Friday, September 20, 2013

Extraordinary Thursday

Extraordinary importance. Extraordinary stupidity. Extraordinary wild goose chase. Extraordinary misinformation. Extraordinary behind-the-scenes staff involvement. Extraordinary rescue. Extraordinary cost. All for a run which I had in my hands for a grand total of ten minutes.

It didn't start out as anything but an ordinary day. Extraordinary would have been if the $400 million Powerball had been won in Minnesota and it was worth checking my ticket to find out I'd won. Nope. Same old, same old. Same routine, same uniform, same packed cooler of food.

The only thing unusual was also discouraging: PT. I’ve “graduated” to the point where my exercises involve standing on one leg while doing repetitive motions with the other, each involving a hold for 5 seconds or so. Unfortunately, each time I shift my weight between two legs and one leg and back, the knee joint grinds and shifts in and out of locked position. Extraordinarily painful. I didn’t manage to finish my allotted number before I gave up for the morning, and actually left the house in tears, wondering if this whole thing was going to work. This is following treatment #3, the one where most find significant relief from pain. Dang!

Five miles down the road, however, dispatch sends a message. There should be a run coming through picking up in Grand Marais. Head north.

Now this is the stuff of fantasies. When I ask dispatch where to head next, I might ask, for example, Edina? Eagan? Grand Marais? We both know the odds. We both know I'll chase.

It’s never Grand Marais. Never. But this time, out of the blue, it is, picking up at a residence in town, let’s just say at Mr. X’s house. I won’t name him, because that’s where the stupidity centers.  Further, it’s going from there to a medium sized town over in the NW quadrant of the state, to a hospital. I won’t mention which town, because If I did, you could figure out who the customer is, and that’s a no-no. Best of all, when we get sent out of town to pick something up going elsewhere out of town, we get paid starting from the metro, It’s not a long deadhead, except maybe coming back.

By the time I hit North Branch and the freeway, Mary Jo calls from HQ. She wants to impress upon me that I should call her should I run into any kind of problems whatsoever. I’ve already seen that this is medical-related, and she doubles down on that by quoting the customer: “a matter of life or death.” If at all possible it needs to be dropped by 7:30-8 that night.

So. I’ll be home around midnight then.

Her call spurs me to push it a little, hitting just a tad over the speed limit - under ticketable speed still - rather than my preferred just under the limit. I can take time later when I need a pit stop to look at a state map to pick out the best route to cross the state east to west. I’m not used to that kind of a route so I’ll have to think about it.

When I do hit my first rest stop, my phone stops me just outside the door. It’s Greg from HQ with a change in plans. It’s no longer going across the state. It’s heading to the bank in Grand Marais (Do I have cash on me? No that much? Hit an ATM on the way up.) where the papers will be scanned and emailed to Dr. M, then I’ll take the papers to Duluth to the UPS Store for physical shipping. A label will be there for mailing the originals to their destination. It’s better for me, Greg says, because with these changes it’s shorter and still charges the customer a fee I can hardly credit. No complaints, mind you, but wow!

Back on the road, and my first inkling comes that this might not be quite as smooth as silk. This time it’s nothing to do with stupid human tricks. It’s the weather. What was forecast as 80 degrees and sticky, possible t-showers, is turning into increasing levels of fog as I approach Duluth, while the radio is giving a running commentary on where the severe storms are popping up and tracking. A couple may hit home or skip on either side, and their threat is enough to kill Steve’s fishing plans. Another is hitting the Arrowhead and I wonder where it will be when I’m wherever I’ll be at the time.

By the time I hit the construction zone on the top of the hill just outside Duluth, visibility is down to a block, or two vehicles ahead of you at those slowed speeds. Fortunately, descending to the harbor area mostly clears it, or at least thins it so I can actually see the lake. It’s gray to match the sky and fog.

At Two Harbors I hit the Holiday for both a pit stop and ATM. While I wait my turn in the bathroom, the woman inside the stall that still works almost opens the door when her cell phone rings. Does she say,”I’ll call you back in two”? Does she leave the stall to continue her conversation? You know either of those would be too easy, don’t you? Five minutes later I knock on her stall door to remind her of the line outside. I really don’t need to hear all the details of their plans for what they are going to see that day. I really do need her stall, however. Mindful always of the uniform, I restrain the impulse to let her know what I think of her and merely offer a “Thanks” when she finally hangs up the call and leaves. However, the look I send her way is contemptuous.

