Sunday, September 7, 2008

Preparing for Departure

We're homeless again. Well... sort of. Homeless in Hawaii anyway. That's a good thing. We officially checked out of Navy Housing yesterday and are living in the Navy Lodge until we fly out.

Warning: This post got kind of long, so get yourself a cup of coffee and pull up a chair. Even if you aren't moving off the island of Oahu like we are, you may find some amusement in our experiences.


Forest City (housing management company) gives you a long list if things they expect you to clean before your checkout inspection, to include things like the insides of the globes of the ceiling light fixtures and the tracks of the sliding glass doors. If you don't clean it to their standards, then they can assess you a $315 cleaning fee. OR, you can opt in advance to tell them that you're just going to pay them the $315 to have them clean it for you.
Flashback: My wife and I had a bad experience with this type of situation many years ago back in Groton. After living through a harsh winter, we spent the first nice weekend of the season, and a spectacularly beautiful weekend at that, feverishly cleaning out the house I was renting in Mystic.

Then the landlord charged us to have the place professionally cleaned after we moved out.

If we had known he was going to do that anyway, then we would have gone out and ENJOYED the beautiful weekend outdoors and just paid the money for the cleaning.
With that experience under our belts, we opted to just pay for the cleaning. There was still a LOT of stuff on our plates this week. We had no shortage of things to do before our move-out inspection and not a lot of spare time.

If we were going to do the cleaning, I probably would have scheduled the check-out inspection for Monday and we would have spent the weekend cleaning. Instead, we go to participate in our Cub Scout Pack Olympics this morning, had an awesome lunch at Diego's and went to the Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park (waterslide park) with our awesome neighbors this afternoon. We plan on playing mini-golf and maybe going to the pool tomorrow. So we chalked up the $315 as a moving expense and took it out of the Dislocation Allowance (DLA) the Navy pays us to help with moving expenses.


Wednesday we shipped my car off the island via the Honolulu Vehicle Processing Center (VPC). You may recall, we already paid out of pocket and shipped my wife's car off a few weeks ago so it would be waiting for us on the west coast. This time, we shipped my car to Baltimore on the Navy's dime.

Man, what a pain in the butt.

When we took my wife's car in, since we were paying them to ship it, it went really fast and easy. Not so much when the Navy is paying for it.

For any other military servicemembers living in Hawaii / getting ready to PCS off Hawaii, take heed:

RANT / Lesson Learned the Hard Way #1: Pre-Shipping Interview

Before you can try to ship your car at the VPC, you must first go to a pre-shipping interview / counseling session on the second floor of the Aloha Center (across the street from PSD and Ruby Tuesday).

When you go to the Aloha Center, you have to give them three copies of your orders (why?**) and fill out a form with your vehicle's info and your info. Someone in that office reviews your form and reads the shipping rules to you (thanks, I can read). Then you have to sign something saying you understand the shipping rules - things like you can't have more than 1/4 tank of gas, the car has to be clean, you can't leave any plants, fruits, vegetables, seeds, fungi, soil, farm equipment, firearms, explosives, pyrotechnics, combustibles, acids, bases, oxidants, corrosive materials, hazmat, radioactive material, drugs, black sand, volcanic rock, precious stones, tropical fish, sea turtles, mongooses, pets, rodents, animals, insects, small children, or other valuables in your car.
**Aside: Why do we still have to provide every bureaucrat seventeen copies of our orders when we PCS? I could understand back in the days when they gave you ONE set of "original" hard copy orders that had all the official stamps on it and everything, and it's not like they could be looked up anywhere quickly and easily. NOW, in the age of the internet, I can call up my orders on any computer with internet access. Why are we continuing to kill trees with umpteen bajillion copies of our orders floating all over the place. Just look at them on the darn computer screen! End of tirade.
Basically, the ONLY purpose of the pre-shipping interview is so that if you show up at the VPC with a small child in a sleeping bag and a week's supply of coconuts, mangos, pineapple, star fruit, oranges, and bananas that you want to leave in the trunk (oh, and some fireworks and gasoline for entertainment in transit), then they can say, "No, no! We told you so!"

Okay, I'm exaggerating. You got me.

Really all it comes down to is so when you show up with more than a 1/4 tank of gas and they tell you they won't ship your car until you take a scenic drive around the island with the air conditioning cranked up and the windows rolled down to burn off the gas (don't forget to stop for some garlic shrimp at the Giovanni's Shrimp Truck).

I was a little annoyed that I found out about this pre-appointment thing purely by chance in a casual conversation and was able to get mine done last minute the day before we shipped the car. A couple of weeks ahead of time, I called the VPC to ask about setting up an appointment. (a) They told me, "Oh, you don't need an appointment, just bring it on in!" (Famous last words). (b) Did they ask me, "Oh, by the way, did you already go to the Aloha Center for your pre-shipping interview?" Nope. Not a word.

Before I called them to attempt to make an appointment, I checked their website, too. The Where Is My POV? website tells you what documents you need to bring with you, but nothing about a pre-shipping interview at the Aloha Center. It does, however, tell you to "Check "VPC Locations" for country-specific requirements." Okay, so I clicked on that and went to the Honolulu VPC page. Again, no mention of a pre-shipping interview. Although it does say, "IN AN EFFORT TO EXPEDITE YOUR PROCESSING TIME, THE HONOLULU VPC OFFERS AND RECOMMENDS APPOINTMENTS." (emphasis THEIRS, NOT MINE!!!)

Self, there seems to be a disconnect between the person who writes this web page and the people who work the counter at the VPC.

When I got to the VPC, one of my Sailors was at the counter looking rather exasperated as the lady at the counter explained to him he had to go back to the Aloha Center and get his pre-shipping interview signed for first.

