December 5, 2002
Shipping Limbo

miles to go: 89.31 [YTD: 1,912.69]

Wednesday morning, 9 a.m.

I'm sitting at my desk putting the finishing touches on Daughter #1's birthday package -- weeping over her Hallmark, printing out the UPS 2nd Day Air label, setting the booby traps -- when the phone rings, and I answer it in my very best/almost-entirely-believable God it's great to be The Dirt Company Receptionist! voice, and it's the Soon-To-Be-Birthday Girl herself, calling to say hello.

"Are you busy?" she asks me sweetly. 

(Isn't it adorable how solicitous they become in the days immediately preceding their birthdays ... even when they're almost 21 years old?) 

I tell her no, actually, I'm not busy at all: the office is practically deserted this morning, the phones are hardly ringing, my In Basket is momentarily empty. These are all lies, of course, but I never want to discourage her phone calls.

"I'm just sitting here wrapping your sea monkeys," I reply.

I've been feeling dangerously, deliciously smug for the past few days. Not only did I manage to get all of her birthday goodies purchased, wrapped, packaged and practically out the door (scheduled to arrive in TicTac in plenty of time for her Big Day on Monday), but I've also managed to knock off 89.7% of my Christmas shopping already, thanks to the miracle of the Internet and the nice folks at VISA. I spent most of my four-day Thanksgiving vacation last weekend glued to the computer, pointing and clicking my way towards the ultimate goal: gift-shopping liberation. Now I can sit back and ignore all of the annoying overblown holiday hoopla for the next four weeks.

It's enough to make my Grinchly heart constrict with joy.

I brag for a moment about my online shopping accomplishments. Both of my parents: done. Sister: done. Nieces and nephews: done, done, done. 

"Everything is being sent to your Eighteenth Avenue address," I add as an after-thought. 

Jaymi has agreed to take delivery of my online purchases. (At least, she's taking delivery of the ones that aren't for her. Her gifts are shipping directly to my ex-husband's house.) That way, we figure, David and I won't have to haul eleven metric tons' worth of Christmas presents in our luggage when we fly to TicTac later this month.

"You mean my Two-Hundred-and-Eighteenth Avenue address, don't you?" she says.

And then we both stop breathing for one long moment as the full implication of her question settles in.

You know that sick, slippery, bottom-dropping-out-of-your-stomach feeling you get when you realize you've done something shockingly, exquisitely stoopid? That's how I'm feeling right at this moment. I can't breathe. I can't speak. I think I might throw up. Basically ... I have just sent $43,897,621 worth of books, toys, CDs, farm implements and ridiculously expensive electronic gizmos into Shipping Limbo. Now all of this stuff is floating around out there in the whereversphere ... headed for an address that doesn't even exist.

"Oh Mom," Jaymi whispers, shocked. "How did this happen?"

"I don't know," I wail miserably. I am ordinarily sooo careful about ordering stuff online. (I don't even give them my phone number until I've called myself a couple of times, just to verify that it's a working number.) In my own defense, however, I would like to point out that this was a new and unfamiliar address. Jaymi and Joel broke up in September, and she moved into her new place not long afterward. I haven't even committed the new address to ink yet in my Day-Timer. It's not completely inconceivable that I could look at 18th Avenue and not realize that it should be 218th Avenue.

Is it?

We hang up the phone and I immediately get to work, trying to undo the damage. The good news -- if there is any good news here -- is that her birthday package still hasn't shipped. It's sitting right here on the desk in front of me: I have plenty of time to make the address correction and print out a new label before the UPS Guy shows up. (Also -- more good news -- I hadn't gotten around to ordering my son's gene splicer yet. It's still sitting in my Shopping Basket, waiting for me to close my eyes and hit "Enter." That's at least one ridiculously expensive electronic gizmo that isn't floating around in Shipping Limbo today.) I figure that the smart thing to do is to get on the phone and call the help desk ASAP. I don't have time to dink around with e-mail. I'm sure that if I can just bend the ear of a knowledgeable, sympathetic Customer Service representative, they will be able to get me out of this pickle.

And that's when things go from bad to worse to Just fudking delete me now.

If you've ever tried calling the 800 number for customer support, you probably already know what I'm about to tell you: that there IS no 800 number for customer support. Or at least, there is no 800 number listed on the website. 



(Go on. Try to find it. I dare you.) 

But I'm still enjoying the first blush of blind jibbering panic here, and I'm not yet aware of this fact. I still naively believe that any online store as fabulous and as reliable and as popular as is must surely provide telephone support to their most devoted customers (i.e., me).  And so I spend an increasingly frantic hour and a half combing every frame and pixel and department of the massive infrastructure, searching for the magic number that's going to fix my problem. Ultimately, though, I'm forced to face the fact that there is no 800 number. There are no customer service phone numbers of any kind, as a matter of fact. Feeling disillusioned, I go to Google and type the words "" and "800 number" and "whut the fudk?" into the search engine. It immediately offers up links to half a dozen personal homepages (as well as to a couple of articles on trade websites) ... every one of them complaining about Amazon's lack of published 800 number support ... and every one of them providing the mystery number:

1-800-201-7575. (Write it down. Keep it someplace safe. Trust me on this one.)

By the time I finally get an customer service rep on the line, more than an hour has passed. I've had time to calm down and catch my breath and think the situation through. I'm pretty sure I know what the rep is going to tell me. Your order has already shipped. There's nothing we can do. You'll have to contact the carriers yourself. Still, I feel obligated to at least go through the formality of reporting the error, after all the effort I've expended trying to track down the damn 800 number in the first place. Plus this was *my* screw-up, so I make an attempt not to sound defensive or whiney or hostile. I give him my account information and my shipping confirmation numbers and my mother's maiden name -- everything except my shoe size and my ninth-grade locker combination, basically -- and after he hunts through his electronic records for a while, he finally comes back and tells me that the order has already shipped, that there's nothing they can do, and that I'll have to contact the individual carriers myself. 

When I ask him why on earth doesn't publish their 800 number on their website, like any other normal, reputable online store, he says that the number does appear on order confirmations and during the check-out process, but that they don't post it anywhere else because people use it for the wrong reasons. 

"Too many people were calling because they couldn't figure out how to navigate the website," he explains. "It was tying up the help lines." 

I think this is a pretty crappy reason, frankly, but I'm too stressed to argue the issue right now. Maybe after the holidays. 

After we hang up, I go back on the website and print out my account information and my order history for all of the Christmas presents I purchased over the weekend. Naturally everything is shipping via a different carrier: Dad's electronic banana peeler has gone out UPS ... my mother's GameBoy and my stepmother's "Men of GQ" Calendar are shipping together via regular mail ... my toddler nephew's cordless electric drill is being sent Airborne Express. It will take me another two days to get the mess sorted out -- not to mention another seven Customer Service Representatives, four additional 800 numbers and at least half a dozen e-mails -- but eventually I'm able to track all of the disparate shipments and correct the shipping information and get them pointed in the right direction with only minimal wear and tear on my nervous system.

And in the meantime, the UPS Guy has come and picked up my daughter's birthday package, spiriting it out the door and onto his truck and off into the whereversphere. You'd better believe I'm going to be parked in front of the UPS website for the next 48 hours, tracking that package within an inch of its little corrugated life, until it is safely -- and correctly -- delivered to the address on 218th Street in TicTac.

After all ... sea monkeys don't last very long in Shipping Limbo.

at least you can't screw up the shipping address

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~ nil bastardum carborundum ~

did i mention the case of footsauce i've ordered for david?