What if you found out your Father died and you were the only one around to take responsibility for laying him to rest and dispersing his belongings? No problem, right? Only you don’t know where he lived, because he lived on a sailboat and the only thing you had to point you in the right direction were 6-year-old GPS coordinates at the bottom of an email? What if, on your way there, you found out a schizophrenic homeless person threatened to kill him and that may have been how and why he died?
Well, my biological father died. As his closest relative, I was the only person left who would take responsibility for laying him to rest and dispersing his belongings. Under normal circumstances this is a straightforward task. How was I to know it would be anything but. It was so bad that it became comical. So, I did what any sane person would do. I took notes and snapped pictures. Then I wrote my first book.
My father didn’t live at a place with an address that I could drive up to and get it done. In my last correspondence with him, he lived on a boat, anchored somewhere along the more than 12 miles of San Diego shoreline. That didn’t help, however, in the tagline of his emails, he put coordinates to his boat’s location. So that is where we would start.
We found out he paid every month to store stuff in a storage unit. This is the chapter about the storage unit and like everything else in this endeavor, it was anything but routine.
In January, the Mooring Company lady emailed me.
From: Rachael on Jan 5, 2015, at 4:33 PM wrote:
Do you know about a storage unit in National City of your Dads?
I just had a tenant ask me if I knew about it.
Subject: Re: Gusto
Date: January 5, 2015 at 4:38:08 PM PST
Yes, we found paperwork on it. Have to wait 41 days to access it.
Thank you for the info.
Actually, we found paperwork for two storage units, one in San Diego next door to Mexico and one in San Francisco. I called the San Francisco storage unit and asked if they held a unit under my Father’s name. They didn’t and my Mom and Husband gave thanks to the Universe. They both put their proverbial feet down and were NOT driving to San Francisco to get junk. Nor would they “let” me to go up there.
The San Diego storage unit wouldn’t let you in until 41 days from death, which is January 14, 2015. On the first weekend after 41 days passed from his date of death, we drove to San Diego to process the Storage Unit. We planned, primped, made lists, pre-packed, and brainstormed scenarios and items we needed to take. We made a plan for “the Lock.” The storage facility woman said she would charge us $60 to remove the lock. What a rip off. So, we packed a bolt cutter. I made sure to clip every key from the last 47 years he kept onto one large mega-carabineer. It weighed 2.7 lbs. We packed heavy duty gloves, paper towels, Windex, butt wipes, gobs of trash bags, white so we could label them, permanent markers, so we could label the trash bags, certified death certificate, my birth certificate, my marriage certificate, to prove he was my father, drinks, snacks, and weekend clothes.
I made one last call to the Storage Unit to ensure the info stayed the same and we could enter the unit. Yes, we were good to go and she was expecting us.
My mom emptied her Suburban, filled the gas tank, picked up my husband John, daughter Nikki, and me and drove us to San Diego. We spent with night with my cousin. She and her boyfriend were having a party Saturday night, but it would be at his house. Dave was famous for his gourmet food. She invited all of us to attend. I declined for John, Nikki, and myself; we would love to go next time. My mom, however, did attend. I thought she would be too tired, after all the driving and spending all day moving and sorting the storage shed, but she wanted to go.
On Friday night, we quickly caught up with my cousin and then went to bed. My mom stayed up talking with the cuz late into the night. I know, because I heard them talking and laughing.
My anticipation stressed me out. I worried about the lock. I worried about getting it emptied in one weekend. Monday was a Holiday (Martin Luther King Day), so we had 3 days to empty the storage unit of unknown size. I didn’t have to scout donation centers; we would donate to the one we used when emptying Gusto (my father’s sailboat/home). The unit was < .5mile from the boat! That was a weird coincidence because his boat had been towed 12 miles to a harbor with docks. He had lived at a mooring. It was even closer to the donation center. We used a veteran’s donation center, since he had been a veteran. We liked to think he would have liked that.
