< class="art-postheader">UPS Hell: Why it Doesn’t take the U.S. Post Office to Make You Go Postal

The United States Postal Service has a bad reputation. Workers go crazy and service from government employees sucks, they say, which is why we have private options like UPS and FedEx, right? Because these private options allegedly give the government a run for their money. Because capitalism is the very foundation of good customer service in these United States! (Or at least that’s what I learned from reading Atlas Shrugged.)

Oh boy.

So, today I was waiting on a very important package, but I had to leave my house for a doctor’s appointment. When I got home, I discovered I’d missed the UPS truck by eight minutes. So I took the sticky note off my front door and called UPS customer service to find out if I could pick it up at their distribution center later in the day. They said, “Sure. Be there between 8:00 and 8:30.” I wasn’t feeling very well (some kind of respiratory infection), but I figured five minutes up at UPS wouldn’t kill me.

I arrive at the distribution center in Mesquite, Texas at 8:15 and find about twenty-nine or thirty really angry people in line. Nobody’s behind the counter. The crowd tells me I have to wait in line to sign in.

Wait, what? I have to sign in to get a package?  Well, okay.  So I get in line and finally make it up to the sign in sheet by 8:30, at which time a UPS worker named Robert comes out and pulls the paper right out from under my pen.

“Hey!” I say. Robert gives me the stink eye before supplying a new piece of paper. I write down my information and step away so that the ten people who have come in after me can also fill out Robert’s form.

Ten minutes later, Robert is still standing there supervising the sign-in process. By this time, the people who had been standing around for forty-five minutes were starting to get pissed off. A young professional woman who was apparently the first to arrive says, “Excuse me, sir, but my package was supposed to be here yesterday. All I want to do is find out whether or not it’s still here.”

Robert starts waving his hands in the air, trying to cut her off. “You just wait,” he says. “You just wait until everyone gets signed in, and I will address your question at that time.”

“But,” she says, “If it’s not even here–”

He cuts her off again. “Hey! Ma’am! What’s your problem? All these people… ” (he gestures sweepingly across the room) “…are waiting in line, and they all want their packages, too. If I answer your question first, that wouldn’t be fair.”

At this point, all the customers in the room exchange puzzled glances, because this woman was clearly the first in line, and she’d been waiting nearly an hour already. And who freaking cares if somebody wants to ask a question, anyway?

A disgruntled guy with a buzz cut and beard says, “Wait a minute–”

But the UPS worker cuts him off too.

At this point, a riot is on the verge of breaking out. Just to make sure nobody inside gets unruly, the police officer outside flashes his lights. This is old hat to him, and probably the reason he’s stationed there. According to a repeat customer, the cop is there every night, because this UPS distribution center employs Robert, and only Robert, to make sure the packages get handed out between 8:00 and 8:30. Only problem is, it usually takes him until past 10:00 to hand out forty or so boxes. EVERY NIGHT.

Robert is apparently distressed by the near riot, because he rolls his eyes and inexplicably disappears into the back room. When he’s ready to grace us with his presence again, he comes back out into the customer service area and announces, “Everyone, may I have your attention, please!” He then proceeds to explain that the pickup process goes thus:

  1. You must sign in.
  2. You must wait for him to call out your address.
  3. You must then present your claim form and at least one form of government identification.
  4. He must scan the package.
  5. You must sign on the dotted line.
  6. If you did not call ahead to request that your package be made available at this location and at this time, you will not get a package.
  7. If UPS did not call you back with a confirmation call saying your package would be there, you will not get your package.

Robert then asks for a show of hands of people whose packages were supposed to have arrived yesterday.  Fully half the room raises their hands. Robert says, “All right. You all go to that side of the room. As soon as I hand out all the packages that were supposed to arrive today, you can have yours.”

The young professional woman, who obviously falls into the yesterday category, begins furiously punching buttons on her cell phone and storms out angrily.

Another long-haired guy who is wearing a red t-shirt that reads “You Can Jerk Anything” storms out right behind her, nearly knocking me over in the process.

