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Is It Here Yet?

Oct. 10, 2009

Six to eight weeks. If I remember correctly, that’s the amount of time it took for your item to arrive at your house. In the mail.

I’m talking, of course, about the things you used to send away for on the back of the cereal box.

You had to send $2.95 and 8 box tops and the form on the back of the box to some place in Michigan, or wherever the big cereal companies were located.

If you wanted to enter a contest, the fine print said that if you didn’t have an official entry form then you could use a 3x5 index card and print your name and address on that.

But the fine print on the cereal box, and believe me, I was a fine print cereal box reader, said it would take 6 to 8 weeks of delivery.

If you calculate the amount of time it took you to eat all of the cereal to get enough box tops, and then added 6 to 8 weeks to that, plus the time of mail travel to and from each post office, you’re probably looking at 25 weeks to get your prize, and that’s like half a year.

So the time estimate on the cereal box teased you that it would only take six to eight weeks, but of course, when you were actually reading the box of cereal, this was in all likelihood the first box of cereal you had of that kind of cereal, and then you had to eat eight more boxes. And that required eight more trips to the store with your mom, and then it required for you to actually be there with her and actually remember what kind of cereal you wanted, and then you have to pick that exact cereal out EVERY SINGLE TIME. FOR EIGHT WEEKS OR MORE. AND THAT’S IF YOU EVEN COULD FINISH THE FIRST BOX OF CEREAL THAT WEEK IN THE FIRST PLACE.

IT’S A WONDER ANY CHILD AT ALL GOT HIS/HER PRIZE.

Whew. But when that prize did arrive, oh, what a day that was. I still to this day remember something about one of the packages – the small brown paper-wrapped box with treasure inside. What was it, you ask? Can’t remember. It had something to do with going outside with a rubber band /water balloon-propelled gizmo that you shot up into the air and then a parachute opened and floated some type of action-hero figure back down to earth.

I think it worked once and then the cat pounced on it and we never saw it again.

Today, the internet has kind of become the back of the cereal box. Think of each web page as the back of the box advertising a product. The other day I was checking out the web site of a favorite band, and noticed that there was an archival video out from a German TV performance from 1965.

I checked out the ol' eBay and found that the video was going for less than $10 (there’s only 7 or 8 songs) so I thought OK, we’ll try that.

But ordering things today is much different than the days of box tops and official order forms. Today, in the fast-paced internet world, you spend all of your time on e-mail before anything actually gets placed in the regular mail.

E-mails about 1) placing your order 2) confirming your order 3) confirming your payment 4) revising your shipping options 5) shipping your items 6) tracking your items 7) confirming that the seller received your order 8) confirming that the seller asked you to pay for the order even though you already paid for the item and the money is already deducted from your account (don’t forget about that e-mail) 9) confirming that your item has been not backordered and/or has in fact been shipped. 10) follow-up e-mail confirming that you did receive your item and to leave feedback for the item that we sent.

And let's not even get into the number of e-mails you need if god-forbid you have to actually return something.

So I bought the $8 music video, and the seller advertised free shipping. I thought that was pretty good. But if you weren’t careful, you could easily select “Next 5-minute shipping with “Insurance” (Insurance for an $8 item??) that would only cost $29.95. All of those check boxes were conveniently automatically checked, by the way.

I calculate by the time I get done reading and/or responding to all of my e-mails, and of course factoring in the next time I’ll be able to actually go to my PO Box and find the yellow card telling me that I have a package – and then adding the time it’s going to take to actually get to the PO when the counter is open (and the counter is not open on Saturdays, you know….) it’s going to be 6 to 8 weeks before I see my music.

But I shouldn’t feel bad. The other day, I spotted a cereal box back in the lunchroom. There’s a huge offer for free DVDs if you collect 47 tokens and 18 box tops. And, the wait time is only 90 days, from the day they receive the order.

If I start collecting now, I can watch those movies right after my music video.

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