I hoped to find the All Women’s America’s Cup scrapbook, he told me he specifically left for me. At one point before we stopped speaking to each other, he told me if he ever dies, that he wanted me to find and keep his special scrapbook. He proudly helped coordinate the first all-women’s team, though it sounds like they might have pushed him out at some point. I’m sure some sort of weirdness occurred. I also, hoped to find a souvenir that represented him, which I could keep in remembrance of him. Also, I hoped we found some stuff that I could sell to make enough money to cover our costs for settling his business. So was my husband.
My mom and husband worried it would take longer than the designated 3 days and that I would want to keep everything.
We all worried about the size of it. That was the big unknown. I however, was 100% confident we would sort through it, be done in 3 days, and be able to donate, trash, keep, or sell it all in one trip. I visualized it in my head, so it became a forgone conclusion.
I obtained the storage opening time. I needed to make a quick stop at a triple A (AAA) in San Diego to change the title owner of the boat. We should have enough time to do that before the Storage facility opened. I love AAA. I’m so glad I could process the title change there rather than a DMV. By some grace of the universe, I didn’t have any problems changing the title. It didn’t take too long either!
Saturday morning we grabbed breakfast on the go and navigated to the facility. We could see the hills of Tijuana. It was closer than the stranger breathing down my neck in line behind me.
We waited for the place to open. After a short wait, I introduced myself and started pulling out papers.
“Oh, hold on there, I’m not ready for that,” she told me. “You have to fill out this first,” as she hands me a few papers.
“Ok, no problem.”
“Can you step over there, so I can help this gentleman here?” she tells me.
As I fill in the paperwork, she proceeds to chitchat with Mr. Person in line after me. She lingered over it and languished in his attention. As far as she was concerned, I was a grain of rice in a cornfield.
I finished and waited. I began tapping my fingers on the counter. That didn’t work. I started clicking the pen. Open closed open closed open closed. Nope. Didn’t bother her nor get her attention. I wanted to get started and she wanted to augment her friendship with this person she obviously knew.
I inhaled deep patient breaths. And waited.
“Let me see what you got there,” she asks as she reaches out for my papers.
“Do you have his death certificate?”
I hand it to her. I tried to hand her my birth certificate and marriage certificate to prove I was related to him, but it was TMI. “I’m not ready for that yet,” she snaps.
I realize she needs to take the lead and feel important. Ok, I can do that. It occurs to me she’s on island time.
My mom comes over, “what’s going on?” she asks, because this should have been finalized half an hour ago.
Miss Storage Lady explains the law and her company’s rules because she can’t just let anybody who comes in, go and raid a storage unit. She has responsibilities.
My mom’s eyebrows reach her hairline and she backs off in recognition of this power play. She takes five steps backward, slowly, so as to not startle, and retreats like an anthropologist who stumbled into a clearing of silverback gorillas in a standoff.
“Now do you have the key?” the woman asks.
I have a stinky feeling about this so I answer in the affirmative. I have a mega lot of keys. If I can’t open it, I’ll come back and get you. I boldly lie. I think “hell if I know, if I don’t I’m going to sneak that bolt cutter in here under my pants because I’ll be drummed if I’m going to let you charge me $60 bucks to do something unnecessary that I can do myself.” I inwardly strut and smirk. Ha!
“I’ll walk you back there, it’s pretty confusing to first timers,” she claims smugly. Or was it slyly?
My stomach sinks. She danced around that one. I don’t need her handholding. I’m an excellent navigator with a superior sense of direction. A natural compass resides inside my head. I can turn maps and drawings around in my mind and understand what I’m looking at and which way is left when it’s upside down and backwards.
“Do you have a map you can just show us?” I ask.
“No. I better show you. Pull your car around to the first driveway, enter code 4527, drive in and park inside next to the first stairwell.” She commands, “I’ll meet you there.”
What kind of rinky-dinky storage business doesn’t have a map to provide to their customers? I’m annoyed but there’s no dissuading her. I acquiesce.
Finally, we trudge back to the car, drive it around, enter code 4527, pull inside, and park. We each grab a care package. I grab the master key carabineers clamped tightly together and that’s about all I can handle this first round. I jingle as I walk like Santa in a parade.
I never stood inside a storage unit facility before today. I’ve seen outdoor ones on TV with lines of garage doors. This one stood big. So big, that the Suburban parked inside the building looked like a little gas guzzling micro hot wheel.
