Friday, March 16, 2018

Amazon's First Rodeo

They have sullied your doorstep with their unsightly brown droppings.  Prime TV violates the sanctity of your regularly scheduled programs.  Alexa talks dirty to you.  The drone squadron buzzes overhead, taking reconnaissance photos of your front porch.  And now a delivery fleet of bronc busting rodeo cowboys - or clowns?  Confused? Read on, it gets worse.

By Mel Carriere

The new dynamic of modern mail delivery means sharing the mean, dog eat dog streets with people driving strange vehicles, some of them wearing some funky ash uniforms.  Gone are the comforting times of the big three - us vs the boys in brown what can they do for you and the blue and orange that will get your package there overnight no matter where in the world but can't get a man and his volleyball off an island in the South Pacific. One almost waxes nostalgic for those days. Those were serious postal competitors indeed, but normal parts of the suburban scenery.  Now they too are struggling for solvency against the upstarts on the block. 

Chief among these are Jeff Bezo's low paid henchmen, the cult of the big A, an amoeba-like monster that increasingly consumes everything you are about, from what arrives on your doorstep, what plays on your TV, what alluring, silky voiced robot voice babysits your child, and very soon what fleet of drones is that bombing your house.

Amazon's unstated but pretty obvious goal is to control every facet of your life by air, by land and by sea. Toward this end the company has taken measures to reduce and eventually eliminate having to pay anyone to move its products the "last mile," what we here in the Postal Service call "the green mile," because our indentured servitude to this corporate beast is killing us.  But even though Bezos and pals can ship their packages with the postal service at 75 percent below what it actually costs us to move those mountains of merchandise that arrive at your delivery unit whenever they feel like it, it is not enough.  The ultimate goal of Amazon is nothing less than to manufacture, sell and ship everything in America, correction, the world, without any barbaric outsiders soiling it with their non Bezos-blessed hands.

The latest word on these mean mail streets is that Amazon is planning to use livestock to distribute its inexhaustible inventory of clothes, furniture, very slightly used toilet paper and a few books here and there thrown in for nostalgia. That's right, you heard it here first, a genuine tsunami scoop, taken from a source directly inside the Amazon operation.

A few weeks ago I had my first encounter with one of these new rough riding Amazon operators who popped up without warning and stole my usual parking space with his cumbersome rented U-haul van.  My first impression was that this dude was stealing packages, not delivering them.  From his appearance, I couldn't help but get the idea that Amazon is not heavily vetting these delivery "pioneers," to paraphrase their employment sales pitch.  This cat was not some bustling dynamo parcel post pathfinder, in other words. Instead, he carried the rather jaded, distant, resigned air of a man who has spent long hours in enforced isolation.  His rather thick middle eastern accent indicated previous employment either as a cab driver, or maybe work release from Gitmo.

The apartments I was delivering to are gated.  Because this man had no access to the secret inner postal sanctum my arrow key provided, he asked if I would let him in so he could deliver his packages, which were not pilfered after all, probably.  I know he was the enemy, I know  he was the competition, I know I should have been a dick about it, but because I am pretty much a sucker for any sad sack sob story I opened the gate.  He then asked me directions to a couple of the addresses and I gave him that too.  I basically turned over the keys to the kingdom.  I should have just removed my sacred arrow key and handed it over.  I figured the guy was just trying to make a living.

The next day another Amazon deliverer showed up, in the same apartments, but this one didn't elicit quite as much sympathy on my part.  He was wearing a reflective vest, the kind you see on airport tarmacs, that barely covered his prison tattoos.  I admit I am drawing broad conclusions from a very limited sample size, but so far the common denominator behind these Amazon hired guns seemed to be the rather liberal application of the eau de incarceration scent. I didn't ask, but wondered why was he wearing a reflective vest in broad daylight?  The only plausible explanation was that his rental truck also contained a pair of runway marshalling wands that would be used to call down the drone fleet when Bezos gave the secret signal.

Somehow this second Amazon driver had already gotten past the fence, whether by pole vaulting, whether by file in a cake I don't know.  He had a small pile of parcels stacked by the NDCBU mailboxes, which he was scanning, evidently with the idea of doing the old dump and run, in other words leaving them on top of the postal receptacles.  Unlike the day before, this time I was not so accommodating  Those mailboxes are my turf.  

"You can't leave those packages there," I told him.

