What did we miss?

Our mail arrives to us approximately once every two weeks, depending upon our proximity to a U.S. Post Office. Anyone using our mail address sends our mail to Livingston, Texas. Our mail forwarder, Escapees Mail Service, receives and holds the mail for us. When we want mail we notify Escapees Mail Service and they forward a package of our mail to the address we provide.

A question we’re asked most frequently is, “How do you, as full-timers, get your mail?” This is pretty neat — we email Escapees and in two or three days we have a couple of new Time magazines, a few journals from our University, the Appalachian Trail Conference, and some shiny RV magazines, maybe a piece of personal correspondence. We’ve done this for all of 2008 and 2009 with almost perfect results.

Our mail travels via U.S. Priority Mail. The packages usually arrive in two and within no more than four business days. Once we waited an extra three or four business days near Charleston, S.C., for our package to arrive as General Delivery for us at the sleepy swamp woods rural post office. Apparently the package was in an unusually unhurried trip from Livingston, Texas, to Hollywood, South Carolina. Our mail forwarding has, with the Hollywood exception, worked so well almost fifty times in a row. Well, almost — but I’ll get back to that.

You sometimes never know what you miss. Sunrises you sleep through, places you don’t stop, parties you cannot make, meetings you skip, movies you don’t know about, meteor showers you sleep through, books you don’t read. These are just part of the journey and we become accustomed to missing some opportunities.

We expect to catch certain things, too. When we’re in North Carolina we WILL enjoy visits with family and friends and eat (and stock up on) Glenn’s BBQ. When we’re in Vancouver, BC, we WILL see our granddaughter (and her parents, you know), and stock up on green tea from Vancouver’s Chinatown. When it’s mealtime, Jim WILL expect to find food somehow. And you’d think missing a meal was a big deal — aren’t we so spoiled?

Let’s see, the milkman doesn’t deliver to our porch anymore. We don’t often find a newspaper on the porch — poor guys cannot locate our porch, it keeps moving. What else do we take so for granted? Oh yeah, the lights turn on and off, and the heat comes on when we’re cold. Water pours from the tap when we turn on the knob. Rain doesn’t leak into our RV. Pretty good.

We also take for granted our mail will arrive from you, and you, and you, and from the bank, and from our government, and from selected magazine publishers. You know when the mail will arrive daily at your house. You might even know your mail delivery person. And you go through your mail, looking at each piece.

You probably first sort between the junk and everything else, and file the junk in the wastepaper or recycling bin. Then you look for your Publishers Clearing House $10,000,000 Big Winner notification. Come on, you do, don’t you? Okay, back to earth. You visually scan the envelopes for bad news — anything from IRS, credit card bills, mortgage payment increases, property revaluations.

Let’s just stack all the new magazines and catalogs over here, a little to the right side on our countertop. These magazines and catalogs are almost all the same shape, all printed on that glossy coated paper, and they stack so well. We’ll enjoy poring through them later with a cup or two of tea.

Where are we now? Oh yeah, we looked through the mail and have absolutely no good news so far. Final pass, let’s look for the best part. Mail from family and friends. Pictures (yes, some people still print and send pictures), friendly notes, a holiday wish and other personals warm our hearts and give us something to look forward to in the mail.

But what didn’t arrive in our mail? Would you really notice if you didn’t have a bill from the hospital today? Or if your tax guy hasn’t sent you a friendly howdy in awhile, who’s waiting for that news? What didn’t arrive?

How would you know what’s missing from your mail? We regularly received a particular RVer magazine, and almost always it was partially shredded before it arrived. Not the other magazines, just this favorite subscription. But it arrived every scheduled month, in whatever condition.

A friend sent us a certified check earlier this year. Or, she attempted to. No, she did send it. It just didn’t arrive when expected. The certified check, sent via Registered Mail, was sent from Victoria, B.C. early in March 2009. Kate sent us an email heralding the check’s flight and providing us a tracking number.

Tracking your mail or packages can be entertaining. Once a day, sometimes twice, you can see your package’s progress from one postal scanner to another. Sometimes your package will disappear for a couple of days as it treks cross-country in one hop. Then you see it arrived on your side of the country, is in your city and, in a day or two, you have it on your kitchen counter.

