Ralph Gardner Jr: Where's My Package? | WAMC

Ralph Gardner Jr: Where's My Package?

Jan 16, 2021

You’re probably familiar with the line in that Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi” – “Don’t it always seem to go. That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” I’ve discovered that goes double when you’ve ordered something online, are waiting with great anticipation for the FedEx or UPS truck to come rolling down your driveway, and the item never shows up.

That’s a situation we’ve confronted with some regularity during the pandemic. And the purchase I’m thinking of in particular is a couple of 16” hanging plastic squirrel baffles. They departed West Jefferson, Ohio on December 29th, 2020 and their status updated to “delivered” several days later. Indeed, to someone’s back door. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ours.

I’d coveted the baffles ever since I admired those a friend bought for his bird feeders. His were clear glass and they seemed the perfect touch for his sparkling modern home overlooking the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains beyond.

As the estimated date of delivery of my, less costly, models approached my anticipation only grew. I could already see my flummoxed squirrel population, those devious rodents, failing to gain purchase on my new plastic hemispheres, tumbling to the group, and slinking back to the woods in shame.

I tracked my package’s progress across the nation more closely than a day trader does the commodities markets. So it came as a crushing blow when I learned the box had been delivered, only to the wrong address. I envisioned some criminally-inclined bird feeding, squirrel-hating neighbor cracking open the container, discovering the contents, and claiming possession of them.

My paranoia only increased after I drove up and down our road – because some months ago my wife found a lost package sitting under somebody else’s mailbox a mile away – and returned home empty-handed. As I did I could feel the squirrels looking down from a safe distance and silently mocking my dreams.

You wouldn’t know it to hear it. But this commentary was conceived as a tribute to all those dispatchers and delivery truck route drivers who, in the midst of a pandemic, show up for work and heroically make sure your baby’s diapers or in my case, squirrel baffles, get safely delivered to your front door while you remain out of harm’s way. And I’ll get there eventually.

I don’t know about you but I enjoy tracking the progress of my packages, at least those that eventually arrive, across the nation. If you’re afraid to board a plane at the moment you can live vicariously through the journey of your purchase. For example, I recently bought a book online as a gift for a friend. On December 11th, it was picked up in Secaucus, New Jersey and sent to Glendale Heights, Illinois.

But it didn’t stay in the Land of Lincoln for long. Little more than an hour after it arrived on December 19th, it was en route to York, Pennsylvania. It left York two days later, with an estimated delivery date of December 29th. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been seen since. When I go online it asks me to be patient. “High shipping volumes are causing some delays,” the warning says.

I can certainly sympathize. But we’re fast approaching three weeks and I’ve already boasted to my friend how touched he’ll be by the sensitivity of the gift when it arrives. So it’s not just a book but also my reputation that’s on the line.

Complicating matters further when I placed the order their website auto filled the wrong address and the seller told me there was nothing he could do about it. I called the post office in Hillsdale, NY, the destination where the algorithm decided the paperback should go to ask them to be on the lookout for it. They couldn’t have been friendlier or more supportive. The postmaster even promised to put a post-it note on her desk to remind her to give me a call when it arrives. But she’s handled a ton of packages since then so I wouldn’t hold it against her if it slipped her mind.

However, back to my squirrel baffles. I received a call from the local FedEx office informing me they were on the case. One of their representatives even told me, with what sounded like modest pride, that they’re usually able to track down missing packages. I drew encouragement from his claim even though I felt the hope of being united with my squirrel baffles growing dimmer by the day.

Believe it or not the package arrived. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around when it was dropped off a bit worse for wear – it had obviously been sitting outdoors for days. I would have liked to thank the driver and learn something more of my package’s odyssey. I’d developed an involuntary affection for it over the weeks, almost like a pet that’s arriving through the mail.

I’ve finally had the privilege of threading the baffles through my bird feeders and haven’t seen a single squirrel hanging from them since. I can’t say it was worth the wait. However, I am feeling slightly more secure. That’s one less thing to worry about.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.