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Evil Friday Night

June 3, 2006

When I left work last night, at about 4:40 PM, the clouds overhead were beginning to take on the darkened look of impending rain. I figured, okay, after the week of blistering hot weather we've had, some rain would be in order.

Unfortunately for me, I needed to get up to the Homewood area (closer to Birmingham) to get to UPS. Thanks in part to an amazing $350 discount code that I found online, I bought a new computer through Dell. The company was offering free shipping; I ended up getting a machine that should've been $1,300 without any of the specials for less than $950.

I had come by my apartment at lunchtime, but I missed the UPS guy by less than a half hour. Just my luck. I called the 1-800 number on the note that was left for me, and I scheduled for them to just hold it for me at the UPS center. My hope had been to be able to set it up last night and get it going this weekend.

Back to my drive home from work, I saw wind blowing up dirt and debris like crazy. Where was the ABC 33/40 watch box when I needed it? On an impulse, I decided not to head to my apartment, but I instead hopped onto I-65 North.

There was some traffic, being that it was rush hour and all, even though I was going toward the city. With I-459, there's some auxiliary traffic that causes a backup on I-65 North. You can't win.

After a little confusion, I found the UPS Center. 118 Citation Ct. For some reason, this information is guarded very tightly. You can't find the main Birmingham UPS Customer Center address online at all. But it's right there. When they called me back to confirm that they would have my order there for pick-up, at first I thought they had said Plantation, and that made trying to find directions there very difficult, as you might imagine.

I arrived at about 5:30... and I was told that my driver was still out. What's more, he wasn't expected back until 7:30-8 PM! Ugh. But no bother, I'd seen some shopping and restaurants between there and the interstate. The catch: the UPS Customer Center closed its doors at 7, so I had to be back before then.

With time to kill, there are few better places to go than a bookstore. So I went to the Wildwood Shopping Center and headed to Books-A-Million. It's still too early for any 2006 Fantasy Football magazines, so I read up on some college football previews. I was surprised to see that West Virginia was the pre-season #3 team according to Lindy's.

I looked for Rolling Stone, but I couldn't find it. That was strange. The place had all sorts of magazines, so it's not as if it was a limited supply. I ended up buying an Entertainment Weekly so I could have something to read while I waited at UPS.

Rationing my time, I'd left myself just long enough to grab dinner at Milo's, a hamburger fast-food chain that I'd never heard of before. The menu had an amateur-hour look to it, and the choices weren't overwhelming. I ended up going with the chicken sandwich combo. Luckily, they did have a straw with their name printed on the paper covering it, which is something my bro Matt started collecting when he was a little kid and that he still has. It's not like you run across new restaurants that have the budget to print their name on the straw covers all the time, so when I do, it's a nice rarity. I snagged a straw for him.

Their french fries were just like I like them, big (not like the McDonald's toothpick sized ones) and with some seasoning salt on them. It made me think of the fries they served in the dining area at Opryland when I worked there in the summer of 1994. It's hard to believe that was 12 years ago...

From there, I made it to UPS by 6:53. My timing was perfect.

Unfortunately for me, UPS didn't have its act together with the whole package unloading process. The holding room had about 15-20 of us in there, people waiting for our packages who didn't feel like waiting until Monday to get our stuff. Apparently I was the only one who had the foresight to bring any reading material, as the stuffy, hot room was filled with strangers who just stood there looking uncomfortable. A woman who made it in at the last moment before they locked the doors chatted me up a little bit. "It's terrible," she said. "The last time I was here until 8:30!" That was reassuring. Unfortunately, it also proved to be prophetic.

Slowly, addresses were called out, and people happily took their packages and disappeared into the night. With the door locked, the overworked air conditioner began to become effective, and the temperature became more tolerable.

Entertainment Weekly #880/#881
This is the cover of my EW magazine.
Thank goodness my Entertainment Weekly magazine was a "double issue" that had the summer TV preview, along with some snippets about the fall TV lineup. There was plenty of enjoyable reading to be had in there. There was even a four-page interview with Julie Chen about Big Brother 7, which debuts later this month. I found the article about the outstanding Showtime series Weeds to be most interesting. In a related note, I think now's the time to make the call to DirecTV to see if we can make something work with a satellite dish here. My half-assed cable setup, while nice with the low $30/month price tag, is pathetic to the point of complete frustration. The lack of a DVR is simply unacceptable.

Time moved on, and the time became 8 PM. "What is your zip code?" the woman behind the counter asked. I was calm and patient with the UPS counter workers. It's not their fault that the system is how it is. Dealing with Manny Pepperoni and the insanity with the Ned Only CD deliveries with UPS/Tampa when I worked for Bubba revealed to me that it is a problem that is system-wide. Plus, these were the gatekeepers; I needed their help to get my computer.

According to the woman, it turned out that the driver was supposed to pull the order off the truck, but he simply failed to do so before he left. To be fair, I'm not sure if the message was ever communicated to him or not. Like I said, there are problems inherent to the entire UPS system. She told me that a supervisor and other workers were going through the truck looking for it. She knew that they were looking for a 57 pound computer, so it's not like they were searching blind.

It came down to where the only people waiting were a couple waiting for a package and I. The couple were grumbling about having been there since 6:30. The notion to mention how I'd been there at 5:30 crossed my mind, but mentioning that wasn't going to ease their tension. Besides, I had a magazine and they didn't.

Finally, the news came: the crew had pulled out half of the merchandise from the truck and not been able to find it. Sounds like a new marketing phrase for UPS: we'll try halfway to get it right for you. The guy who told me seemed to be bracing himself for an angry barrage from me. I mean, physically, that's what I read on his face, to go along with the profuse apologizing. But I wasn't planning to berate him. Of course, seeing a 6'2" guy with a shaved head in there peering down at him, he didn't know that. But I told him (and the woman, who came in at that point, also apologizing like mad) that they could simply deliver it to me at work on Monday. They told me that they could hold it for me to pick up on Monday (like I'd want to drive back up there again; it's nearly 20 miles each way) or they could try delivering it.

This is a case where having this website is a major plus for me. I knew at that moment that I'd have fodder for an entire column, and that helped me to stay calm. Seriously. When you know you have another outlet for this sort of thing, it helps immeasurably.

As I was leaving, I saw that the couple got the package that they were waiting to receive. At least they left happy.

I figured that would be the end of the story. But I figured wrong.

At the red light across from the Wildwood Shopping Center, I saw a police car with its lights on and a red Toyota Camry-ish looking car stopped across the intersection on the other side. The officer was at the driver's side window. I was looking over at this, and then suddenly, the red car took off. The officer appeared to hold onto the car for a moment, then he lost his grip, tumbling and corkscrewing a few times on the pavement. It's the sort of thing you see on COPS, but *never* in real life. But I saw it.

The light turned green; I grabbed my cell phone and pulled over. The officer had already gotten up, sprinted to his car, and taken off after the red car. That was fast. I called 911; before my call could go through, a second squad car flew by the other way. I concisely told the emergency operator what I saw, and he told me that he knew and that they were on it. I'm surprised that they didn't want my information or anything. Don't they want witnesses for these sorts of things? Though I do suppose they have it via the telephone caller ID info, if they really need to get in touch with me about it.

Before I even made it back to I-65, no less than seven more police cars, lights blazing, flew by. I haven't been able to find anything online about what happened, and the local newscasts didn't cover it last night, so I don't know how it ended. But it was a crazy thing to see happen in person.

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