“This way,” she waves at us to follow her down a hall. We pass a perpendicular hallway. She walks past it. Past the next one. Someone designed lighting in this place for B grade horror films. I would sell access to filming companies if I owned this building. The place exuded ‘creepy’. It oozed from its pores. It got weirder. We passed a stairwell. “You want to go up the second stairwell,” she tells us over her shoulder.
We walk onward until we get to the second stairwell and she disappears around a corner. We hurry to catch up, scurry around the corner, and mount the stairs. They turn halfway up. She turns right at the top. I look left and right at the top and see aisles and hallways to infinity. “Jeese.”
“The lighting in here reminds me of that creepy half-light half dark mannequin picture you took on those stairs,” I say to my husband.
“Yeah, I’m already lost,” he replies.
The hallways start to slant. That is, they are not perpendicular runways that evenly crisscross, instead they go off at weird angles. No, this place has the organizational madness of a drunken city planner high on acid. Some hallways go on forever. Some stop in a dead end. There’s no rhyme nor reason as we turn left and turn right deeper into the belly. Rays of light leak in through ominous skylights, highlighting floating dust spectacles. We pass through different doorways that indicate the entrance into another building. Also, we pass by at least five rickety elevators. Two of them, I vow to never enter.
When we drove in, the place looked like a little triangle piece of property. Despite that, inside it contained a Mary Poppins nightmare bag of add-ons that went on and on. The halls started and stopped and didn’t line up squarely.
“What is this place?”
“Why isn’t it straight?”
At one point, we clomped down the stairs back to the first floor, walked through the doorway of an attached building, and then back up to the second floor again. Madness emanated from the edges, grasping towards us. The building breathed and wind washed through my hair.
“Almost there,” she hollers at us. We hustle to catch up. Don’t want to get lost here. I feel lost souls wandering just around the corner, thirsty, and crawling around in circles looking for the single entrance and doomed to forever trawl the halls of this mystery building storing all of San Diego’s extraneous stuff.
I pull out the 2.7 pound master carabineer of keys in anticipation. It seemed like there were large and small storage rooms. The only hint lay in the distance between doors. We passed one with an open double door. I peeked inside. Piles of miscellaneous junk peeked back at me. I got an eyeful of bent over butt from a woman. That one looked pretty big. The room.
Ceiling windows let in little filtered light. Weak yellow bulbs strived to light the rest. The ceiling seemed 40 feet above the doors. The walls of each unit were uniform in height; I guessed the ceiling lay a few feet above the doors.
She approached a dead end. An angled dead end. “Here you go,” she says and points to the left. “This is it.”
“Ok, thank you,” I mumble in shock. I notice a spy camera in the upper corner. Why do they need that? It’s not like people are going to do it in the hallway. Right? Eww gross. I mean what kind of shenanigans could people get up to enough to install cameras? What a waste of time and money.
“Can you find your way back?” she asks.
“I think so.” It can’t be that bad. The place fed my imagination and I just gorged down a double dose.
“Come and get me if you can’t open the lock. There is a $60 charge if you can’t open it,” She reminds me grinning greedily.
Maybe she pockets it? “Ok,” I say cheerfully. Fake cheerfully.
I wait until she disappears.
“Do you guys know how to get back to the car?” I ask.
“Did we cross the border?”
“I think I can get us back there. It will take a few tries to get used to this place they call ‘storage facility’.” It’s obviously a front for a cult. What kind, I haven’t yet figured out. My family looked at me with a mix of accusation and bewilderment. I promise them everything will be ok.
Okay, the door stands about 6 feet from the end of the wall. “Well, I guess you still can’t tell how big it is by looking from the outside,” I anti up.
“Nope,” my mom and husband reply.
I hold up the master keys, jangling clumsily, “Well, here I go. I’m going in.”
“Ok,” they stand still offering no resistance.
I walk up to the door and lift the lock. It’s a super duper thick high quality antiqued from age brass lock. Super duper extra thick and heavy. Like ones not made anymore. I heft it up to look at the bottom. “What do we hav…OH MY GOD it’s a combination,” I holler in horror! I let go in disgust and it clanks against the door.
The Storage Unit Part 2 coming soon…