An uneasy peace…

After the better part of three weeks, Amazon and I have arrived at an uneasy peace. They’ve stopped repeatedly trying to get me to pay for an item that’s already been paid for (and one that’s already been returned) and I’ve grudgingly accepted that Amazon has become an almost indispensable purveyor of “stuff” for my household.

The fact that it took a last gasp, hail Mary email to Jeff Bezos to grab a human being’s attention and get them to override the automatically generated email loop from hell I was trapped in still doesn’t leave me brimming with confidence.

I spent a fair amount of the last three weeks looking at and ordering from other online retailers, so I know there are alternatives to Amazon. What those alternatives don’t provide en block, are free shipping and access to the same exhaustive product list that Amazon does, so I found myself replacing one company with perhaps half a dozen in order to cover the same retail territory.

With that experience, I will admit that when Amazon is working well, they’re a hard act to beat… but when they freeze you out, they freeze you all the way out. I was, despite becoming increasingly aware of the inconvenience, prepared to stay frozen out indefinitely, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that in the end.

Amazon is never going to be a company I love, but in the end they are a company I can do business with – at least when it comes to ordering things that can stand to be badly packaged and beat to hell and back in transit. As it turns out, achieving peace in our time doesn’t mean I’m going to stop calling them out for that at every possible opportunity. You could have probably guessed that.

National treasures…

There’s a local shop about five minutes drive from the house where you can get bread, milk, eggs, smokes, lottery tickets, a six pack of select domestic or import beer, a selection of $8 wines, and hot or cold made-in-front-of-you deli sandwiches. It’s plopped down at an intersection where two or three different deeply exurban neighborhoods come together. If you weren’t use to seeing it there, it might even look out of place.

The fact is, mom and pop shops like Cooper’s Market aren’t just a local resource – letting someone skip the drive all the way into town if they only need one or two things and don’t mind paying the premium – they’re also a national treasure. They’re the natural home for local news and gossip – and even though I’m nowhere near a local in these parts, if you keep your ears open you can always find out who got arrested, who’s kid is doing “the drugs” or got knocked up, what house burned, or what the useless county commissioners got wrong this time.

Maybe it’s the kind of place that’s nostalgic only if you grew up in small town America, where they were the rule rather than the exception. It’s nice to know that there are still a few of them around. I like having the option of the big chain stores when I’m already out in the more densely developed parts of the world, but here in my little section of it I much prefer the familiarity of the human being who knows what you’re going to order before you even get to the head of the line.

Sometimes smart isn’t enough…

I’m a reasonably smart guy. I’ve never hidden that fact or been embarrassed by it the way some people seem to think you should be. There are, however, times when native brain power just isn’t enough.

This morning I went through my usual Saturday – did things like take a load of trash to the landfill, stop by the bank, and roll past Tractor Supply for the biggest bag of bird food available. Then I made my fatal mistake.

You see, today is Saturday. I didn’t think of it as anything other than Saturday. One of 52 that we get every year. It’s the day of the week even I get groceries. What every other person in the county apparently thought of today as, however, is “the last Saturday before Thanksgiving when they should take the whole family to the supermarket and pick up three carts full of food.”

It didn’t even occur to me. If it had, I’d have changed the plan and done my shopping at 5am to avoid the masses. I should have known better, should have been more aware. I was awash in a vast see of dumb as hell and have no one to blame but myself.

Mercifully I’m home now. If you want me to leave, setting the place on fire is probably the only way to shake me loose… and even that isn’t guaranteed to get the job done.

Just different…

I’m old enough to have caught the tail end of what could be called “local retail.” When I was a kid even our small town of a few hundred had what in generations past would have been called a dry good store. My home town wasn’t big enough to justify its own hardware store, but the next town of any size in either direction along the George’s Creek valley had one – Pritchard’s in Frostburg anchored the central stretch of Main Street, Ternent’s in Coney sat (where it still does business) at the center of town on Jackson Street. Ames provided a primitive “big box” style of retail while G.C. Murphy represented the last bastion of traditional American department stores. Murphy’s, though, was “in town” and usually involved a special trip. You didn’t end up there to pick something up on a whim.

There was a proper 1980’s mall, of course, decorated in shades of beige with it’s glass dome and sunken fountain centerpiece. It was anchored by JC Penny, The Bon Ton / Eyerly’s, K-mart, and Sears.

I’m taking this stroll down memory lane because of all these stores – many of them one-time giants of American retail, only a handful remain. Ternent’s lives still, I suspect as much due to the loyalty of the surrounding community (and inconvenience of making the 30 minute one-way drive to the next closest hardware store) as anything else. JC Penny creaks along providing the area with “something that isn’t Walmart. Now Sears has filed for bankruptcy protection. Its lone store back home isn’t on the closure list this time, but I don’t think anyone really expects it will last forever or even that it will last long. It’s only a matter of time before Sears too becomes part of consumer history.

Protected here by my walls of books and largely tucked away from people to the extent I can manage, it’s easy to dismiss just how much the world has changed in the last 30 or 40 years. A guy I use to work for was fond of saying that on average “it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.” It’s a nice sound bite and maybe it’s even true. But I can tell you without a moment’s shame that the older I get the less interest I have in “different” overall. Slowly, the words “different” and “worse” feel like they’re becoming synonymous.