I'm sorry, but that's just ridiculous!

Okay, so you'd rather the guy did the pre-shipping interview before he came to the VPC to avoid hassles, got it! But now that he's STANDING THERE in front of you, why don't you just ASK him if he's got a 1/4 tank of gas or less? If he meets the requirements, then why make him drive across town just to get someone to sign a stupid piece of paper???
To that shipmate*** and to the rest of my crew, I offer my sincerest apology that we did not get this information out at our pre-crew release information night. I hope you all didn't suffer the same fate as the MM2 I saw at the VPC and have to backtrack to the Aloha Center.
***Aside: See there? I'm using shipmate NOT as a derogatory term!

RANT / Lesson Learned the Hard Way #2:
Expect to be insulted by requests to violate your integrity, and don't give in.

At a couple of points during the process, both inside at the counter and outside at the vehicle inspection, the VPC employees asked me to sign for things that weren't done.

It's easy to guess why these things are required to be signed for. Somewhere in Matson's past, the company got burned by some frivolous lawsuit because they didn't do something (like TELL the vehicle owner that he can't ship any plants, animals, or hazardous materials in the car). Unfortunately for the Matson management, the employees are meeting the letter of the company policies by having people check the blocks, but they aren't actually doing what was intended by the Matson management who wrote the policies.

Example #1: The lady at the counter wanted me to sign for having received a copy of the claims policies and procedures. She hadn't given the claims policies and procedures to me yet, so I told her I would sign it as soon as she gave it to me.

She looked at me like I had three heads and just couldn't comprehend why I wouldn't sign.

In her world, the sequence of events is (1) the customer signs the forms, (2) she hands them the paperwork, and the fact that I was challenging that process just caused the gears in her noggin to come to a screaching halt.

Example #2: The lady at the counter gave me a checklist for cleaning out my car. She wanted me to initial each line item (under the seats - check, between the seats - check, in the seatbacks - check, in the glove box - check, in the center console - check...), and then to sign the bottom.

Common now, lady... I'm a nuke.

You don't REALLY expect me to just blaze off this page full of initials and then sign the bottom without actually CHECKING those things, do you??? You should either (a) give us this form at the pre-shipping interview and tell us to use it in cleaning out our car before going to the VPC, sign it and bring it with us, or (b) let us take the form out to the vehicle inspection, conduct the checklist, and sign for it.

Example #3: Outside, I pull my car into the inspection carport, and I am directed to sit on a picnic bench until someone calls my name.

I sit.

The inspector comes over to me and asks me to fill out a comment card, sign it, and turn it in to the comment card box, and then we will get started on the inspection.


I don't think they're going to like my response on the comment card.

It asked a bunch of things like "did we do this?" and "did we do that?" In about half the cases I marked "no." Such as, did a vehicle inspector conduct an inspection of your vehicle with you? No. Well... not yet anyway. I wrote that I was directed to fill out and sign the card before the process was complete, so I could not say whether or not those things had been done.

I ran out of room in the limited space for comments at the bottom of the card, but I put my name and email address on it so the Matson management could contact me if they want to follow-up.

Backtrack to the Moving Out of Housing Section: Much to my surprise, when our movers came Thursday morning to take our final shipment (Unaccompanied Baggage), a QA inspector was with them and asked me to fill out and sign a comment card showing that he was there during our move.

I signed it to show he had been there, but I also dated it and wrote what TIME I signed it so anyone who checked could see that it was the same time that the movers showed up. He said I'd have an opportunity to submit any comments later, but he never came back and I never saw that form again.

Just another example of "checking the block." Yep! The inspector was here. I wonder if he gets a bonus if he visits a certain percentage of the active move sights in one day?

The Point

Okay, so why am I writing all this on my blog?

1. It's been a long week. I'm venting.

2. For the benefit of anybody else getting ready to move off the island, I'm sharing my experiences so hopefully you don't have the same problems.

3. For the amusement of anybody not getting ready to move off the island, I'm impressed if you've read this far. Thanks for your time. You should play some Civilization or something.

Random Thought: I really hope they remembered to turn off my car after they drove it onto the ship. If you're going really slow or just sitting still, the engine turns off and the car is silent, so you get the false impression the car isn't "on." If the air conditioning is left on though, periodically the engine will start to recharge the battery that's being drained to run the AC.

To Matson Management: In case there are any Matson managers reading this, here's a quick summary of recommendations that I hope you will use as constructive criticism.

1. Put information on the website that says you have to go to the Aloha Center for a pre-shipping interview.

2. Tell your employees not to tell people, "Oh, you don't need an appointment, just bring it on in." Since appointments can only be made on the website, direct them to the website to make an appointment.

3. Delete the line on the website that says you can make appointments by phone.

4. If someone shows up at the counter without the pre-shipping interview, don't send them back across town to get the signature.

5. If you're going to give people forms to sign, don't expect them to sign unless the items on the form have been completed.


Loping Squid said...

Yeah. Nothing says bureaucracy like a military move.

At least they only have the last 4 of your SSN on your orders now. Nothing like hundreds of copies of paperwork with your name and social on them floating around.

As for the "pre-shipping interview". Well maybe they've changed things since I shipped off the island, but I never did one. Although, trying to explain to the people at PSD in England the we were NOT shipping a car in part of the move, but wanted to drive and take a ferry to our next duty You never want to be the guy doing something "different". What a pain.

We've come to the same conclusion: clean yourself, or pay however many dollars? Hmmm, they're going to fine you anyway, as long as it's not extortionate, we just pay them. It's not worth the hassle.

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

Chalk that $315 up to sanity. Like my dear LS said, it's not worth the hassle.