Friday, March 09, 2007

The Battle Of The Last Mile

The last mile is a term often referred to in the communications world. There are huge fiber-optic pipes that voice, data, and TV signals flow through from coast to coast. The last mile refers to the problem of getting all of this lovely rich media into the average household, that lovely big fiber optic pipe gives way to twisted pairs (Telephone) and coax cable(TV) in the last physical mile of it's journey. This week I discovered that the last mile also is an issue for some courier services.

For the past 6 months or so I have been inundated with packages, all sorts of different companies have dropped stuff off at our apartment. This is the joy of being a reviewer, it is Christmas year round.

I have noticed that each of the delivery services have their own unique method of delivery.

Fed-Ex ring the door bell and run. By the time my wife opens the door all she can see is the dust being kicked up by the tires as Mr. Fed-Ex burns rubber onto his next mission.

UPS are a little more laid back and usually wait for her to open the door, hand her the package, and have been known to say pleasant things like “hello”.

Even Canada Post manages to get stuff to us. OK, it’s a bit slow, and they tend to put the items in the wrong mailbox, but at least it does eventually arrive. The 3 day Global Mail service that the US Post Office offers does not apply to Canada, it takes Canada Post at least 3 days just to decide that it is a priority shipment, but at least they try.

All in all I have been pretty satisfied with the way objects move from place to place. Mostly the objects that I deal with are books and movies that I write reviews for. Books tend to come in two priority levels, it is going to be published two months from now, or it was published two months ago. If it takes 2 days or 7 days (10 days for Canada Post) to get to me, it does not make much of a difference.

Movies are a little different, if it is a pre-release screener, the chances are that it is going to be opening in theatres pretty damn soon, and so it is important that there are no delays.

As an independent reviewer I source most of my material direct from the ‘horses mouth’ so as to speak. Most companies that I deal with understand the rules of engagement in this game. If they want a quick return on their project they have to get the goods into my hot little hand quickly. The priority is entirely up to them.

Life took a little turn for the worse this week when a Publicist in Los Angeles attempted to ship a time critical item to me. In order to protect the not-so-innocent we will use a fictitious name ‘Daryl Harry & Larry International’, for the sake of brevity I will just use the abbreviated form of DHL (which should not be confused with any actual company).

According to the official version, this poor defenseless package left Santa Monica, California on the evening of March 2nd, and Arrived in Calgary in the wee hours of March 3rd. I was pretty impressed with that bit. Hell it takes the local mail a week to move a letter a couple of miles, yet this company had managed to move a package well over 1000 miles in under 9 hours!

Unfortunately DHL has a frequent flier program and decided that a quick trip to Ohio would be good for more points. Late in the evening, and no doubt a little jet lagged and grumpy the package made it back to Calgary.

The 4th of March was a Sunday, and the little package rested. It sat happily in the package hotel knowing that it was close to its final destination.

Monday was a bright and sunny day, the little package was happy to catch a ride on the package shuttle bus, the last step in the journey. Unfortunately the shuttle bus driver did not know how to read a street map.

Based on the fact that I found the bright yellow ‘We missed you card’ two days later, when the snow started to melt, I would guess that the shuttle bus driver got within 50 feet of the target. I still can not figure out why he did not put the notice in the mail box, or stick it to the door, but. what do I know! Maybe it is company policy to put them in the snow bank.

The next day I found another ‘We missed you’ within 3 feet of the door. More snow had melted and it was kind of soggy, it had spent a good number of hours in the rather large puddle outside the front door, but it was still legible.

A phone call to our good buddies Daryl Harry & Larry International revealed that they run a two strike system, two strikes and you are out. You now have to either pick the item up at their location, or select a new address for it to be delivered to.

I thought this was a disappointing turn of events. The driver had had two opportunities to deliver, and he was definitely getting closer to that elusive front door. Three more feet and he would have made it! The concept of giving them a different address was a little disconcerting to say the least. However they were insistent. My argument that the driver was just getting the hang of where to deliver the package to did not wash with them.

Plan B was formulated quickly. Let them deliver it to where I work! It is probably one of the best known (not necessarily best loved) structures in Calgary. Of the million people that live in the city there are maybe two people that do not know where the ‘Drop-In Centre’ is. I had not bargained that one of those two people would be the Daryl Harry & Larry International driver!

So here we are, it is now Friday morning, and I still do not have it in my hands. Nine hours from California to Alberta, and six days to make it that last mile!

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