Monday, August 15, 2011

Only in Our Small Towns


I got into a squabble with UPS this week. Not with our local driver, Dale. He’s great and always takes time for a friendly word. No, my squabble was with an anonymous cipher at UPS dispatch headquarters.

It all started with my new job. Several times while he was growing up and later as a young adult, my son Ben worked for me. Now our roles have reversed and I am doing a menial sort of job for his new business. When Ben asked me if I would like to help, he warned me the tasks were ‘mind numbing’. However, I find them somewhat akin to Zen meditation. I told a friend about it and he pointed out that it probably indicates the vacuity of my mind. I argue that it is Zen.

But the point is that the end result of my menial-labor fits into a small box which must be shipped via UPS. The process is quite easy. I punch information into my computer program and my printer spits out a pre-paid label which I attach to the box. I pat myself on the back for a job well done. Then I call UPS.

UPS is huge. They list no local telephone number. They publish an 800 number, which I called. The computer-generated voice ordered me through an endless number of options. I tried several, some twice. None fit my needs. In frustration I found myself arguing with the computer-generated voice. The voice continued undaunted. The voice never changed inflection. The voice carried on. My own voice changed inflection. My own voice got louder and it got faster. Finally the computer-generated voice took pity. Evidently something in my agitation activated their computer’s ‘pity’ chip which shunted me to a real human.

“Ah, ha,” I snapped. “Look, mister. All I want to do is have somebody pick up my pre-paid package.”

“Yes,” the gentleman who I pictured huddled, chained to a desk, surrounded by the latest in computer communications technology in a cubicle buried deep in the back room in the basement of UPS headquarters said. “I have your order up on the screen. That will be fourteen dollars and yadda yadda cents. Do you want to pay by credit card or set up an account?”

“This shipment is pre-paid,” I countered through clenched teeth. “I want you to pick it up. I do not want to pay for it again.”

“Yes,” he said. “I see here that your package is pre-paid for shipment. To have our driver pick up your box will cost fourteen dollars and yadda-yadda cents. How do you wish to pay?”

“I do not wish to pay twice for a pre-paid shipment,” I began. “This is insane.”

“I can see how you might think that,” he said, polishing his mollify-the-customer skills. “As an alternative, you can take the box to the nearest UPS drop station.”

“The UPS place is in Havre. It is a ninety mile round trip. One way is a two hour drive through road construction. I just want to ship my box without paying even more than the shipping charges just to have it picked up.”

“I understand,” he said. His voice dripped oil of sarcasm. “If you don’t want to pay anything, I guess you could try to find your driver and hand him the box. That will not cost you anything. Good luck.” I could hear him cackling loudly as he clicked off. I’m sure he pictured me driving aimlessly around a city for hours, vainly searching every street and alley, hunting a UPS truck, any UPS truck.

But he didn’t know Harlem. I looked at my clock. 11:05. I knew that Dale was probably at the post office. I hustled out to the PO. “Jan, has Dale been here yet?” “He just left, Sondra. You might try the Clothing Company. He drops a lot of things there.” “Thanks.”

Nope, Dale wasn’t at the Clothing Company. Who else might get a lot of shipments? The High School! I whizzed around the corner. And there it was, the familiar brown truck, headed in my direction. I waved my arm. Dale stopped. I handed him the box. I had the last laugh. Only in a very small town.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door.
August 18, 2011

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