I bought myself a new camera lens for my birthday. I ordered it from a reputable camera dealer that I have done business with for a few years now, so I was confident that there would be no problems with the purchase. While shipping was free on this particular order, I had the option of upgrading to a quicker delivery. I chose two-day UPS for a very nominal fee and sure enough, the lens was delivered right on time. The time from ordering on-line to delivery was just over 48 hours and that all happened in the midst of the worst blizzard we’ve had in thirty years (fifty if you believe some of the weather folks who like to be as dramatic as possible)!
Nowadays, one can even track a package on-line to see its almost-hourly progress from warehouse to front door. It’s fun to see how a package gets from point A to point B. I ordered a battery grip for my camera a while back from Amazon. The package originated at Amazon’s warehouse in Coffeeville, KS, 169 miles south of where I live. It was then sent Tulsa, OK, 74 miles south of Coffeeville for processing. From Tulsa, it made its way to Oklahoma City, 104 miles farther south. It then was flown to Lenexa, KS where it was put on a truck and delivered to my door. While it started out only 169 miles away, it traveled 257 miles to get to my house! But it did it on time, so I’m not complaining.
This whole process started me remembering what it was like in the “good old days” when my mother would order something for me from the Montgomery Ward catalog. Now, I have to say that my decision-making process hasn’t change a whole lot in fifty years. It usually takes me weeks, if not months, to make up my mind to actually buy something I want. I know that sometimes it seems like a snap decision, but it’s like the story of the artist who was asked by the King to paint a picture for him. After they had talked for a while, the artist agreed to paint the picture and the King agreed to pay the artist 1000 sovereigns. A week later, the King stopped by to see the progress on the picture. The artist hadn’t painted a stroke; the King was a little peeved, but he left and said he’d be back later. As it happened, the King started a war with a neighbor and didn’t get around to visiting the artist for a year, but one day, he stopped by the artist’s studio to pick up his picture. This time he was really peeved to find that the artist still hadn’t begun the painting. The artist realized that he was in danger of losing his head, so he picked up his paint brush and got furiously to work. In fifteen minutes, he was finished with a magnificent picture of the King heroically riding into battle on his brilliant white horse. The King was flabbergasted. “You expect me to pay you 1000 sovereigns for a picture you only took fifteen minutes to paint?” The artist, summoning all his courage and ego, replied, “Well, it only took me fifteen minutes to paint, but I’ve been thinking about it for over a year!”
Now, back when I was a kid, buying something from the catalog was a big, big deal. We usually got three catalogs a year: spring, fall and Christmas. The spring and fall catalogs were huge, with hundreds of pages of useless stuff like clothes and shoes and appliances, but there was always a big section with toys and sporting equipment. The Christmas catalog was mainly for kids and it was just full of exotic things you couldn’t get in the local dime store. So the process went like this: for weeks before Christmas, let’s say, you’d pour over the catalog, trying to pick out just the thing that was sure to make your life complete. I learned after a couple of years, that this process had multiple iterations. First, you’d pick out about a dozen things you really couldn’t live without; then you found out that you could have maybe one of those things. The next thing you picked was always too expensive, so you’d settle on something that was acceptable, but not really your first choice.
The next step was for your mother or father to fill out the order form, write a check, put it in an envelope and mail it off. Then the waiting began. Some mysterious process began at this point in some far-off galaxy where the order would be received. These days, order-filling is mainly done by computers, but way back in the fifties, some real person had to take the order form and go to the warehouse, find the rack where your item was located, take it back to shipping and send it on its way. All of this might take days to accomplish depending on how fast the order-filler walked and how big the warehouse was! In addition, the check had to clear the bank, so that might take another week or more. The wait for a package to arrive was interminable. You would rush home from school every day, expecting your newest life-changing baseball glove or model airplane to be sitting on the kitchen table and be inconsolably disappointed when it wasn’t there. Eventually, though the baseball glove or model airplane would show up and it would be a joyous day. Except when the package was crushed, as it often was, and your treasure had to be sent back to Montgomery Wards for a replacement; then the whole thing would start all over again!
These days, the anticipation can be compressed into just a couple of days, or even overnight, if you are really anxious to get that new camera lens.
Now, where is that baseball glove I ordered?