The FedEx store is located, conveniently enough, behind Shipley’s Doughnuts on a main thoroughfare in town. I went there in a panic one Friday a couple of months ago. I was attempting to retrieve a macro lens that I was desperate to have. “It’s not here”, the woman behind the counter said. She only had the insured packages that required signatures or special handling. The regular packages went to the main depot. I had to go to the main depot located several miles out on a road across town. That’s okay, I thought, while I envisioned my poor lens languishing in the back of some oblivious driver’s truck. I held out hope still. At least, I could try to fetch her out of the depot. I headed out the road toward the place hoping to get there before it closed for the weekend. Minutes counted. It was nearing five o’clock.
Oh, crap! Come on … not a train. Not now. I had no choice. I stopped. I never saw one of these signs before. I don’t get out much, I thought. I would find another one at the FedEx depot. Although there wasn’t much reason to look both ways since there was a train rolling along right in front of my car, I dutifully looked both ways. I was brought up in a rather authoritarian system. I obey instructions. As impatient as I was, I could think of no alternative to waiting for the train to creep by. With a feeling of resignation, I put the car in park, and sat there impatiently drumming my fingers on the steering wheel. Finally, I collected my wits and started to look at the train art on the boxcars.
One of the drawings on a car particularly interested me. I liked it. The guy had a Bull captured in his clenched fist. I imagined that the drawing represented some young Angelina’s general sentiment about bulls on the lookout for a ‘bo to bust. I was looking at some really great art on a moving exhibit. This one was particularly good. At least, I had something interesting to watch while I chomped at the bit. I thought about an unforgettable book that chronicles the lives and experiences of well known hobos in short vignettes, One More Train To Ride. I read it a long time ago. The images stuck.
No short trains come through our town. Ever. Besides, trains always come through town at the most inconvenient of times as if some bad tempered dispatcher somewhere is scheduling them to stop progress on purpose. I’m convinced of it. The evidence supports my hypothesis. This train did not disappoint. It was L.O.N.G. I waited. It passed.
Finally, there it was … Fort FedEx. I didn’t have any notion of whose safety comes first, mine or the employees’, but I wondered why a business would announce its safety policy on a huge welcome banner. The sign on the building was dwarfed by the building itself. I almost didn’t see it. The welcome sign was confusing. Maybe it’s just me, I thought. The entire complex was fenced off by a very tall chain-link fence topped by barbed wire. The parking area was located outside the wire enclosure. If my lens got herself in that place, it was going to be difficult to get her out. I had a real eery gut feeling about that. I couldn’t get the word safety out of my head. I tried to imagine a sign on a restaurant reading, “Welcome to Victoria Olive Garden Where Safety Comes First”. I decided I really shouldn’t dwell on the idea.
When I spied the turnstile, I assumed it led to the building’s entrance. I had carefully avoided parking in the handicapped space. So far, so good. There was a uniformed girl leaning in the window of a man’s car several spaces away from my car. As I walked past her toward the security entrance, I smiled my most benign smile and asked rhetorically if that door behind the handicapped parking sign were the entrance. We were both looking dead at the only possible entrance, but I wanted to assure her that I was not a terrorist disguised as a mindless old woman. She confirmed that to be the entrance. And, she added that I should press the black button on the box beside the turnstile. Somebody would answer.
I pressed and waited. I wasn’t sweating yet. Good. Somewhere, from deep within the bowels of that Fort, a voice asked what I wanted. Actually, it said, “If you have a package call number, please enter it on the keypad and press the enter key. The turnstile will be unlocked, and you can walk through.” I didn’t know whether the voice was still there listening, but a misplaced sense of decorum seemed to require at least a “Thank you”. I felt a little stupid, but I said it and entered the number from my call ticket. I heard the click that unlocked the turnstile. I navigated the bars of the turnstile which were surprisingly heavy and harder to push than I had anticipated. Okay, I thought, I’m inside.
Uh-Oh. The Voice didn’t tell me what to do next. I scanned the entire side of the building for a clue. There were bays along the far side. One was open, but nobody was visible. There was an adjacent door without a marker to indicate that it was an entrance. That couldn’t be it, I thought. When I looked toward the opposite end of the building, I saw a slightly more formal-looking entrance with a ramp leading up to it. I tried the door. It came open so I walked through into what I can only describe as a small closet-sized area reminiscent of an airlock or a holding area with a door on the opposite wall. A disconcerting image of guards wearing latex gloves crept into my head. I took the few steps required to reach the second door and tried the handle. It opened too. Okay, I’m in, I thought.
What I encountered next would have unnerved a less hardy soul than I. I was standing in an awkwardly designed area that wasn’t exactly a hall, but it wasn’t exactly a room either. Nobody was there. There was no sound anywhere. Not a squeak. Nothing. Okay, I thought. They’re in here somewhere. There was a double-door sort of opening in the wall directly to my left. I could see into the room. There were two metal tables near the center of the room and three metal office chairs that looked like an afterthought stuck against a wall next to a corner of the room. Nobody was there. For the lack of a better plan, I walked down the drab hallway. I could see a number of closed doors along the sides. I walked on. About five or six doors down, I found an open door.
Inside, there were two uniformed women who were sorting stacks of papers that appeared to be some kind of inventory sheets. Maybe tracking sheets. One of the women looked up and asked for my ticket. I relinquished it and started explaining my desperate search for the lens. She was nice enough and pretended to listen. She looked at my ticket without comment and directed me to go back down the hallway and wait in the room “down there”. She made a vague motion with her hand to indicate the direction. I obeyed. She disappeared through yet another door. On the way back, I peeked down a rather creepy hallway that branched off my hallway. Nothing discernible was there except more closed doors. That hallway led to a wall at the far end.
In what passed for the waiting room, I began to read the notices on the bulletin boards. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I wish I had my camera phone, I thought. In addition to the numerous required federal and state right-to-work and workers compensation notices, and where to report if you’ve been screwed on any of the above, there was a huge REWARD poster. $5000 for reporting theft, unethical or illegal behavior, violence, sexual harassment, etc. I didn’t record the list of stuff you could go to jail for, but I think it included any infraction of FedEx Rules right down to the slightest appearance of impropriety. I assumed this poster was supposed to explain the Safety First policy, but somehow I wasn’t getting it. While I was still gaping at this poster, the uniformed woman appeared out of nowhere with my package. I hoped I didn’t visibly jump. She could have whispered “Boo” at the very least.
I thanked the woman profusely and hightailed it back through the doors and into the light. Whew! I was out. The turnstile even worked in reverse. As I drove away, I saw another “Look Both Ways” sign. I stopped and looked both ways although there was nothing in sight anywhere as far as I could squint to see. I even obeyed the little sign underneath that read: “Stop for 12-15 seconds to avoid collisions”. I was convinced there was a reward for reporting slackers who didn’t stop for the required number of seconds before proceeding. I was too close screw up now. I could smell freedom just beyond that sign. And, I had my lens on the seat beside me. Mission Accomplished.
Note: For another little episode of FedEx Safety Comes First (before efficiency) policy, please refer to The Pampered Chef.
Should you expect a package from FedEx, may I suggest that you pull up a comfortable chair beside your own front door and wait there. Don’t ask questions. It’s just simpler to wait by the door.