Moving day: Giving it the old college fry

Brian Musser of Franklin helped his friends Katie McNeill (center) of Napa, Calif., and Katey Parker of Saunderstown, R.I., move from Boston to Brookline. Brian Musser of Franklin helped his friends Katie McNeill (center) of Napa, Calif., and Katey Parker of Saunderstown, R.I., move from Boston to Brookline. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)
By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / September 1, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

Katie McNeill, a sweat-soaked Boston University senior, slumped wearily on a car’s tailgate yesterday afternoon, crammed against belongings that she and three roommates had strained to carry five tedious stories from their top-floor Park Drive apartment.

It was moving day — Boston’s annual rite of mass upheaval, when thousands move in and out of apartments — and temperatures in the mid-90s had transformed a tough day into a torturous one. “It’s kind of gross out here,’’ said McNeill, 21.

Errol Williams, sales manager of Gentle Movers, used another phrase, “pure pandemonium,’’ to describe the steam-heated scenes of clogged intersections, frayed nerves, and exhausted movers in the city.

“It’s the busiest time of the year in our industry,’’ Williams said of the Aug. 31/Sept. 1 turnaround when leases typically expire and begin in Boston. About one-third of the moves involve students, Williams said, with young professionals comprising most of the remainder.

At the Fontainebleau, a student-filled apartment building near Audubon Circle, McNeill and her roommates showed the stress of the day. Bed frames, drawers, clothing, and wall hangings were carted to the sidewalk in dozens of round-trips on stairs without air conditioning.

Parents pitched in, tenants jockeyed to use a cramped elevator, and two friends of a friend were hired to make the job a little easier. But the chore, plain and simple, was drudgery made worse by stifling heat.

“It’s going to be a slow day,’’ said Katey Parker, 21, another BU senior who is one of McNeill’s roommates. “It always seems it gets hot and humid the day you want to move.’’

Molly McNerney, another roommate and BU student, shrugged slowly and agreed. “Nobody’s getting anything done quickly,’’ she said.

For Williams, the heat was one more obstacle to overcome on a day when his company had 27 moves on the docket. An additional 38 moves were planned for today, or triple the business that Gentle Movers handles on an average day, Williams said.

“We will start at 4 in the morning,’’ he said, “and we will probably not end until 2 the next morning.’’

With temperatures expected to reach the mid-90s again today, Williams said, “heat exhaustion is always something of a concern’’ for the crews.

“They’re human beings. We encourage them to stay as hydrated as possible,’’ he said. Customers often help, he added, by handing out water.

Williams said the turnaround is often complicated by landlords who demand that departing tenants leave by the afternoon of the 31st but will not let new tenants arrive before noon on the 1st. The result for many tenants who move within Boston, he said, is a night of storage.

“They put an extra burden not only on the tenants, but on the moving companies,’’ Williams said of these landlords.

An essential trait for movers, particularly at this time of year, is a deep and ready sense of humor, said David Mareira, co-owner of Roadrunner Moving & Storage.

“We’ll show up and absolutely nothing will be packed, or people become so stressed that they’ve gone into a general panic mode,’’ Mareira said.

In Mareira’s view, the work is part brute strength and part counseling for his Charlestown-based crews.

“The job is less about moving heavy items and more about managing people’s stress,’’ Mareira said. “What a perfect recipe for this: They’re moving, they’re meeting strangers, and you’re moving all of their worldly possessions.’’

Mareira said Roadrunner will have about 15 jobs today, up from eight to 10 on a typical day. And although movers prepare for the Sept. 1 rush, Mareira said, “eventually, a marble table has to go to the fifth floor.’’

Yesterday, although all the tables were coming down five floors at the Fontainebleau, the four roommates and their parents were not smiling much.

“I want this to be the last day I move — ever,’’ said McNerney, 21, as she stood near her belongings on the sidewalk.

Later, a Nantucket couple and their daughter inspected an apartment across the hall where their daughter will move today. Carly Ellis, a 21-year-old Simmons College senior, could still smile yesterday. The hard work would come soon enough.

As Ellis left the room, her father, Bill, glanced at the steps leading down to the street and ruefully predicted the new arrivals that could crowd out an easier way to haul things up.

“We’d love to use that elevator,’’ Ellis said, “but we’ll probably be using the stairs.’’

MacQuarrie can be reached at

Connect with

Twitter Follow us on @BostonUpdate, other Twitter accounts