Kate’s check left Victoria, B.C., readily passed customs, and “left Canada”. You can see how this looked according to Canada Post tracking:

2009/03/12 12:53 VICTORIA Item accepted at the Post Office
2009/03/13 13:42 International item has left Canada

At March’s end we notified Kate we hadn’t seen the package. She queried Canada Post and learned the check arrived in Los Angeles on 2009/03/14, or March 14. This is GREAT, two days from Victoria, B.C., to Los Angeles, California. However, two weeks and two days later we still haven’t received it.

Keep in mind, we wouldn’t know what we were missing but we harbored big anticipation for this piece of mail and maintained two-way communication about it with the sender. We expected to see it, the way you expect Santa to arrive with presents.

Time’s running out. Kate soon would be leaving Canada for the U.S., and we would soon be leaving Florida for Canada. We agreed to wait another four days for the item, then give up on it. Kate would then cancel the bank draft and send another.

A month after we left Florida the item arrived at our Florida park address. Two weeks later the U.S. Post Office sent it to our mail forwarding address. Our mail forwarder sent it to us the next week. This little piece of mail, sent from Victoria, B.C. on March 12, took eight weeks to arrive to its original destination. Pretty sorry, especially since it took only three days to get from Victoria, on Vancouver Island, B.C., to Los Angeles, California. Here’s the tracking information on the second part of the item’s journey:

2009/04/28 13:31 Item out for delivery
2009/05/05 12:14 Item out for delivery
2009/05/19 16:21 Item redirected to recipient’s new address

Had we not known Kate was sending us a check, we wouldn’t have been looking for it. Okay, it arrived eventually (over two months later) and without any sort of explanation for the delay. And maybe looking for mail every day is tantamount to watching a pot boil. Water never takes so long to boil, you know, as when you are waiting. But what about the other things sent to you? How do you know what doesn’t arrive?

As I said at the beginning, our mail forwarding system has worked almost perfectly. And we had great confidence in the Post Office until recently. We asked Escapees Mail Service to send us on November 12 our mail package. Like clockwork, our mail arrived Mesa, AZ two days later. Cool! But it hasn’t been seen since. We’ve had at least a half dozen conversations with the US Postal Service, exchanged several communiques with Escapees, and talked almost daily to our contract Postal Station at our park. What do they say? “We sent it.” “We delivered it.” “We never received it.” All together now, “Nope, not our fault.”

Here’s how the tracking information looks:

Detailed Results:
Bullet Electronic Shipping Info Received, November 12, 2009
Bullet Processed through Sort Facility, November 13, 2009, 12:34 am, NORTH HOUSTON, TX 77315
Bullet Processed through Sort Facility, November 13, 2009, 6:30 pm, PHOENIX, AZ 85043
Bullet Arrival at Post Office, November 14, 2009, 5:00 am, MESA, AZ 85215
Bullet Sorting Complete, November 14, 2009, 10:22 am, MESA, AZ 85215
Bullet Out for Delivery or Available at PO Box, November 14, 2009, 10:52 am, MESA, AZ 85215
Bullet Delivery status not updated as of November 15, 2009, 12:52 am

What happens when the system breaks? Because the package isn’t insured, we cannot file a claim with the Post Office. We don’t know the value (or our lost opportunity when we find out we’ve missed responding to the notification from Publishers Clearing House). Because we don’t know what was in the package we cannot very well tell people, “Would you resend, please”. We wonder if the package will show up, or if someone else needed the magazines more than we.

This episode probably wouldn’t have occurred if we had picked up our own mail as General Delivery from the US Post Office. Why? Because the U.S. Post Office mail tracking stops with the pickup from the Post Office. When an intermediary picks up the mail, the U.S. Post Office stops the tracking. The simplest unit to study in Quality Management is the hand-off. Reduce hand-offs and you can increase not only timeliness but also reliability (spelled, accountability). If we receive our mail directly from the Post Office, we eliminate a hand-off. We just might do this from now on.

The package might show up in another month or two. We may never know. What happened? A priority mail package with two weeks’ mail arrived in a Mesa, Arizona post office for us. This park’s contract postal staff picked up the day’s mail from the Mesa post office for over 1,000 park residents. We never received the package. Next time we’ll likely opt for General Delivery, a direct transaction between us and our U.S. Postal Service.

The US Post Office staff say, “We gave it to your park’s contract postal staff.” The contract postal staff say, “We didn’t get it or it would be in your box.” Escapees Mail Service says, “Talk to the US Post Office.” And we say, “Gee, we wonder what we missed.”


The fine print: This article requires 8 minutes for an average reader, No animals were killed in this research, and we missed two hours of tennis writing this.

Jim and Debbie
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©2009 Dreamstreamr

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