By Alexis Kypridemos
So you're told there are no other shipping options other than UPS. You say OK and pay the extra 30 Euros to get the damned thing delivered. And you wait.
A few days later, sooner than expected, you get an urgent email from UPS asking you to print off a PDF, fill out the form, sign it, scan it and email it back to them. Also, they need you to log into some government website with your tax credentials and authorise them to pass the damned thing through Customs. You think this sounds more like their problem than yours, but you own a computer, a printer, a scanner and have an Internet connection so you think, fine, you can make this happen.
After seeing a notification on the order tracking website that the package failed to clear Customs, you call up UPS to see if all the paperwork you did for them went through OK. The annoyed-sounding lady on the phone tells you that the package actually has cleared Customs. Aha. A false alarm, just to keep you on your toes. Delivery of the package is supposed to take place the next day. Wow, you think, the whole thing has taken less time than you initially anticipated, and you forget about paying to do their paperwork for them.
The next day there's no delivery by the time you have to leave for work, but that's OK. You've had things delivered before. You know from experience that these things happen; they miss you a couple of times, then they find you, they give you the thing, you sign for it and everybody's happy.
You come home from work that night and there's a notice from UPS under the front door. They came to find you, but they missed you. OK, big deal, you think, it makes sense since they didn't come early enough.
The next day you call them up just to check in, make sure the whole thing is going OK. The chronically annoyed-sounding lady on the phone, probably not the same one, they've all got the same voice, tells you that UPS only delivers on workdays, 12 to 5. You can tell this policy was devised as a result of a group of international strategists working for months to find the specific timeframe when nobody's home.
OK, you ask, so what's Plan B? You acknowledge the fact that maybe you're not making it easy for them to find you, leaving aside for a moment the fact that you're paying for this non-service. So you suggest that since they can't bring it to you, what if you go collect it from them? Oh, no, we don't recommend that, the lady on the phone says. In all of Attica, an area with a population of over five million, UPS has one and only building, in Koropi. Also known as the middle of fucking nowhere. Well, you sigh, accepting defeat, at least Koropi has a train station.
It's OK, you say, you'll pick up the package from them. Is there a deadline by when you have to get it by, you ask, knowing from experience that courier services are more than likely to ship a package back after failing to deliver it to you. No, the lady on the phone says, they wouldn't ship it back in this case because there wouldn't be anyone paying them to do that. It makes perfect pirate capitalist sense, you think. So that's that, you decide to forget about the whole thing until you have enough time one day to do the Koropi run.
The next day you come home from work and there is not just a note but a proper envelope with a watermark on the outside and everything. Inside is a threatening letter from UPS saying that you need to collect the damned thing from their address by Tuesday or they'll ship it back. The exact thing they told you they wouldn't do the day before.
So the day after that you're back onto the phone to UPS, grateful that at least they don't have some fancy expensive phone number and that hold time is low. The lady on the phone -the same one, a different one, you're beyond caring at this point- says that there's no record on their system of your previous discussion. Somehow this doesn't surprise you. She confirms that you've got just a couple of working days to get your ass over to their one and only building to collect the damned thing before they ship it back even though no one's paying them to do so.
You bite the bullet and "get in the zone" for the trip to Koropi. The night before you watch a 70's B movie where men with wide collared shirts, bell bottoms and blond afros say few words, drive fast cars, and shoot each other with big guns while you drink a bottle of cheap beer and smoke foul-smelling little black cigarettes. Like men do, God damn it.
This recipe works like a charm and the next morning you're at the subway station right on time for the 09:11 train to nowhere. Getting to UPS also involves taking a bus from the Koropi train station, because when the company decided to build their one and only building as far away from everything else as possible, they did it properly.
Walking from the bus stop by the side of the highway as cars and trucks zoom past, you duck to pass under road signs and come across a little box on a stand with a Christian cross on top of it, a reminder that someone was once killed there. As you turn off the highway and the UPS building comes into sight, a shepherd passes you in the opposite direction, his flock following him on the other side of a fence. The stink of goat permeates the air and you notice that the sky is a solid grey. It will rain soon. You find these details fitting.