At the ATM I withdraw twice what I was originally going to, because another call has come through on the drive up letting me know that the amount of cash needed to pay the bank for the scanning/emailing had gone up since the number of pages has now climbed to 70! Whatever. I have it, and I’ll get paid back as an add-on to the run.

But now I’m out of 4-lane highway. Nor is it straight enough to make passing safe, nor is it construction-free, nor is it too late in the season for RVs to chug their merry way along the Shore. Leisurely. I need to call Mary Jo and let her know the estimate of my ETA needs to be pushed back to something after noon. Oh yeah, not a cell-friendly area. I keep plugging until I can at least get a text through to dispatch to relay the message. I justify typing it safely while waiting behind a flag man at one of the one-lane construction spots, even though I can’t send it till a bit later.

The address is easy to find, being on a numbered street. Or was it an avenue? There were two buildings there, and I had a phone number to verify which one my package was in. Between my knees and the now-spitting weather, it seemed like a good idea.

A woman answered. I ask was this Mr. X’s phone number? Yes, but he wasn’t there. I explained my errand, and what I heard next floored me. The package was supposed to have been picked up the night before. (Not my problem,) Since nobody had picked it up, they had taken it down to UPS themselves this morning. But, I protested, I needed to get copies send directly to Dr. M. (Shouldn't they know this.? They knew the contents, surely?) In a tone of voice like she was talking to an idiot, she informed me that there were no copies to be made: the package was awaiting its 2:00 pick up. I couldn’t quite believe they had consigned urgent medical paperwork to good ol’ dependable but slow UPS!

Time to call Mary Jo. "Hey, you're never going to believe this!" After giving her all the particulars, including the full name and spelling of the woman I’d talked to, she promised to get more info and call me back. I was to wait. There might be something more for me to do here. So I waited. I ate lunch. Waited. Heard two thunderstorms roll through. Read my Kindle, finishing the book I was on and starting another. Rolled open windows between storms to help defog the car. And waited. A car came and went two times at the house. I still waited.

Over an hour later the call came. Supposedly the package got tracked down to a storefront in Duluth which packs and ships your whatever for you. I was to get it there and take it to the UPS store in Duluth who could then do the scanning and emailing before shipping the package off. They had the shipping label ready anyway, and could always have done the scanning/emailing part, but it would have been faster from Grand Marais. Dr. M could start whatever needed doing sooner.

Knowing now about the cell-free zone, I made two calls before I left. One was to Steve, my handy-dandy home based computer assisted GPS for those weird out of town addresses not on the map. He could call back and leave me directions to the first place on my voicemail and I’d get it before Two Harbors, plenty of time to mentally image my path.

The second was to the final destination, asking them for directions from the other place. The woman I talked to knew exactly which package I was going to be showing up with. "Are you that courier?" They’d already been talking to enough people to get their part straightened out.

I hit the road and made the next town down before I ran into more rain. This time it was enough to require wipers at top speed for about 45 miles. I was following a silver/white truck which did a perfect job of disappearing into the rain and spray, except for one spot of black on its top and red taillights. If I managed to keep it just in sight, I at least knew where the road was when the wipers weren’t quite cutting it.

Now this was  my first time ever heading up along the North Shore without being able to play tourist even a little bit. I thought it was going to be hard to do, but with everything in two shades of gray on the way up, and one shade of gray on the way down, and only rare glimpses of lake, it wasn’t hard at all. Only knowing what would have been there to be seen on another day made it feel at all wistful. But I was too busy.

Coming into Two Harbors, my voicemail alert chimed. One from Steve with directions, sounded easy. One from Mary Jo saying she was leaving for the day, but she estimated where I was and when I should hit Duluth. She’d call in an hour or so and see how it went. She was taking my phone number home with her. She by now had invested enough time and energy in this run that she wanted to see it through.