He looked up from his scanning with a surly expression, just like the time the warden told him to snuff out his cigarette.

"I know," he growled.  "This ain't my first rodeo."

Evidently this Bezos crony was a little Stir Crazy, and if you catch my drift your fondness for old prison rodeo movies makes me just a little uncomfortable.  Anyhow, the revelation from the delivery driver meant the Amazon rodeo and its accompanying contingent of clowns are in town, ready to ride and rope their way to your doorstep, saddled up on bucking bulls and broncos, putting on the spurs to get your prime purchase down the chute and into your corral by the most expedient means possible, including unbroken, non PETA approved hoofed mammals.

From a postal perspective, what does the presence of Amazon parcel slingers across the dusty cowtowns of America mean? Do we panic? Do we circle the wagons?  Do we believe the hoop and holler of our postmasters and managers wailing and rending their garments because they believe this Amazon parcel rustling will result in our biting the dust and being trampled underfoot?

Consider a Washington Examiner article reporting that the Postal Service loses $1.46 for every package delivered for Amazon. Trump got wind of this study and tweeted that Amazon is making the Postal Service poorer and dumber.  Maybe for once he's right.  Maybe this organization is so addicted to the sweet Amazon pipe dream that we can't see the reality of what it is doing to us.  Maybe we need some mail methadone to ease us off this debilitating dependence on Amazon as a cure all for our itching, leaking bottom line.

The Amazon rodeo has stirred up a big cloud of dust hiding the fact that parcels aren't going away.  I know this because, in addition to my annoying propensity to share my drunken rants via the medium of the blogosphere, I also am a statistics nerd.  This is a hobby that, while edifying to a handful of virginal, mother's-basement-dwelling math dweebs, makes it awful hard to get dates.  Since I don't get out much, I spend time compiling statistics for my route.  Therefore, I can tell you that before the Amazon decline, my route averaged 103 scans per day.

Guess what my scan average is since the recent abrupt cessation of the Amazon  stampede? You guessed it, my little buckaroos, 103.  Parcel volume went down slightly at first, but bounced back like a thrown bronc buster rebounding off one of those clown barrels.

What these numbers mean to me is that, while Bezos in his massive twenty or even 50 gallon hat might be trying his own round up of virtually everything, there are other postal customers out there, actual paying customers, that have moved in to fill that empty stall in our stable he recently vacated.

Maybe getting thrown like this, while embarrassing, was not such a great loss.  Perhaps it was time to cut our losses and cull the parcel herd.  Ride em cowboy.

Photo from The Cowboy Lifestyle Network

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Package Confound, Dumbfound, Not Found

By Mel Carriere

Working for the Post Office for 24 years now I have seen so many strange managerial practices, ranging from eyebrow furrowing questionable to complete shaking my head "do I really gotta do that?" that one would think the limits of my protective cocoon of incredulity could not be stretched any further.  But now, with the implementation of the Loading feature on the Mobile Delivery Device (Scanner), I believe we have reached the apex of deliberately executed inefficiency, so that further striving toward maintaining our reputation as the organization most likely to shoot itself in the foot and like it is not going to bear fruit that smells any fouler than this.

Parcel loading times were evidently not long enough, so somebody in a postal think tank (servicing the toilet in stall #3 just off the boardroom at 475 L'Enfant Plaza), had a brainstorm that smelled more like a brain fart and pretty much cleared the room.  Why don't we, sayeth this seat warming sage of starry-eyed senselessness, create a system that adds an unnecessary extra step for experienced carriers who already know  how to line up their parcels and don't need directives from a soulless, schizoid robotic voice to tell them what imaginary quadrant to toss a package into, while at the same time, as an added bonus, utterly confuses the diapers right off the newbies who have never carried that route before, making sure they will waste time they don't have, but we like to pretend they do, crawling through a tangled mess of haphazardly thrown parcels in the back of the LLV and frequently backtracking.

If the objective here was to create a system to assist the bewildered CCA to sidestep the time consuming parcel numbering process I could understand.  Except: 1) the underlying architecture of the plan is faulty, 2) whatever algorithm divies up the packages into their respective "zones" does not do so equitably and 3) the technology does not appear to have been tested, evidenced by the fact that it doesn't work in real life, only in postal fairyland.

