Don’t Get Me Started: Package Roulette

By Virge Randall

Since the Times Square cleanup, three-card monte has vanished but a new type of street ‘game of chance” has emerged. It’s moved from the sidewalks to the alcoves and doorways of New York City’s apartment buildings:

It’s Package Roulette

Will that Fresh Direct package be there when you get home? How about that Ikea order? Will the clothes you ordered from a catalogue arrive on time? Or at all? Only New York can infuse getting a delivery with the excitement, drama and mystery of an Indiana Jones movie.

Part of the problem is the outdated business model used by delivery companies, which still seem to assume a stay at home spouses can accept a package. A package could even be left outside a residence. Now nobody’s home, not even mailboxes are safe, and there are few options for the millions of New Yorkers in modest buildings with no doorman, or in tenement walkups, or in small brownstones. It’s now an arms race. How long before the arms of a porch pirate will be around your package and spirit it away?

The companies handle it as best as they can. They leave apologetic little missives, like an unreliable lover. Instead of “I don’t know who sent that text, baby” or “I thought it was next week,” they pin a note to your building door that says “We tried to deliver your package and we’ll try again tomorrow.” (Samuel Beckett probably got the idea for Godot while waiting for a delivery).

Whether or not they actually try is an open question. In a walkup like mine, the package delivery people see the stairs through the glass entry door, note that I’m on the fifth floor, and wonder if it’s too late to take the civil service exam. I work from home and my buzzer, a mere 11 feet away, is loud enough to disturb the flight patterns of migratory birds. Nine times out of ten, though, I’ll go downstairs and find a regretful little note with a tracking number. Looking it up is the real life version of a scene in an Indiana Jones movie, following the progress of my delivery like that little plane moving across the map.

Except that in this movie, Jones would have discovered that the Ark was returned to sender or sent to a warehouse in the Bronx while he was escaping from the Nazis…or it had already been delivered. In that case, the tracking number lets you know when your package was stolen.

Every neighborhood can play

It strikes even the best buildings and neighborhoods. A resident on the ground floor of a toney Brooklyn brownstone left an IKEA return, carefully boxed, by the downstairs entrance under the stairs. In less time than it takes to grab the second topmost copy of the Times off a newsstand, someone savaged that huge, carefully reboxed package like Sherman did Atlanta, scattering the kind of cardboard litter that thrills a sanitation inspector with a quota to meet.

Some New Yorkers handle this by leaving a note on the door asking deliverers to leave the package with a local store (if a store owner is comfortable assuming the responsibility). Others just try to be home, but that’s an unreliable method for the “Buzz and Run” School of package delivery.

Or delivery companies could enter the 21st century, not with tracking technology but by admitting we’re not in Kansas anymore. Shift more delivery times to when people are actually home, like evenings or weekends. Or even just try a bit harder to get inside the building to leave the package like, say, ringing all the buzzers until someone lets them in. Or calling the Super for entry.

Naah. One delivery company’s motto used to be “what can Brown do for you?’ Customers annoyed by outmoded business models that don’t work in New York can reply “I’ve got some brown for you right here.”

But don’t get me started about that.

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