Your Package Does Not Compute

You know the saying. To err is human, but to really muck things up, you need a computer.

Such was the case with the post office when my mom tried to send me a package by Priority Mail, which is the frugal person’s two-day delivery alternative to Fed Ex.

But due to a comedy of errors – both of the human and computerized kind –  this was not a usual case and it took 10 days for the box to arrive from my mom’s home in Battle Creek, Michigan,  to my place in Raleigh, North Carolina. By the way, that’s twice as long as the pony express would have taken back in its heyday.

Here’s the story.

As some of you know, I have a painful nerve condition in my feet that no herbal remedy or prescription medication has helped. But earlier this month, my mom found a new supplement that held out the promise of relief.

Being the loving mother she is, and excited at her find, she put the supplements in the first box she came upon, one that originally contained a fresh supply of personal checks from her bank. She wrote my name on an address label, dashed to the post office, and paid the extra couple of dollars to have it sent Priority Mail.

Alas, in her rush, she forgot to do one key thing. She didn’t cross out her address that was imprinted on the other side of the box when it was sent by the Bradford Exchange Checks.

No human being at post office caught the oversight and, as we learned, having two addresses on one box befuddles the post office’s scanning equipment.

The shipment history, courtesy of the post office’s computerized tracking data:

Monday – Mom drops off the box at her local post office, with an expected delivery date of two days later. The package is shipped to a central Sorting Center in nearby Grand Rapids where, by a stroke of luck, the scanner reads the side of the package with my address.

Wednesday – The package arrives as scheduled in Raleigh. But our luck runs out and the scanner reads my mom’s address on the other side of the package. Unable to process the contradictory information, the main frame condemns the box to the postal service’s equivalent of purgatory, better known as “Bin A.” This is where thousands of problem packages are dumped for the nigh shift to sort through.

Thursday – Mom calls the post office and gets nothing more than an automated voice tree, which doesn’t have an option for “Sorry, But You’re Screwed. Should Have Paid Closer Attention.”

Friday – I start a round of calls to various postal service employees. Most have no idea how to help and blame it on the all-powerful “computer system.” One customer service representative, however, takes the time to check the records, discovers the problem of dual addresses, and alerts postal workers Raleigh and Grand Rapids to be on the lookout for the errant package.

Maybe their email system crashed, but the night shift didn’t get the notice in time.

Saturday – The box once again is run through the scanner, which deems my mother’s address to be correct, and orders the package sent back to Michigan.

Sunday – One full week after my mom went to her local post office, our luck returns. The employees at the Grand Rapids Sorting Center get the notice, intercept the package before the scanner can have its way, and ships it back to Raleigh.

But alas, the package is still cursed.

On the following Wednesday, my carrier tried to deliver the package, but I wasn’t home to sign for it. Never mind that Priority Mail doesn’t require a signature, that’s just the nature of this tale, one misfortune leads to another.

That night, with no package in hand, I punched the 16-digit tracking number for about the 50th time into the post office’s web site. I learned of the ill-fated delivery attempt and was instructed to fill out the redelivery form left on my door.

Of course, there was no notice on the door.

The next morning, I called customer service again. The agent was baffled at this turn of events and offered to transfer me to my local post office for further assistance.

Even that didn’t work out. The call was disconnected during the transfer.

I had to get back to work, so I left matters to fate. I decided the package would arrive when the Universe deemed it appropriate. Fortunately, that was just a matter of hours. When I came home that night, the package was in my mailbox, no signature required.

In total, my packaged traveled more than 1,700 miles, the equivalent of sending it to the International Space Station seven times.

There is one silver lining in this story. I double checked with the authorities and confirmed that Santa still relies on elves, not technology. For that, we are lucky because without the elves, one miscue would prevent millions from getting their Christmas presents until well past New Year’s.

That would be a disaster. No one should have to wait past the appointed hour to get their new I-Pad, smart phone, or laptop. As we all know, such pieces of advanced technology are vastly superior to mere humans.

Update: After all that, the supplement, like everything else I’ve tried, did not work. If anyone has any suggestions on how to deal with neuropathy caused by chemo, please dash me a note.


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