I know intellectually that bankruptcy delivers creative destruction to the marketplace, but I’d consider it an awfully big favor if we could somehow avoid sweeping away all vestiges of the world that was.

Two out of three…

I have a standing order with Amazon to deliver dog food, cat food, and litter on a monthly basis. It hasn’t been an altogether satisfying relationship thus far. Two out of the last three orders have been what I’ll just call “defective.” Today’s order included a bag of cat food in fine shape, a box of cat litter in fine condition, and a bag of dog food with a blown out corner that emptied half the bag’s contents out into the shipping box.

Look, the dogs loved the fact that I schlepped this 50 pound box through the middle of the house trailing kibble behind me, but it wasn’t the kind of experience I’d have paid for if given the opportunity. I’m a simple guy who just wants things to arrive undamaged. I don’t feel like that’s really an unreasonable position on my part as the consumer.

I dutifully fired up Amazon’s customer service chat and to their credit they immediately offered to ship out another bag of food or give me a refund. The Amazon business model is a real wonder of the modern – as it seems it’s cheaper for them to replace every fourth or fifth thing I buy than it is to spend a few extra cents on proper packaging for their products.

Amazon isn’t the only game in town, but they are generally the most convenient for setting up recurring orders so I’ll keep using them. They’ll keep sending out items in piss poor packaging. I’ll keep sending for replacements. And the whole machine will keep on working. Somehow, though, it feels like there could be a better way.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

​1. Spoofed calls. In the last 7 days I’ve gotten twelve calls that caller ID indicates are originating in the greater Baltimore area. I’m sure there are still many people who answer every time their phone rings. That these spoofed calls even exist as a thing is proof enough of that. I mean scammers wouldn’t be doing it in the first place if there wasn’t money to be made. Of the 37 ways you can communicate using a modern cell phone, actual voice calls are my least favorite. If I barely use the thing to make or receive calls to people I actually know, I’m not sure what chance the average phone scammer has at getting me to pick up. All their doing at this point is basically finding a new and interesting way to interrupt me when I’m trying to use the phone for something else… and that’s really their unforgivable sin.

2. Packaging. Since last Thanksgiving or so, I’ve observed a continuing trend of my online orders regularly arriving damaged. Some of the damage can easily be attributed to being beaten to death by the delivery service – smashed boxes, items left where they can be rained on, etc. More often though, the outer boxes arrive in fine shape, while what they contain is scuffed, mangled, or mutilated well beyond what I’d consider “fair” for an item purchased in “new” condition. I’ve lost track of how many items I’ve returned to Amazon and other retailers at this point because they can’t be bothered (or most likely just don’t want to pay) to package items in an appropriate way to prevent damage in transit. Until they do, I’ll keep making them spend twice as much in returns and replacement of damaged items as they would if they’d have just packed the damned box the right way the first time around.

3. Weekday Protestors. I first observed this behavior when I worked in DC. Someone would get a bee in their bonnet and the next thing you know a couple of thousand people would show up on The Mall to protest in the middle of the week. I see it now all over TV. What I want to know is who are these people that have nothing better to do in the middle of the damned work week than finding a position in front of the television camera, stamping their feet, and throwing a hissy fit until they get their way? Seeking redress of grievances is well and good, but I’m curious about the people who have time to do it day after day and sometimes week after week when the rest of us poor working stiffs are busy, you know, actually working. I mean even on my days off, there’s errands to run, laundry to do, yard work to tend, and a list of projects a mile long that wouldn’t get done if I were out wandering the streets waving my homemade poster-board sign with its cheeky slogan. Feel free to do what you want and all, but I’ve got a household to run and actual shit to do.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shipping. If you’re selling a book as a “rare first edition” in “like new” shape, don’t be surprised if I call raising three kinds of hell when it arrives at my house with a shredded dust jacket and mangled pages. especially when the only shipping method you offer is “dumped in an unpadded plastic envelope, slap a shipping label on it, and hope for the best.” There are entirely too many options available to justify dealing with a company that clearly has no regard for their own product. 0/10. Would not recommend.

​2. ​Disagreement. There’s a trend that has always been built into the internet – stretching back into the dim mists of newgroups and chat rooms – that is constructed around the idea that if you don’t agree with every single point of my 12-point statement, you are a communist Nazi heathen enemy of humanity whose father smelt of elderberries and we can’t be friends. I suppose it’s fine if you feel that way, but I generally like my discussion and opinion to have a bit more nuance that’s more fitting in a world where virtually nothing is ever 100% one way or the other. Whether you agree with me or not, I’ll continue to state my opinions in what I hope are reasonable and constructive (and often sarcastic) ways. What I won’t do is feel any compulsion to defend my opinion from someone having a “come at me bro” moment. If I do engage in that discussion, I promise, it’s purely because of the entertainment value I’ll find in it.

3. The rules. In this place there are many rules. I did not write them. I am not making them up on the spot. The rules were here before I arrived and will be here long after I am gone. The fact that there is a rule (or rules) preventing you from doing that which you want to do is one of those facts that is interesting, but not particularly relevant. While I may share in your frustration, you’re really going to need to find someone with the authority to change the offending policy, regulation, or law before there’s a damned thing I can do about it.