Yesterday at eleven twenty-eight precisely, Delivery Company arrived outside my house to deliver my laptop. Unfortunately, as I'd told them twice already, I wasn't in.
I told them over the phone on Thursday morning that I wouldn't be in on Friday, and they told me I could come and collect my package from the depot instead. When that failed at the depot on Thursday evening I told them again, and they told me I could come and collect it tonight from a different depot instead. But what the hell, it was On The Van, so the driver drove out of his way to deliver it anyway, only to find I wasn't in, like I'd told them. He left me a little note. I didn't read it, because I wasn't at home.
Instead I went to the second depot after work, like they'd told me, because what could possibly go wrong a second time? This was a long way out of the city centre, because delivery companies like to cluster where there's a lot of space and a lot of roads, in this case on a bleak industrial estate of the highest order. More to the point this depot was in the red zone, over a mile from a station, so getting there from work took ages. I joined the rammed crowds on the bus, my office shirt standing out somewhat in contrast to local apparel, and we queued to cross the arterial out of town.
I eventually found the depot past where the council estate faded out, deep in lorry country, where Delivery Company's vans were arriving back from their daytime runs. Their gatehouse doubles up as the customer entrance, with a seemingly cramped counter space, but in fact merely a portal into the building beyond. Three swing doors and a set of steps followed, so the bloke behind me carrying a large parcel was delighted I was there to hold things open. Eventually we reached an unmarked desk beside two further doors - with no signs, no staff, no nothing. But there was a bell, which wasn't labelled, so I pushed that. Nothing happened.
After a few minutes, and another push, and another minute, a man appeared. I said I'd been told I could come and collect a package, and was it here? "I hope they booked it in!" he said, I thought getting in his excuses rather on the premature side. So he typed in my 18 character tracking number (a system with enough combinations to allow the entire population of the earth to send 6 packages a day for a million years) and then exclaimed "Oh, they didn't book it in." Surprise.
Further well-worn excuses followed. "I hope the driver's not come back early," he said, as if this ocurrence would have set in train further unpleasant consequences. "Ah no, good, it's still on the van. I'll go and ring the driver and see when he might be coming back." And that was the last I saw of him for ten minutes. Two other blokes were waiting, seemingly had been for a while, and they shuffled up on the Sofa of Purgatory to make room for me. Thankfully there were no spiders on this one.
Further customers arrived, some with packages to drop off, others with packages to collect. They pressed the bell and hung around, not quite forming a queue because they weren't sure whether the rest of us were still waiting to be served or merely bored. "Is anybody working here?" one asked, which we didn't really know how to answer based on fifteen minutes' experience, but we suspected not. Vans pulled in outside the window, occasionally wafting diesel our way, and so the Friday evening assembly grew.
Eventually the employee returned, joined intermittently by a female colleague, and set about attempting to deal with a few of us. They didn't necessarily do this in the right order, because nobody had made any attempt at a queue, indeed I hope nobody ever employs these two as bar staff! Customer drop offs were quickly dealt with, but collections took longer, especially when "I hope you booked it in" proved negative. A couple of weekends were ruined while I watched thanks to incomplete bureaucracy.
Some fortunate folk discovered that their packages were waiting in an adjacent room, a bit like they'd turned up at Argos, though with looks of surprise/horror when the box turned out to be too large/heavy to easily transport home. Others discovered that their packages were still in "the warehouse", which took rather longer for staff to find time to get to, and during their absence the crowd even grew larger. Meanwhile the particularly unlucky discovered that their packages were still out On The Van, in one case on the slowest van of the day and could they hang around a lot longer?
The two blokes who'd arrived ahead of me, ten and five minutes respectively, ended up waiting three quarters of an hour before they received their bounty. I was looking to top that. My Friday evening was ebbing slowly away, and several text messages from BestMate enjoying beers in the West End didn't help. The assembled collectees stared deeper into their phones, occasionally being summoned for processing, all of them looking like they'd far rather be somewhere else with a new toy to play with, or simply somewhere else.
"Right, you," said the man to me at last (his female colleague having by now vanished into thin air). "Your driver should be back around seven, so hang on." My package magically appeared seconds later, and then it was finally my turn to look smug in front of the throng. I could have showered vitriol at the guy for the way his company had treated me, but he at least had been the one person who'd delivered so I decided against. Instead I waved my photo ID, signed the electronic box and headed for the door... which I had to be buzzed out of, because they're paranoid like that.
It had taken a whole hour to get there, then a whole hour waiting, then a whole hour to get home, which is the magic of mishandled parcel delivery. I'd now finally lugged my three kilograms of laptop back to where the man in the van had attempted to deliver it several hours earlier. Also waiting in my letterbox was a letter from Delivery Company welcoming me to their customer service programme, and containing the activation code I needed to authenticate my address, which is what they'd insisted I do before they'd allow me to reschedule a delivery, which is the main reason I'd ended up in this mess in the first place. I went online and typed in the profile cancellation code instead because, like I'm ever going to want to use UPS again.