Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mr. Federal X. Press, Esquire

Yesterday, I went to my neighborhood FedEx-Kinko’s hybrid to send a package of materials to a client. The assistant manager, a guy with an art-school necktie and long black hair tidily knotted into a bun, helped me. He was the very epitome of professionalism and efficiency. He weighed my envelope and found that I’d exceeded the envelope weight limit, but assured me that that was “easily remedied” and slipped the envelope into a larger envelope with a flourish.

He then asked me if I had any questions. I’ve sent about a million FedEx packages in my life, but one thing I’ve always wondered about was the “declared value” section of the airbill. I’m always sending bits of paper here, there, and everywhere that represent many hours of work. To the unschooled eye, however, they would seem to have no value. For “declared value” I’d like to give the fee I’m charging my client, but I’ve always suspected that the transport companies would have a bit of a quibble with that, so I never know what to put down. I decided that if anyone would know the ins and outs of “declared value” it would be this guy, so I asked him about it. He said that the value of my package would be the value of the paper—so in other words, about 75 cents. I felt strangely bummed out to learn that.

Being the kind of person I am, I for some reason had to relay to him an abbreviated account of my harrowing ordeal with DH(HEL)L (AKA Destroyed, Hidden, or Lost) , which lost one of my packages, quickly following up by saying I’d never had any problems like that with FedEx. Without a moment’s pause he said in all sincerity, “Well, you certainly chose the right carrier this time.” Wow. You just don’t encounter that kind of company loyalty these days.

I was quite bowled over. I looked him straight in the eye to see if he was having me on, but there was no sign of any nudge, nudge, wink, winking. He was perfectly serious. I was so stunned, I laughed. I think I must have repeated the fact that I was quite happy with FedEx’s service, because he wrapped up the transaction with something along the lines of, “We’ll try to keep it that way. Thanks for choosing FedEx.”

Yeah, I know, lots of service-oriented businesses train their staff to say stuff like that, but I really got the feeling he meant it. He takes pride in his work. And, weirdly, I came out of the FedEx-Kinko hybrid feeling good about my choice to use FedEx. Isn’t that kind of fucked up? Or at least a little bit 1984ish?

The prehybridization Kinko’s (Kinko'ses? how do you make it plural?) were very different places. My brother used to work at one in a suburb of Chicago. He worked the swing shift, so perhaps things were a little more, um, relaxed. Anyway, here are a few of his reminiscences, so judge for yourself whether things would have been different if Mr. Federal X. Press, Esquire had been my brother’s boss.
  • The manager at my brother’s store was a guy named Cas, which was short for "Casanova," a nickname he invented for himself and which he insisted everyone use.
  • One employee showed up one night dressed in a gold lamé jumpsuit with a bullet belt. To give Cas his due, he sent the employee home to change.
  • Another employee was always accepting poorly counterfeited twenty-dollar bills. After one such incident, Cas became so exasperated that he snatched a sheet of photocopier paper, scrawled “$20” on it with a red Sharpie, thrust the paper into the employee’s hand, and demanded change for a twenty. (This is my personal favorite of all the Kinko's stories.)
  • My brother heard another employee answer the phone once. Apparently, the customer on the other end asked who she was speaking to and the employee got sort of flustered and said, “This is … Kinko!”
  • Employees were not allowed to make any kind of editorial changes to customers’ documents, no matter how gross the customers' errors were. As a result of this policy, my brother once found himself making several hundred copies of a document in which a woman made numerous references to her son “Brain.” Spell checker is a wondrous thing!


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