Thursday, November 1, 2012


I feel bad complaining about this while on the East Coast there are people sitting without power and some of them without food. I’ve lived through the aftermath of hurricanes and tropical storms before and I know how slow it is to recover. The logistics of getting help to areas that are flooded, covered with debris, and without power, through traffic that is making its own way without traffic signals, while the people doing the helping are often worried for their own families’ safety, are difficult, to say the least. I am safe, dry, and well-fed, and cranky because a package got delayed.

But then I remember that some politicians talk about running government like a business, or even privatizing government services, and my minor complaint with a business that’s being run like a business takes on a more sinister cast.

As I mentioned before, I ordered a coat from LL Bean. LL Bean’s default mode of delivery, the one you get for no extra charge, is to ship UPS, the company that makes a big deal about logistics. The package was due to arrive on October 30, and since it was being shipped from Illinois to Louisiana, there was no reason to believe it wouldn’t arrive on time.

So that afternoon from 2 PM on, I made frequent forays to the front porch to look for a package. No package. By 6 PM I had begun to make dinner, when my husband came in with one of those notices from UPS that say they made an attempt to deliver a package but couldn’t leave it because it needed my signature.

Keep in mind, my husband and I had been home all afternoon. I went to the porch and checked the doorbell, and found it working just fine. We weren’t running the vacuum cleaner or any other loud household appliances that would mask the noise. I had a bad feeling that the UPS driver, rather than having to ring the bell and wait around for an answer and then a signature, just walked up to the house, stuck the already prepared note on the door, made a tentative knock and ran. 

I have already had a bad history with Brown. Several times in the past I have used their tracking site to track packages, read that a package had been delivered, and looked in vain around my porch and yard for it, only to have it show up the next day. So I called their customer service line and complained. I was home; I would have heard the doorbell. They tried to get the driver to come back with my package but he had gone home for the night. It would be delivered tomorrow.

So on the 31st, I stuck the notice of attempt to deliver back on the door with my authorization to leave the package without my signature, just in case, and remained vigilant. Around six I heard the truck coming down the street and ran to the front porch. A truck had just pulled up to my neighbor’s house. I watched the driver walk up to the door, drop (not place) the package, ring the bell, turn and leave in one fluid movement. Little kids who play the old trick of ringing your doorbell and running away would have been envious. I hope that package didn’t contain glassware.

Then he got to my house, handed me the form to sign and then my package without so much as a word.

So what’s the big deal, you ask? You got the coat. You live in Louisiana where it’s going to be 80 degrees this afternoon.

The big deal is, I know why this happened. It happened because businesses cut costs by cutting out a lot of the lowest paid jobs instead of trimming the higher paid jobs at the top. That leaves the drivers with longer routes than they would have if there were more drivers, and that leads them to cut corners. The big deal is, my coat was outside my house a little after 6 on October 30th and I was home to receive it but I didn’t get it for another 24 hours because someone was too rushed for time to let me answer the door, or even have a chance to answer the door. If customers complain about such service, it is just barely possible that Brown might wonder what they can do for me. If drivers complain, who is going to listen?

And this is the model some people want to use for government. This is what we are looking at when we privatize needed government services. Look at New York and New Jersey and ask yourself, what if it wasn’t a coat some old lady in Louisiana didn’t need right this minute? What if it was an emergency delivery of bottled water, or baby formula, or a coat some old lady does need right this minute because it’s cold and she has no heat? Do we want to run emergency relief like a business - like that business?

Like the ads say, it’s logistics.

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