Internet shopping — I confess. I did it. Sort of.
My old Mac Plus is still a good typewriter, but it’s not internet-capable. (In fact, until today, the spell-checker on this thing didn’t know the word “internet.”) So when I encountered two old friends who are now techno-geeks and won’t communicate except by online means, I took a Yahoo email address. To access Yahoo, I go to the library computers or the local cybercafe.
One of these friends told me (by email of course) about an internet auction site called Ebay.com, where you can find practically anything. For no logical reason, this guy has become a collector of old radios — wooden jobs with vacuum tubes and all that, the kind people listened to Fred Allen, The Shadow and the Grand Ole Opry on in pre-TV days.
Since I’m still stumbling along — actually working — as a professional musician, and wanted to get a certain model electric guitar, I checked the Ebay site for possible deals. Sure enough, there it was: Japanese-made “’62 reissue” Fender telecaster, exactly what I was after.
(For those not involved in the Insane New World of guitars, older Fender models have attained absurd collectors’ value. Instruments that sold $250 brand new in the 1950s and 60s are now commanding prices of up to $30,000. That’s like a ’55 Ford pickup truck having snob appeal. Meanwhile, the guitar business is so inflated that the major guitar makers now farm out much of their manufacturing and assembly work to cheap labor in the “Third World” countries. Fender — the most commonly used electric guitar in the world — has operations in Korea, Mexico and Japan. American-made Fenders are mostly “signature” models with famous names attached to them, or so-called “custom shop” items produced with something near contempt for the non-famous player who works in bars or Legion Hall dances, and marketed directly at well-off collectors. The Korean ones are junk made for teenage wannabe-rock-star kids. The Mexican models are iffy; you’re taking your chances. The Japanese Fenders are as cheap as the Mexican guitars but consistently much better-made.)
The “book” value on the Japanese Telecaster was $600, but the guy selling it on the Ebay site was asking only $450. So far. Remember it’s an auction. I went to register a bid, only to find out Ebay won’t accept Yahoo as an email address. So I emailed the seller direct and wound up making a deal for the no-snob-appeal instrument outside the auction site. I sent the money to New York, he sent the guitar. This is where my little adventure with UPS began.
The shipping was to be paid on my end. There would be a COD charge of $27.50 for the driver to collect. When the package arrived, the UPS driver said the COD charge was $527.50. When I protested, he said there was nothing he could do and took the item back. I called the seller, who told me he’d insured the instrument for $500, but was sure he’d made it clear to UPS nerve center in Atlanta. A voice on the phone gave me another number, in South Carolina, to call and ask for Steve Brown.
I left a message on his machine and waited for his return call. He called the next day and said he would do his best to get the situation straightened out, and I should expect a call from my local UPS warehouse within the hour. As I waited for this call, which never came, the UPS driver arrived again with the guitar, but nothing had changed on his part. I looked at the COD label and it was definitely not in the handwriting of the seller, which was on the other, regular label. This was a UPS screw-up. For the second time, the driver put the box back into the truck. Steve Brown eventually called back and said I would need a statement of release faxed to the local UPS center from the seller. I called the local warehouse and they told me the package would be sent back to New York that night if they didn’t get the fax.
It was now 3 in the afternoon, six o’clock New York time, no surprise to find the seller not at home. I left a message containing all the gory details and hoped he was the type who checked his messages often. This was a good possibility, since he was a lawyer.
At 5pm, with an hour to go before the package went back, I called the warehouse and asked if they’d received a fax from New York. They had, “from a lawyer,” which apparently had impressed them. I drove the ten miles to the UPS center with my $27.50 in hand. This is when I was told first that UPS does not take cash for CODs, and second, that “Hey, I only work here.” Another five miles and back to the nearest place, a supermarket, for a money order. With ten minutes to spare, I took possession of the package.
The Happy Ending: I wrote a letter of complaint to the UPS public relations department in Atlanta. A week later an email came from a UPS rep in Seattle saying that if I wished, she would “investigate the situation further,” in other words, find somebody to blame (and that was not likely to be a UPS executive.) I responded that I had no desire to see heads roll, that my problem was not with any individuals but with UPS policy and procedure, and that if the corporation wanted to see customer satisfaction, they could refund my shipping charge and pay me back for the gas I burned while running around like an idiot trying to get what should have been placed conveniently at my doorstep. In a rare instance of a large corporation taking pains not to alienate a customer, they sent a check for $32.50.
Travel Tip: If you ever ride on Amtrak and they neglect to punch your ticket, send it in for a refund, since it’s technically “unused.” It pays to read the small print.