1) - Architecture. Lincoln said that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and an adjunct of this timeless truth is that parcels divided against themselves cannot stand, but will certainly fall, tumbling over into zones where they do not belong, creating a great deal of avoidable backtracking and foul epitaphs that will make your granny's sainted ears melt.  

In other words, the load feature creates six imaginary zones, as much a figment of your imagination as the first down marker that you plainly see on your TV but the running back of your favorite team obviously cannot as he tumbles to earth three inches shy of it, bringing on the punting unit again.  Postal punting is painful.  I just said that because it sounded alliterative, not because it has any bearing on the conversation.  Anyhow, the point is that there are no physical barriers separating these zones, and as John Cougar said almost as famously as Lincoln, the walls keep tumbling down, causing zone 6 to bleed into zone 4 and 5, and even a lonely stray from zone 1 showing up at the bottom of zone 6 fifteen minutes short of quitting time, evoking much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

2) - Bad algorithm blues.  Another famous stone head of Mt Rushmore wrote that all men are created equal, but load feature zones were not created with any of these egalitarian principles in mind, because the distribution of parcels among the various zones appears to have been doled out as if a loaded dice is landing on the number six over and over again.  My route has over 900 deliveries, and about the last 400 fall into zone 6.  These last 400 deliveries require 32 starts and stops of the vehicle.  The load feature does not seem to recognize the importance of having my parcel ducks lined up in a row, which is to limit package mining through a teetering, untidy mass, a process that almost inevitably leads to a deadly cave in and corresponding foul language that is wasted because no one can hear you curse from the bottom of the parcel avalanche. Especially not your grandmother, whose unblemished eardrums were already fried in step one. Repeat process 31 more times.  Furthermore, this behemoth zone that has been gerrymandered into Leviathan status by the scanner's secret software system towers like the Himalayas over Death Valley's Badwater Basin, creating an enormous ripple in the space time continuum, an event horizon over which parcels tumble and disappear, only to reappear later at unexpected times and inconvenient places.

3) - Twisted Technology.  Another man who failed to make the cut for Rushmore, but got honorable mention on the hundred dollar bill and also, quite appropriately, was appointed first Postmaster General, once said that "The bitterness of low quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten." 

Not too many Benjamins were spent on this Load Feature project, I believe.  One gets the feeling it was conceptualized on a bar napkin over the course of a drunken weekend, then rolled out still hungover on Monday.  My basis for this assertion is the persistent prevalence of the "package not found" error message. Instead of spitting out a zone like it is supposed to in these situations, the scanner insists that it can not find the package, leading to a lot of pointless metaphysical speculation.  Packages imprint upon letter carriers like orphaned baby ducks.  They are definitely there, we can see them, we can hear them quack, but the scanner insists they are not there at all, not just once in a while but repeatedly.

The first time I used the Load Feature (not by choice), I was left with a half dozen not found, I suppose you could call them orphaned milk carton packages, that I smugly and self-righteously ran back to the clerk's, thinking I would bash their little function four skulls in with them for having missed arrival at unit scans.  This would have been very satisfying and a lot of fun, but every single one of the not found packages turned out to have an arrival at unit, and no one had a clue why they were showing up as "not found."

Everybody is still clueless.  The system still sucks.  I have to ask what good is this L feature to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of CCAs if they still have to haul back several not found packages into the office to write relay numbers on, even though they (the packages not CCAs) are hiding like an elephant playing peek-a-boo behind a flagpole?

And how does a letter carrier, CCA or regular alike, respond to this pimpled prom date of a poorly planned, shoddily executed parcel loading system?  Do we fight to fix it or silently accept it?  Do we dissent or consent? Do we acquiesce to cluelessness?

In postal land we know we get paid to do stupid stuff, so we will pretend to be wise in going along with the program, even though we are really just too numb to care. An English bard, obviously married, who certainly would have his face chiseled into Rushmore had he lived in Virginia or Illinois instead of Stratford upon Avon, admonishes us in closing with these words of wisdom from Richard III - "Dispute not with her she is lunatic."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Postal Tsunami 3/17/2017

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What Is A Sense of Urgency - Musings from The Postal Tsunami

 Are you a letter carrier with a sense of urgency?  Just what is a sense of urgency?  Furthermore, is your urgency my emergency?  Mel ponders the particulars of postal philosophy on The Postal Tsunami.

