November 13, 2013Editor's Note: Your humble guest writer vowed last week, after three columns in three weeks, to take a vacation. I did, for three days. Since the Roadrunner is a weekly, we continue on today without missing an edition, plus we have a news story in another part of the newspaper. Your editor Kim Harris seems to love it when I fill space, even when I went to the dogs last week. This time I am going to turn attack dog (I couldn't resist that analogy) and talk about the United States Postal Service.
Truth be told, I didn't have any gripe with the USPS — until recently. Something very bizarre occurred.
On Oct. 28, my wife sent a package of hand-me-down clothes to my daughter in northern Oregon. I was the designee to take the package to the post office. This is a man's job. We learn this very early. We never wrap, never do the taping, never select ribbons, and rarely fill out the address.
The cost of standard mail was $26.92, rather high I thought to go 1,600 miles north to Oregon. I was afraid to ask the cost of Express mail. I was told the package should arrive in "about" five business days, which means no weekends count. I was given a label number, also known as a tracking number, with 23 digits on it. It is very visible with a high-powered microscope.
It was like a good David Baldacci novel following my package's odyssey via the tracking number. I couldn't imagine the twists and turns it endured.
The reason I am writing this story is what transpired with that package. It went from Pauma Valley to San Diego in the south and back to Bell Gardens in the north. No real surprise there, I suppose. But, alas, the next destination was Cincinnati, Ohio, followed by Des Moines, Iowa, then Federal Way, Wash. and then back west to Portland, Ore. I guess that's a straight line, as the crow flies, according to USPS.
Wow, what a ride. Dozens, maybe hundreds of mail handlers and processors dealt with my package. I assumed it got pretty stamps everywhere it landed, or whatever pass-through signs or stamps are needed. Still, I wasn't trying to be patient, following the package sometimes twice daily, hoping maybe it would visit my land of birth, Mich. It didn't, however.
The worst was yet to come. On the designated delivery day, Nov. 4, the package was still in the Midwest, and on two of the days there was no movement. One was a weekend day, one was not. I guess package handlers don't work every day.
Then the bad news came late afternoon on Nov. 4. The USPS sent me an e-mail saying the label/tracking number did not match, and the package could not be delivered. I didn't give my email address to the USPS, so my suspicions were correct — I had been scammed. My postmaster confirmed later that they don't send e-mails to customers.
It wasn't over yet, however. My daughter got a similar email from USPS and, of course, no one knew her email address except my family, and certainly not anyone in the Postal Service. But someone matched up the addresses on the package and sent similar emails to the both of us. I told her not to "open'' the mail and she didn't.
Here's where the conspiracy theory comes in. My package was "handled'' by persons in California, Ohio, Iowa, Indiana and Oregon, spanning seven different cities. Somewhere, somehow it was compromised— no accusations, though. I don't have a clue how these computer scammers operate, but I would have thought that the fewer people who handled my package the better.
The postmaster told me mail, including packages, is divided by zones and must travel through specifically required areas. She did not say the Twilight Zone. After the package reached Portland, Ore. I was having misgivings. Portland is south of my daughter's home. Maybe what I sent still had to stop in Vladivostok, by way of the Bering Sea, through Nome, Alaska, or maybe it was going by tugboat up the Columbia River. Then I quit hallucinating. There couldn't be a postal zone in Alaska accepting a package that started in California. I'm right about that, aren't I?
On Nov. 8 the package had not been delivered, although I am fairly certain it will be in my daughter's tiny little town when this newspaper publishes on or about Nov. 13-14. But I'm also certain the clothes will be out of style by that time. Actually, scratch that. These are my wife's clothes from the 90s, methinks, or maybe a little later, and intended for my 16-year-old granddaughter.
They say "All's well that ends well," so I will go with that. More important, I filled space in the Roadrunner without offending anyone but maybe the USPS, and everybody does that now and then.
Also, while this column is Much ado about nothing, at least I'm still writing, still doing what I like to do when I like to do it without any pressure. The pay is peanuts (well, not even that really) but do you remember me begging Kim Harris for food consideration in recent weeks? First, I dined at Portino's, then Papa Bear's. Do you see a trend developing? Next it will be Papa John's.
No matter how the future turns out for a retiree like me in the writing business, I know I'm safe. I heard somewhere in Washington, D.C. that if I like my journalism job I can keep it. But I had better check that. Statements change rapidly coming from the nation's capital.