13 May, 2010

Where's the Pony Express When You Need Them?

Once upon a time, try like - December 2009 - a good five months ago, there was a young man who had an e-reader (the brand isn't important). You know, it's one of those devices that allows you to carry the Library of Congress in your shirt pocket, well, almost.

Anyway, this e-reader needed to have a firmware update done to it. How he knew that was that he had gotten an email from the vendor saying that there was a firmware update available and that it was necessary to send the e-reader back to them to receive the update. The vendor would pay for postage and all that.

What was weird was that, under most circumstances, firmware updates are done by the end user and online with no need to send the gadget to the factory. You simply go to the vendor's website, find your model, etc., download the appropriate file, and install it to your gadget. Not in this case. The user (the young man, of course) had to send the e-reader to the vendor for them to do the firmware installation. When done, they'd send it back to the young man. Of course, this was available only for e-readers residing in the US - of course.

So, here's what the young man cooked up to solve the problem, since he lived in Belize. A friend of his was heading up to Canada that next week to be with her folks for a couple of weeks. Then she was planning to accompany them back down to Belize. She was willing to carry the e-reader to Canada, where she would ship it down to some other friends of the young man, who happened to live in the US.

In the meantime, the young man contacted the vendor, giving them the address of his friends in the US, so the vendor could send them a postage-paid shipping label and box. They would receive the e-reader, re-box it in the official 'Return to Vendor' box, affix the postage and then send it on to the vendor. The vendor, for their part, would install the firmware update and return it to the young man's friends in the States.

The plan was, that all this was going to happen inside of two weeks (eternal optimism reigning freely here). After getting the e-reader back from the vendor, the young man's friends would send it back up to Canada to the same friends who originally sent it.

The story gets complicated here, but just for a bit. The friend who brought the e-reader to Canada, was going to accompany her parents back down to Belize for an extended visit, say for a couple of months. If the reader was back in Canada by then, she would simply bring it back down with her, giving the young man the e-reader upon returning to Belize. If it didn't make that timeline, then there was plan B.

Plan B, said that when it was time for the parents to return to Canada, her husband, also a friend of the young man, was going to accompany her parents back up to Canada, pick up the e-reader that would be waiting for him and return to Belize, giving the young man the e-reader upon returning to Belize. End of story... almost.

What no one counted on was the slowness of Canadian and US customs and postal services at probably the most congested time of the year for such things - Christmas.

Not only did it take longer than two weeks - it took about a month just to move the reader from Canada to the US. Then it still had to be sent to the vendor and returned, where it was again going to have to cross the border, still impacted with holiday mailings. What were they thinking?

When it finally did get back to the young man's friends in the States, it was necessary to send it to another address in Canada (I guess the story does stay complicated for a bit longer). The sister of the friend who brought it up from Belize.

This part did happen as it was supposed to have happened. the e-reader got sent to the sister, who being conscientious, put it somewhere where she would remember to give it to the husband when he returned to Canada with the parents. Of course, this also assumes he would remember that he was supposed to pick it up from his wife's sister. Neither of which happened.

Needless to say, he returned to Belize two weeks later without the reader. Subsequent emails to the sister revealed that, yes, she remembered receiving the gadget and putting it somewhere for safe-keeping. After a couple of days, the missing reader was found.

This late turn necessitated that the young man find someone else to bring the reader back down to Belize. Someone was found. Another family here in Belize, friends of the young man, volunteered to collect the reader, if the folks in Canada would ship it to them in Florida. They were willing. Then the weekend was on us.

Late that Friday evening, the young man got another email from the vendor stating that they needed to get the e-reader back as there was a problem with the battery in the whole class of gadgets, or something like that.

Hold the phone! Stop the presses! Halt! Halt! Don't send the e-reader to Florida... Send it back to the original friends in the States. The vendor was sending them a pre-paid shipping container for the reader.

Oh my God! Could this get any more convoluted? Massive flurries of phone calls and emails managed to keep the reader from traveling to Florida, and thanks to the great folks in Canada, it got sent back to the States, where the young man's friends re-boxed it and sent it on to the vendor... again.

This time, within a couple of weeks, the vendor send the young man an email saying they were shipping out a new (well, almost... factory refurbished) reader as the battery was totaled in the old reader.

The young man quickly sent an email to his friends in the states telling them that a 'new' reader would be arriving and to NOT return it to the vendor, thinking they had sent the wrong unit. They were cool with that, and would also hang onto it until someone could be located to bring the e-reader back down to Belize.

They sent the young man an email saying that they were jealous of the reader, as it had been traveling more than they ever get to.

An email from the young man to the local expat mailing list quickly developed a list of folks willing to bring the reader back down. One was selected, with timing of her return to Belize being just perfect.

So the friends in the States who were holding the e-reader sent it on to the willing friend, this time in Boston, who got it and hung onto it for a couple of weeks till she was ready to return to Belize.

Well, to make a long story short (Oh, too late for that?), she emailed the young man that the errant reader was now in Belize and could be picked up anytime.

This morning, the young man, having some other business in town to take care of, stopped by and retrieved his long lost, now new, e-reader.

Now, if he could only have capitalized on the frequent-flier miles that would have been generated by this thing. Ah, the joys of living on the fringes, called the third world, or the developing world, or whatever.

By the way, the young man says the reader works perfectly, and he thanks all the private people, pilots, UPS drivers, Canadian and US postal carriers, vendors, etc., for their valuable contributions in the making of this story. No animals were hurt or mistreated in the making of this story.


Wilma said...

I'm not sure how you kept that straight long enough to write it down! It's a classic.

Dave Rider said...

Hi Wilma,

Thanks for the nice comment. I'll tell you my secret... I cheated. I had a whole slew of emails related to this. I took excerpts from several and filled in from there.

It was confusing writing it. I had to keep going back, adding details I had forgotten.