Robert decides it’s time for another speech. By this time, I’m videoing. He raises both arms in the air, the sign-in sheet dangling from his left hand.   “For those of you who need to know, we have three shuttles. This is the first one, then there’s the next one, and then we’re gonna have another one at nine o’clock. In the event your package is not on the 9 o’clock shuttle, you won’t receive a package here tonight.”

People anxiously start crowding Robert’s counter. He announces that he will see those of us who are supposed to pick up our packages today now, and then invites us to come forward. Silently, we do.

He explains again that he will call out our addresses, and that when we hear our address number, we are to come forward.

We wait expectantly.

Robert disappears again.

By this time, the young professional woman is back, and she’s on the phone with the UPS higher-ups. She’s trying to explain that she’s been there for an hour and Robert has yet to hand out a single package. She explains that the cop outside says this happens every night. I video her for a little bit, but the conversation goes on and on, so I get bored and stop.

Finally, the woman hears something she likes and marches over to the door to the back room. “Sir!” she says. “I have your supervisor on the phone, and he says you  need to at least tell me whether or not my package is even here.”

“You just wait,” Robert says. “When I get these packages sorted, I’ll let you know.”

The whole room groans in exasperation.

The young woman storms out the front door. Robert pokes his head out from the back room and literally sticks his tongue out at her as she goes.

The guy with the buzz cut and the beard starts yelling about proper customer service.

Police sirens go off outside, and we subside back into silence.

The door to the back room is open, and I can see Robert in there with a giant Sharpie. He moves one box onto the conveyor belt about once every thirty seconds. Then he squints at the address label, takes his Sharpie, and writes the address numbers in big, bold letters on the side of each box. He does this for all forty-some-odd boxes. Because apparently just looking at the address label is not good enough for him!

After scrawling numbers on all the boxes, he arranges the sign-in sheets in a row. He then cross references the sign in sheets with the Sharpie numbers and the address labels on each package, placing each box in a line in the order in which its intended recipient signed in.

Then, and only then, does he emerge and announce that he will begin handing out packages. We all breathe a collective sigh of relief, because now it’s well past nine, and we’ve all be standing in line for at least an hour and twenty minutes.

The woman who was on the phone with his supervisor gets her package first and wishes us all luck before breezing out. It took Robert over three and a half minutes to pull out her package, scan it, check her ID, and collect her signature.

By this time, we realize we may be there all night.

Robert repeats the process with three more packages, and fifteen minutes later, another three relieved people have left with their cargo.

And then, Robert gets confused. He disappears into the back room again.  For who knows what reason, he starts to rearrange his meticulously-sorted packages. He’s in there for a good five or ten minutes just moving boxes around. Not writing, not scanning, not doing anything but picking up boxes, putting them somewhere else, rinse and repeat.

The crowd is about to go nuts.

Robert brings a particularly large package from a guitar company to the threshold of the door and sets it down. Then he disappears into the back room again.

By this time, we who are still stuck in UPS Hell are all good friends, and we know the guitar belongs to an older couple standing patiently in the back of the room. We also know where they live, because their address is scrawled in big bold Sharpie across the side of the box.

“There it is,” someone says. “There’s your guitar. Just go get it.”

The couple laughs politely but doesn’t move forward.

We wait some more, and then Robert finally comes out and offers them their guitar. They stand around for about five minutes while Robert squints at their IDs, scans the package, and generally scrutinizes them to make sure the box is indeed going to the right people.

Knowing that I signed in roughly thirtieth in line, I text my husband and tell him not to expect me home before midnight.

And then a miracle happens. LO AND BEHOLD! Robert has screwed up the box-order so badly that my address is next! He calls out my numbers, I gasp, and everyone laughs. I’m about to get out of there a hair before 9:30. They know it’s not fair. But they also know I’m about to go home and write this blog post, send a nasty letter to UPS, and do my darnedest to either get Robert fired or at least get a supervisor or some other staff over at the UPS Distribution Center in Mesquite, Texas.

Diane Castle is the author of the legal thriller, Black Oil, Red Blood