Friday Rant: Home Delivery Dystopia – My Own Nightmare on Elm Street

home delivery

First of all, full disclosure: I do actually live on Elm Street in what is, for the most part, a small, sleepy town in Northern California. But in recent months I have noted a disturbing phenomenon: the increasing number of delivery people bringing packages of all sizes to different addresses along the street. It did not take long to determine that these packages were coming from online retailers like Amazon, and judging from their appearances, contained a range of different items, most likely one per box, wrapped in a large amount of (not environmentally friendly) packing materials.

Online retail purchasing of just about anything and delivery of the purchase to residences, sometime “same day,” have created an unprecedented influx of delivery vehicles – Fedex, UPS, OnTrac, USPS, Google Express, AmazonFresh and other branded vehicles as well as unmarked ones.

On an average day, there are at least a few instances where such vehicles are stopped in the street, clustered together, so that no traffic can move through. In the meantime, delivery people, often 2 per vehicle, are scurrying about delivering their packages, calling on phones to try to access buildings, leaving official sticky notes to let purchasers know they had been there and left, without delivering the package.                                                                                                                                  

By the end of an average day, the foyer of my building is typically strewn with 6 to 8 different packages and at least 4 of those official sticky notes posted outside on the glass doors. (Invariably, 2 of them blow away.) Quite recently, on a very hot afternoon, I was astounded to look down on the ground and see in the shade a blue box from Blue Apron, which, as noted on the box, contained perishable items and should be kept cool. I had heard of Blue Apron, but had to Google it to see that it actually delivered fresh staple food items to one’s doorstep once a week – something that struck me, a baby boomer, not a millennial, as a bit odd and a little bit questionable.

home delivery

This experience made me think about my friend in San Francisco who had just gotten a new puppy for his kids. Being inexperienced with puppies, he found that he needed “puppy pads” fast. He checked Costco and then Amazon online, found that the same puppy pads were much cheaper at Amazon and came with same day delivery. Within hours, the puppy pads arrived delivered by an Uber driver! I guess it turned out to be a happy story. All of this stuff must be good – and so efficient – though maybe not environmentally optimal.

Now, back to Elm Street and my own nightmare. I walk my dog very late at night (after dark) and very early in the morning (just before dawn). The other night, I was walking and saw an old, battered, unmarked van park across the street, and in the shadows a large man wearing a tee shirt and holding a large heavy box on his shoulder crossed the street. Our paths crossed in the shadows. I said hello, but he said nothing and just walked on zomby-like to his drop-off point on Elm Street.

This experience stuck with me through the night, and in pre-dawn hours of the morning, I walked my dog again. After walking a while, I heard a noise and saw a heavy-set man come out of his apartment building wearing a FedEx Uniform (purple shirt, blue shorts). He approached his car and stretched his arms upward with a yawn and then got into his car, emitting the most unearthly groaning sound I had ever heard. Clearly, another day of deliveries was starting.

I found myself thinking about our new consumer culture, especially what it entailed, downstream, in the “last mile.”  I also wondered about the inefficiency of all of these delivery people covering the same territory. Finally, I wondered about all of these delivery people – who they were, what they were paid, how they made ends meet and what would come of them.

Sum it all up, and there you have my own Nightmare on Elm Street.

Voices (2)

  1. Helen Lumb:

    Ah, delivery dystopia I know it well. As a home worker the increase in vans creeping up and down the street has become the bane of my working day. No longer just knowing when the post will fall on the mat and cause a slight disturbance but now never a dull moment as delivery driver after another will ring the doorbell to find an address because they found someone in!

    1. Andrew Karpie:

      Helen, Good to see I am not alone and it’s all not just a figment of my imagination! 🙂

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