-Haul, I’d suggest you pass this blog entry on to them. Although some of the problems I experienced may have been anomalies, many of these issues are clearly systemic. If U-Haul ever stops sucking, I will at that point correct this entry.

(finally, I am perhaps not the first person to think of this. We have out there, “UHaul Sucks”,, etc..). In fact, I think U-Haul maybe even knows it sucks, since it owns—I was going to link to the whois information for, but all of the whois servers now apparently require you to type in the numbers in a graphic image first).

(update: #6 in google at this time)

Updates 1/22/05: whois information for without captcha, thanks to Benjamin Carrell; #7 in google for ‘uhaul sucks’—and, amazingly, #8 in google for ‘u-haul’, #7 in yahoo for ‘u-haul’. See also this more recent discussion.