I’m going to relate a little tale of delivery woe—a tale that has (apparently) reached a happy ending, but one that shows just how exasperating it can be to deal with a poor delivery company.

My free iPod, which you’ve read about if you’re been reading this journal much at all, eventually developed a fault in the earphone jack. The plug wouldn’t stay in well, and music developed a distinctly tinny sound. Fortunately, Apple has very good warranty coverage, so I requested a RMA, and back it went. I was even able to get DHL to pick it up at my place of work—at that point, I was impressed at their willingness to alter their delivery route to pick it up. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been.

All went well…until it came time for Apple to send it back. Wednesday I got home to find a notice on my door that DHL had attempted to deliver the package while I was away. Well, that was no problem, thought I. The notice said they’d attempt to redeliver. So I arranged with my neighbors to take delivery of the package while I was away. Then I called the delivery company to see where their pickup center was, just in case it was somewhere I could easily get (it wasn’t) and to make sure it would be OK to have a neighbor accept it.

This was where I got my first intimation that something was not quite right. If this were a horror movie, you would hear the first ominous musical sting. The DHL person mentioned an address that I had never heard of—somewhere out on the west side of town. I said, “No, no, that’s not me. Redeliver it here, tomorrow—I’ll sign the form and have my neighbor pick it up.” And they said that would be OK.

Yesterday (Thursday) went by, and there was no package. So I called this morning to find out what had happened. Yes, that’s right, you guessed it—the delivery company had delivered to that strange address. So I asked them what the heck they were thinking and where that address had come from. Subsequently, they revealed that when the delivery attempt had failed, instead of attempting redelivery the next day like their delivery notice said they would, they looked up “Chris Meadows” in the phone book, called that number, and arranged to deliver there—regardless of the fact that it was a completely different address from what was shown on the package. The name matched, so that was apparently all they cared about.

I, of course, am not even in the phone book, as my sole audio telecommunication device is a cellphone.

The DHL folks gave me the number of this ersatz Chris Meadows, so I called them up. It was a bit weird to say, “Hello, is Chris Meadows there?” when I knew for a fact that I was right here; it was even weirder when the woman who answered the phone said it was her (being male, myself). They were going out of town this weekend, so the upshot was that I arranged to pick up the package from them sometime on Monday. DHL offered to send their driver back by to collect it, but the last thing I wanted was to let them get their hands on my iPod again. It would have been nice to have the iPod for use this weekend when I’m going to be locked into a dormitory to participate in a medical study, but at this point I’m just happy to know that it’s safe.

The blame is partly Apple’s, of course, for not including my phone number (which I gave them as part of the RMA request) with the return shipping information so that DHL could get in touch with me when the delivery failed. Perhaps some of the blame could even be assigned to my poor confused namesake for accepting delivery of the package when she had no idea what it was. But I would be most inclined to blame DHL, who will apparently deliver to anyone in sight rather than reattempt delivery to the same address twice in a row.

This is not the first time people close to me have had issues with DHL. A friend who was sending a laptop back to Apple for servicing a couple weeks ago found, on checking with the computer store that was supposed to be shipping it back, that the computer had not actually been picked up by DHL after several days. Apparently the computer store and DHL blamed each other for this oversight; in the end, my friend went back down to the store to make sure with his own eyes that the box was picked up by DHL (and that the box that was picked up actually had his computer in it). Of course, that could have been the computer store’s fault just as much as DHL’s…but after my own experience I’m inclined to wonder.

And my father, who used to run a mail-order business out of a workshop building adjunct to our family’s rural home, told how Airborne Express (DHL in its previous life—in fact, the delivery notice on my door still said Airborne Express on it) was the one delivery company whose drivers never could manage to find him, despite his clear directions. Neither UPS nor FedEx ever had a problem finding the place, but Dad tells stories of the Airborne Express van cruising past several times, oblivious to all his attempts to flag it down.

Although this particular story seems to have turned out all right, I can’t advise using DHL shipment for anything important—if your name is “John Smith,” God only knows who’ll end up with your package. Of course, if you’re returning an Apple product, you’re not going to have much choice.