Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Julie and I divide up the Christmas Ordeal like this:

She gives a crap; I don't.

She shops for the ideal present for each person; I look at something that's on closeout at Target and think, "How many people could I give this piece of junk to?"

I grab some wrapping paper and slap it on each present; she lovingly ties it with ribbon handcrafted by monks in the Middle Ages, adds miscellaneous decorative touches, and composes a lovely personal note.

Julie starts thinking about shipping boxes of presents across country on Christmas Eve, when the only way to get them there on time is to leave them on the roof for Santa to deliver; I start nagging her to finish the damn wrapping and let me get the boxes in the mail before the Thanksgiving turkey is cold.

This year my nagging bore a little fruit and I actually had four boxes to mail on December 14th. We had to have an argument and I had to tie a few bows myself (note to family: mine are the ones that look like the dog tied them), but for once the boxes and I were in line at FedEx early enough that I didn't have to use their "wormhole service" that actually blasts packages back through time to get them there by Christmas.

This was my first year to use FedEx instead of UPS. I decided to give them a try because the ads said that their ground service was cheaper than UPS's. I like cheaper.

Around here, this is what it's like to ship via UPS around Christmas:

First, you try to find a parking space within expeditionary distance of the UPS office. This isn't hard if you don't mind scraping your old pickup truck against the side of some jerk's SUV that's taking up two spaces, which I don't. You hire native bearers to carry your packages into the office, and your friendly UPS agent helps you use the computer to enter your packages into the system. You stand in a line longer than the ticket line to an Ashlee Simpson concert where she's actually going to sing, but it moves pretty quickly. Your packages are weighed and you're given a bill to pay in the trailer they've set up in the parking lot. All in all, given that one-quarter of the population of Los Angeles is at the UPS office at any given moment, the process is reasonably quick and painless.

Then there's the FedEx experience.

I walked in with my four packages. A couple of people were being served by the two counter clerks. I looked around and found a table with forms to fill out. There was only one type of form. I filled it out four times, once for each package. I got in line and waited for a clerk. And waited. And waited. I couldn' t imagine what was taking the customers ahead of me so long. Were they shipping anthrax to Zimbabwe? Were they trying to pay in Monopoly money? What?

I finally reached the clerk and she informed me that I'd filled out the wrong form. She pointed toward a table other than the one I'd been working at for the last fifteen minutes and told me to use one of those forms. She softened the blow, however. "You can put two packages on each form," she said, smiling the smile of someone who knows that you've just unwittingly eaten your own children.

The form did indeed provide spaces for two packages. But you still had to enter your own information twice. That's because the information was going onto peel-off labels that would be stuck to each of your boxes. Basically, I filled out crummy, hand-scrawled labels for packages that already had neatly typed shipping labels on them.

Once I got to the cashier, she weighed my first package and began typing what seemed like the first draft to her novel. I couldn't imagine what all she could be typing that had anything to do with my package. I could imagine her typing an instant message to somebody in the back room: "Hey, Lucille, How's it going back there? People are lined up to the door out here. Poke your head out and take a look! Any cake left from Michael's going-away party?"

She pulled out a tape measure and measured my package's length, width, and height. Then she measured the box I was shipping. (Okay, cheap joke, but that's the only kind I can afford.) "What's the maximum size of a package?" I asked. "Oh, yours is well under the maximum," she said, "but we have to measure everything." Then she typed some more. Eventually she printed out a sheet with both addresses on it (sender and recipient) and stuck it on the box along with the addresses I'd already written and the addresses from the form I filled out. That's three sets of address labels ( in case you count on your fingers and you ignored your mother's advice about never reaching into the washing machine while it was going).

Then she moved on to my second package.

This whole process took so long, I saw a woman who was waiting in line start carrying her packages back out to her car. Okay, that's not unusual. People give up when they're stuck in long lines, I've seen it before. But this woman was the very next person in line! And sonuvagun...she had her packages back in the car and was halfway to the UPS office before a cashier became available.

So, come December 24th when Julie has the last present wrapped and I'm racing off to ship the last box to the last family member, I think I'll spend an extra ten minutes on the road and drive to the UPS office. Because,you know, I absolutely, positively want to be back home by Christmas morning.

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