Pay for Experts

A small but weighty example

We found ourselves owning a Yamaha baby grand piano now for over 10 years. It was probably the first nice thing Megan and I ever bought together, after our 77k modest bomb shelter of a first home. The piano is an extremely durable good—like most instruments really—that still holds value and is a beautiful addition to our home. I remember doing yardwork and listening to Megan playing it inside. The unmistakable Clementi poured out our windows. I dared not come closer because it seemed like the kinda thing she only played in private. I cannot think of a single time when someone asked her to play and she obliged. She's that way about most things.

We've now moved four times in those same 10 odd years and had a spectrum of experiences with the piano. It arrived at 23rd Street from Jim Laabs—only a guy and his girlfriend. One was barefoot, traversing our two ample foyer steps. They handled it with confident movement. It was a bit baffling—but I don't remember being the least bit concerned. I had no idea who these people were but they were part of the package deal—and insured.

I don't at all recall the short move from one side of the viaduct to the other in Manitowoc. It was a 3-minute drive, and somehow we got it there. Everyone remembers Megan's dad Leigh on all fours, arching his back upward, scooting the piano into place once it arrived at Westwood Lane. He is sure as Hell one strong man.

The third move. That one will stay with us. Wisconsin to Minnesota—our fateful relocation. Most people don't leave the nest at 30 years old with two kids in tow. But Leigh had just sold the M&M and the job offer was too enticing.

Our belongings were packed and stowed on a semi. Our whole life in a single trailer. The movers were quick and considerate. The same crew would unload us and ours in a couple of days. Almost last on the truck was to be the Yamaha. Could they move it? Sure they could, there were five of them. They were professionals. I learned later that they were also paid by the pound—so they'd move anything (No wonder they were happy to move my lumber pile).

The movers took the legs off while still upright and tried to lower and tilt it down on its side in a single lift. This put almost all the weight on one man's arms. His grip failed—the piano falling 18 or so inches to the floor. A key cracked and clattered across the floor. A large dent impacted our Acacia hardwood. Thankfully no one was hurt. Well—I guess everyone's mood was, instantly. I often wonder if it would have been better to move the piano earlier in the move rather than wait for nearly last. Fresh arms and fresh minds might have prevailed. Insurance came through both for the floor (on a house we no longer owned) and the piano itself. The same crew hefted the piano up our 7 stair split-level a couple of days later, after some reservations only quieted by a cardboard facsimile rigged up by Jim to prove it would make the turn at the top. It was a work-harder moment, with the seriousness that came with knowing they'd already dropped it once. Stair by stair they heaved it up. At least the inevitable fourth move would be gravity-assisted.

The first sign took me a bit to notice—the movers didn't even turn off their truck. Our fourth house was again only moments away, but for cargo so heavy, it was too far. Only two movers, equipped with a wry comment and heavy leather harnesses. They disassembled the legs and had the piano on a board in no time. My concern over Jim's fragile custom stair nose melted away as they lifted it over the fulcrum, adjusting their leather straps along the way as the angle changed. The bottom man guided the weight down, stepping over and through the dolly. They made it look laughably easy. The trip to Cheyenne Trail was short and the reassembly just as quick. The whole thing took less than thirty minutes. This was something I had been stressing over for weeks and weeks to get right. They earned their tip and the family had to hear me repeat, "that's why you pay for experts," for a couple of hours. I guess I'm encroaching into full-dad mode here, quoting things like "buy nice or pay twice."

There must be a small community of real, professional piano movers. When I was relating our previous moves to the most recent duo, I mentioned the barefoot team that first delivered the piano.

"Did you get it from Jim Laabs?", one of them asked.

Why yes, I had. How'd he know that? He knew the couple, 300 miles away, just from their signature footwear. Both crews were experts in their field—so it shouldn't have surprised me I guess. Communities have a way of forming—and many lines of work seem to be smaller than you'd first guess. Find the people that make the work look straightforward, and pay them for it. Find the folks that can shoot the shit with you while doing a good job—and then shut up and get out of their way.