Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Scenic Route

This is not the sort of thing I normally write about in this blog, and it's also not the post I intended to write today. However, this situation has reached a point of absurdity that must be preserved in writing.

The background: I mail things. No, not email - actual put-a-stamp-on-it-and-wait-for-someone-to-pick-it-up mail. I like the US Postal Service. I mean, I've had my annoying days standing in line at their offices where just as your turn is about to come up, someone puts up their "window closed" sign and you're left staring forward at the one guy who is left helping people, and behind you at the line that goes out the door. And it's summer, and there's no air conditioning. Sure, it happens. But the people who work at my post office branch are generally pretty cheery, and helpful, and friendly. And in the end, I also know from working retail that when it's time for someone to take their lunch, it's time - it just screws up everyone's schedule if you monkey around with that.

But this isn't about my local office. This is about ordering stamps online. Right now, you may be wondering, "If you don't mind your local post office and the people there are friendly and helpful, why would you order stamps online?" It's a good question. I like to send mail with a variety of stamps on it. I mean, sure, I could send an envelope with a regular boring flag stamp, but where's the fun in that? I prefer to mix up the denominations and the images so that people don't get the same old stamps, and get to see some of the fun ones that exist. Unfortunately, the new and interesting ones often sell out at our local office, and they don't always get more.

So I order them online. I've done this before, and it was great - I put in my order, and a couple of days later I had all kinds of stamp-y goodness arrive on my doorstep. Last week, I did it again - with slightly different results. That's what this post is about.

I have an account on from my previous orders, so I logged on and happily ordered a variety of stamps. My address information was already in there, so I checked out, got my confirmation email, and closed the browser with a smile. I had some mail I wanted to send out, but it could wait a couple of days till I got my awesome new stamps. That was June 12.

June 13: I got an email from USPS saying that my order had been shipped, and giving me the tracking info. I looked it up, not expecting much. Often when you send something with tracking via the post office, the tracking info takes a day or so to update. However, I was pleased to see that it was being sent Priority Mail (2-day service!) and was already listed as being processed at the sort facility in Kansas City, MO. I should have those stamps in no time at all!

June 14: No stamps. Not surprising - I mean, it's not next-day service. I checked the tracking info. It had departed the sort facility in Kansas City the night before. Cool, I'll have them tomorrow.

June 15: No stamps. Hm. Check the tracking info: Nothing new.

June 16: No stamps. Check the tracking info: see above. Sigh, and put the boring stamps on my mail to be sent.

June 17: Sunday, so no delivery, obviously. Check the tracking info: see above.

June 18: No stamps. Check the tracking info: status says my package has been processed through the sort facility in Springfield Massachusetts.

Wait, what?!

I called the customer service line. The woman I spoke to told me that my package was in Springfield, Massachusetts. "Yes, I know this," I told her. "That's the problem. Can you explain to me how a priority mail package where the sender is the actual USPS itself spends 5 days in Kansas City and then gets routed to Massachusetts on its way to Denver?"

"I'll pass this information along to the person best able to address your issue, and someone will call you within 24 hours about this."

...Great? You do understand that this is a Priority Mail package according to the tracking, right? And that we're at 5 days so far, and it's a couple thousand miles away from me?

"I'll pass this information along to-"

"-the person best able to address my issue. Got it."

So I hung up, and waited. A few hours later I got a call from someone in an office somewhere in Denver. She cheerily informed me "Your package was processed at the sort facility in Springfield, Massachusetts."

Initially when I asked her how it was possible for a Priority Mail package to sit in a sort facility for 5 days, she said "maybe there was a problem with the zip code." That's when I realized that she, as "the person best able to address my issue," had no idea what the situation was. I had to explain it to her all over again. "Maybe it was in a cage that had to fill up before they shipped everything out," she suggested. When I asked her if that was perhaps counterproductive for Priority Mail service, she just said that she didn't really know what might have happened to it. "I'd guess you'll get it tomorrow." I said, "Well, I'd have guessed I'd get it on the 15th, but it's the 18th now so obviously that didn't happen." She said she'd file a formal complaint with Kansas City on my behalf. I'm sure that'll help.

June 19: No stamps. Check the tracking info: the package has departed the sort facility in Springfield.

June 20: No stamps. Check the tracking info: the package has been processed through the sort facility in Jersey City, NJ. Yes, seriously.

Assuming my stamps leave Jersey City tomorrow (big assumption) and come directly from there to Denver (even bigger assumption), this is the route they will have taken to get to me.

If, by some miracle, they arrive tomorrow, it will have taken 8 days and 3,302 miles to get my stamps to me on a route that Google maps says could have been driven in 55 hours. On the other hand, one could have driven directly from Kansas City to Denver in just under 10 hours if one didn't want to tour the east coast first.