Postal Tsunami 2/10/2017

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We Deliver Dog Kicks - San Diego Letter Carrier Accused of Punting Pooch

Do letter carriers get their kicks punting pooches?  Or are there legitimate reasons why flailing feet sometimes launch furry footballs into orbit?  The Postal Tsunami explores a San Diego case.

Postal Tsunami 1/20/2017

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Are Postal Customers Preparing for the Trumpocalypse?

Donald Trump is now President, without the reassuring -elect suffix attached.  Are Postal Customers stockpiling, in anticipation of a dreaded Trumpocalypse?

Postal Tsunami 1/2/2017

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Did We Win? - Early Returns Show USPS Makes Further Breakthroughs in The Parcel Delivery Business

Mel tells some heart-warming holiday stories, then reveals secret statistics that demonstrate how the Postal Service is kicking butt on its competitors.  From the pages of the Postal Tsunami.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Postal Service Throws The Election Again - Musings on A Campaign (Almost) Passed

By Mel Carriere

This election season was brutal, and it's not quite over yet.  Here in San Diego it seems that political mail volume soared to new heights, even as voter apathy soared to new heights along with it.  Although many of us are not enthusiastic about going to the polls next Tuesday, November 8th, the mass mailers more than covered the enthusiasm gap by inundating maiboxes with a paper tsunami that literally leveled everything in its path, particularly me.  All of this laborious lugging of ballots, voters guides, revisions to voters guides, and knife thin political ads ranging from postcard to poster size has sent me home exhausted and nursing deep paper cuts, every day.

The question is whether the American public, or even the candidates who benefit from this holocaust of trees, this mass defoliation of millions of acres of irreplaceable forest, thank us for our efforts spent wearing down our already impaired muscles and joints with this extra burden of paper that doesn't weigh much per piece but has your straining satchel scraping the sidewalk when you stuff the blue canvas bag so tight that the seams start to split.  No, rather than express their undying gratitude for our efforts in making democracy work, they are already shouting "rigged election," and lining up to lynch a letter carrier on every street corner.  

Instead of looking in the mirror and saying "I suck, I am a totally uninspiring, uncharismatic, unabashedly unprincipled, unloved, unpleasant, uncouth undesirable," failed candidates and causes are looking to throw you, just an underpaid, underappreciated underling, under the bus.  Every public office-seeker keeps a stable full of scapegoats for pets to drag out bleating and head-butting in the event of failure, and one of these always has a postal logo emblazoned in bold blue letters across the horny nubs on top of its head.

The truth is, the USPS makes it easy for those aspiring to public office to complain when their favorite candidates, namely themselves, fail to top the polls.  Unfortunately, sometimes things happen to the mail.  It is not a perfect system, mistakes are inevitable, but their effects are magnified and multiplied when they happen in the height of the election insanity.  

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, an "unknown number" of absentee ballots were returned to sender because of a mistake in a mail-sorting machine.  Even though "Issues such as these are isolated and the vast majority of ballots are being delivered to election officials without incident," as a Postal Service spokesman was quoted correctly as saying, some embittered nominee is going to use this incident as the reason for why he or she is not being showered with confetti or pelted with champagne corks at a post-election party.  

In Denver, Colorado, an electoral college-tilting total of three voters complained that their mail ballots had been returned to them.  It must have been a very slow news day over there on the Front Range of the Rockies, because the story made headlines.  While not very significant in the big ballot picture, some long-faced loser will pick up this political football and run with it like Leon Lett returning a fumble in Super Bowl XXVII.  Also like laughable Leon, he will ultimately fail when some political Don Beebe knocks the ball, or ballots, out of his hands just shy of the end zone.  Let's face it, three votes does not an election make, but postal bashing is fun and always raises weak ratings on a day when nothing important is happening in the world.

Are there lamentable lapses that occur when politics and post office mix?  Yes, but I believe these isolated incidents of mail-processing snafus ultimately balance out when mail voters show up at polling places to vote twice, as Donald Trump reportedly urged his Colorado supporters to do. Isolated incidents of mail fraud like this balance the scales of isolated incidents of lost, returned, or misplaced mail ballots, for a net effect of zero.

Meanwhile, until Super Tuesday rolls around, go home and take an Advil for your aches, spread the Icy Hot on your ills, because you sure aren't going to get any comfort from the enraged electorate or the belly-aching baby kissers.

Interview tips and more for aspiring CCAS on Tough Nickel

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