01082022 Vidro FedEx

In this June 25, 2019, photo, a FedEx delivery truck is loaded by an employee on the street in downtown Cincinnati.

A painting in the Smithsonian depicts The Flying Dutchman, a legendary ghost ship doomed to sail the oceans forever, unable to reach any port.

Similarly, in late December/early January, a Flying Dutchman ghost truck roamed the streets of Claremont, unable to find its destination.

The ghost truck bore FedEx markings. The destination was my house.

It all began on Dec. 21, when I bought a banker’s lamp through the Home Depot website, which recommended certain light bulbs. I bought the bulbs too, thinking this meant some light bulbs would be added to the shipping box.

Far from it. Instead, Home Depot turned a simple purchase into a complex one. They immediately shipped the bulbs. From Florida. Via Federal Express.

A couple days later they shipped the lamp. From California. Via United Parcel Service.

Thus, another example of modern technology leading to wacky and needless complexities, higher shipping cost to the merchant, and excessive packaging waste.

The lamp arrived safe and sound on Dec. 30, the first day UPS attempted delivery.

The bulbs had a shorter distance to travel, so they reached New England sooner and on Dec. 26 were on a FedEx truck that reached Claremont.

But the bulbs weren’t delivered that day. Instead, “Incorrect Address – Street Number” was entered into the tracking log. That entry sounds like they found the street but not the house. And then gave up.

Mind you, Home Depot provided the same address – the correct address – to both UPS and FedEx. But the FedEx ghost truck’s computer couldn’t find it, so from the truck driver’s point of view the package was incorrectly addressed.

Dec. 27, the same thing happened.

Dec. 28, no attempt was made. Instead, Erin of FedEx’s regional office phoned me. She had me describe our home’s location so she could find it on her map and then have more specific instructions relayed to the driver.

Note, this showed FedEx had our phone number. So the driver, if armed with this information, could phone any time he or she was close to the house, and then I could run out and wave down the truck. Erin and I were confident delivery would take place the next day.

But on Dec. 29, we had another “Incorrect Address – Street Number” excuse. And again on Dec. 30.

Dec. 31 was another failure, but with a different reason cited: “Local Weather Delay – Delivery Not Attempted.”

Because of the holiday, no delivery was attempted Jan. 1.

On Jan. 2, we were back to “Incorrect Address – Street Number.”

By now I had spoken twice to Erin, who is the senior office administrator; and twice to William, the senior operations administrator. They both seem highly intelligent, polite, well-spoken, reassuring, and with bedside manners as great as Marcus Welby’s. I wouldn’t hesitate to hire either of them for any job requiring competence and intelligence.

But neither of them were driving the truck.

On Jan. 3 the failed attempt was logged as “Recipient Location Security Delay.” Whatever that might mean, it ought to be reworded in plain English.

Finally, on Jan. 4, the package reached our front stoop, right below the house number and street name, which are affixed to the house in large characters. Within five minutes of delivery, Erin phoned hoping to confirm the package’s arrival – she had diligently been monitoring for it. I acknowledged the delivery. “I’m sorry it took so long to get there,” she apologized.

That was kind of her, but it wasn’t her fault. I blame the FedEx business model. And the computer age.

Why I blame the business model: UPS hires its drivers. FedEx, instead, contracts with other entities to hire and pay and supervise the fleet of drivers. Drivers work for the contractors, not for FedEx. The FedEx people I spoke with could communicate with the contractors, but not with the drivers. When I asked if it was the same driver every day, Erin said she wasn’t privy to that information.

Guess the FedEx business model precludes it. I disapprove of that business model. Maybe it’s good for the shareholders (it means fewer employees, and remember the UPS drivers are unionized), but it’s not good for the customers.

Why I blame the computer age: seems we now have a generation of workers (Erin and William and a few others excluded) who have grown up unable or unwilling to do anything but mindlessly follow the instructions of a computer. If a computer can’t locate an address, that somehow means the address doesn’t exist.

When I was a kid, a driver who couldn’t find an address would exit the truck and ask a pedestrian or knock on a door. Nowadays, even armed with telephones, some drivers fail to do what it takes to locate a home.

I can shrug it off, because it was just a package of light bulbs. But what if it had been something vital, such as legal documents I had to sign and file before 2021 ended? In that case, the adrift truck would have caused me major trouble.

What bothers me most is that at no point while the ghost truck was roaming our neighborhood did the driver phone. Or step out to ask directions.

This is what computer dependence has reduced us to.

So folks, if you see a ghostly FedEx truck trawling the streets, hopelessly lost, steer clear of it. At the helm is someone who doesn’t want your help in finding its port. It heeds only the ship’s computerized (but flawed) navigation system.

It’s merely the Flying Dutchman of Federal Express.

Arthur Vidro is one of the Eagle Times’ recurring financial columnists.

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