Trucks move in and out of the main gate of the one and only UPS building. A breedless brown mutt by the guard post provides the only friendly element in this experience. The guard at the gate writes down your name and your passport number on a piece of paper, making sure you're an authorised sap who's come to collect the package from the company he paid to deliver it to him, and not just some random masochist who felt like taking a stroll to Koropi. You knew this would happen and that's why you brought your passport with you.
Inside the one and only UPS building's reception area you can't help but notice a portrait of the company's founder, Jim Casey, giving you a dirty look from the wall. Wearing an impeccable three piece suit open at the waist, hands in his trouser pockets and standing with a slight stoop, the glint in Casey's eye seems to say, "What? Your ass hurts? Yeah, that was me."
Behind the reception desk is a prim lady wearing a headset microphone job. Was she the lady on the phone each time or was there a bunch of them working in shifts? You decide that at this point it really doesn't matter. You produce your documentation and ask for your package. There are only three packages on the counter behind the lady, and only one is an Amazon box of roughly the same size as the item you ordered from the website. But by now, you know it can't be that easy.
Sure enough, the lady checks the packages one by one and gives none of them to you. She returns to her computer screen, a frustrated look on her face.
"Let me see... You requested this package... Oh. Only today. You're supposed to request it one working day ahead of time." You knew this was coming, so you whip out the threatening letter they had sent you, hoping it will act like David's slingshot, but having your doubts at the same time because this company's impenetrable system of screwing over the paying customer makes Goliath look like a sissy by comparison.
You show the lady the letter and say, "Yes, I only called for the package to be here earlier today, but that was in response to your letter telling me to come pick it up from this address otherwise you would ship it back. I took that to mean the package was already here." You say all this using common sense as your only weapon, which you know is a bold move.
"Yes, but by procedure you have to request for the package to be here one working day prior," the lady says. Bam! Institutionalised stupidity just delivered a lethal karate chop to the throat of common sense and sent it out of the game.
You ignore the sensation of a migraine coming on and ask, "OK. Where is the package now?"
"At the warehouse," the lady says.
"And where is the warehouse?" you ask. At this point, whatever the answer, you are prepared to go there.
"Oh, the warehouse is here," the lady says. "It's just that someone has to go there and get the package."
"Can I go and get it?" you volunteer, figuring that since you've already performed multiple tasks on the company's behalf, one more won't kill you.
"Oh, no, you can't go. Someone will bring it for you. The packages are locked in a cage," the lady offers by way of explanation but only confuses you further. You decide, wisely, to let this one go because between moronic shipping experiences, bad movies, smelly cigarettes and cheap beer, you only have so many brain cells left and you want to hang onto them for as long as you can.
"So what happens now?" you ask, dreading the answer.
"I'll ask for them to get the package for you. I'll call your mobile when it's ready. Or you can wait if you like," she says and points to a single black leather couch right under Jim Casey's watchful gaze. You say thanks but no thanks and step outside.
You walk around the block of industrial buildings, dogs barking at you behind fences, wondering how long it will take before a union representative approves a flunkey to authorise a sub-flunkey to release the package from its cage and walk it the twenty meters to the front desk.
Thankfully, the call arrives about thirty minutes later, just as you were checking Google Maps for the possibility of something that sold coffee, in any form, in the vicinity and finding that the closest coffee shop is three miles away.
"We got really lucky," the lady from reception says on the phone. "They were able to get your package really quickly." You decide it's beneath you to make a smartass remark about adding insult to injury and just say, "That's great."
Walking back into the building through the main gate, the security guard looks up and says, "You again?" You refuse to believe he's really surprised that you walked out empty handed on your first attempt and had to come back.
Inside, things go so smoothly when the lady hands you the package, you sign for it, and then they just let you walk away with no beatings, insults or monetary fines that the whole experience leading up to this feels like an ellaborate hoax.
On your way out you catch one last glimpse of Jim Casey's sly gaze looking down on you and you picture him chewing on a Cohiba and giving you the finger from the big Mason's lodge in the sky.
Back at the bus stop on the highway, you figure that after all this, things can only get better.
It starts to rain.
You decide to put an end to the day's heroics, give the bus a miss and take a taxi to the train station and the road back to some semblance of civilization. There you start to compose an inappropriately long Facebook rant about the whole thing, eager that a handful of friends will hit the smiley face button and make you feel like less of a schmuck for having gone through it all.