About 4:00 I was just hitting Duluth when I got a call from a Chrissy who was with... well, nevermind. I have no idea how that company got involved in all this, but there she was. She reiterated the importance of the package, citing the old “patient on the table” phrase, and mentioning how these papers were needed before surgery could take place.  (So, Dr. M is a surgeon, eh. Could I really believe any surgeon would be stupid enough to start surgery when whatever these papers were hadn’t been accounted for yet? I thought not.) I was to stop and not go to the place where the package was supposed to be. It wasn’t there. I’m not sure how it got tracked to that address, but maybe the label came out of there or something. That’s just my guess. She didn’t speculate.

Where the package really was was on a UPS truck enroute to Duluth. It had been in Grand Marais all the time. When Mr. X had brought it "down to UPS", the number tracked to that storefront but the package was in a UPS drop box in Grand Marais all the time! “Down” apparently meant “down the hill 3 blocks” and nobody clarified with Mr. X. Chrissy could not get anybody to tell her when or where exactly it was going to be dropped in Duluth, but when she got the info, she’d let me know. She also needed my full name (to authorize me to get it, I later found out), and gave me the tracking number and a promise of more info.

I was now fully stopped in Duluth, partly with nowhere to go, partly having a need to write down a whole lot of information. I also had a need to call Greg urgently, to catch him before he left for the day since he was the only one who really knew, much as anybody knew, what I was doing. It was after 4:00, and I didn’t know  his schedule. After filling him in and giving him Chrissy’s number, he promised to call me “right back.”

I should have known better, right? I later found out there was a major conference call going on. Just then I was waiting, pen poised over paper, ready to write down whatever new information was going my way. Eventually I got tired of that, took advantage of my location at a gas station to put enough gas in the tank to get me home to cheaper prices, and use the facilities.

I was just finishing up all that when Chrissy pocket dialed me. I guess I said hello loudly and often enough that she finally answered her own phone and gave me some more information. The package was going in to the UPS hub, way down on Port Terminal Drive, located just where you’d think it sounds like it is. Think sea port, not air. It might or might not be there in time to grab it and get it up the hill to the UPS Store before they lock up exactly at 7:00 sharp, no exceptions, no how.

And could she give my cell number to Dr. M? Sure, if I could have his, in case of needing to make decisions after 7:00, our pumpkin time too.

After getting that address, it was time to call dispatch to give them corrected information. It seems this run had become quite the conversation piece, especially as people in the know left for the day and had to pass info on.

Dr. M called, verifying what I was doing and knew/didn’t know by this time. I got his email address in case nobody at the drop had it - things happen - and verified with him a callback to let him know how it went. Then a call to the final stop confirmed that the two owners, who’d been working with our gaggle of people all day, had left for the day but, like us, had left instructions and my name with the night crew. Yes, they had the label.

Then Chrissy called again. She had verified (with whom?) that the truck driver was only 5 minutes away from the hub to drop the package. It was just after 5. This was going to work!

So I called Steve again, getting directions to the new hub address. While he was giving them to me, I got the incoming call beep and ignored it. At some point, guys, I actually had to get the work done! Checking voicemail, I  found   a message from Mary Jo, finally checking in. And Chrissy pocket-dialed me again. I called Mary Jo back quickly, it being a short drive to the hub.

You think it’s over, right?

Not only wasn’t the driver there, he might show up about 6:20. Chrissy’s info was about as accurate in this instance as her ability to use her phone. If he were on time, it’d be tight but still doable. Meanwhile I confirmed the tracking number and showed my driver’s license, clearing the way to pick it up when he did arrive. The crew in the hub had already been forewarned and were as helpful as possible under the circumstances.

I popped in about 6:14 just to check. Nope. Again at 6:20. New guy. Knew nothing. As I left, a truck pulling a trailer backed up to the nearest door. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if he had the Grand Marais pick up, and got lucky. Not only did he have it, he knew exactly where it was to grab. I signed it out, ran it up the hill, made sure it got scanned and emailed ( they needed the address, lucky I had it) and sent off.

Then I started down the list of callbacks to everybody who needed to know it was finally over. 11 1/2 hours of my time on the run, 10 minutes in my possession. Gotta be some kind of record. Pays worth three very good “normal” days. Plus a story to tell.


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