Any Error in Your Mailing Address Could Send Your Package to Post Office Hell

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Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM
click to enlarge What happens when you mess up your ZIP code? Things get very, very messy.
  • What happens when you mess up your ZIP code? Things get very, very messy.

Reader, beware: If you put the wrong ZIP code on a package, that simple mistake could land you in post office hell.

On Tuesday, the Weekly reported on the hellish ratings the Bell Gardens Postal Sorting Facility has earned online. But it's not just our local sorting facilities that can become virtual Bermuda triangles under the wrong circumstances, as one man's tale of dog-biscuit woe makes clear.

Here's what happened. Our friend's mom in St. Louis was trying to send him a package of homemade dog biscuits (how adorbs!) in Santa Monica. But she transposed a few numbers in the ZIP code, ending up with 94041 instead of 90401.

Never mind the fact that the address is clearly labeled "Santa Monica, CA" -- the U.S. Postal Service is now convinced the package belongs in 94041, aka Mountain View, CA. And it's all machines doing the processing.

And so on December 7, the package was processed through the Postal Service's facility in Richmond, CA, and sent to Mountain View. Fair enough.

click to enlarge screenshot_usps1.png

But here's where things get goofy. According to the package's tracking number, it was shipped out for delivery on Dec. 9, only for someone or something to realize that couldn't be right. Rather than a human reading the label and rerouting it to Santa Monica, though, it was promptly sent to the sort facility in San Francisco -- and from there, to the sort facility in Redwood City.

Then back to San Francisco.

Then back to Mountain View.

Then back to San Francisco once more, and back, again, to Mountain View.

Watching her biscuits bounce around like ping pong balls, our friend's mother visited her local post office, but they told her there was nothing she could do. The package was re-processed in Mountain View Dec. 16 -- and, again, rather than catching the error, it was sent right back to .... San Francisco.

On Dec. 17, it landed in the sorting facility there for the fourth time, for a grand total of ten different stops at sorting facilities in 17 days. That's where the trail stops, for now.

click to enlarge screenshotUSPS_2.png

But here's the crazy part: The end is not in sight.

This isn't one of those stories where the reporter calls the government agency and they set matters right -- the local guys misspoke, someone just needs to flip a switch, etc. Instead, says Richard Maher, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, there really is nothing they can do. NOTHING.

"They need another bar code," he says. "Once the wrong bar code gets on there, until it's removed or obliterated, it's just going to keep pinging back and forth."

For years on end?

"It won't go on for years," he assures us. "But at this time of year, it's hard to capture that and sit down and deal with it. Right now it's bouncing between machines. We need a person to intercept that package."

And that simply isn't happening 'til after the holidays. After all, right now the post office is processing 420 million packages nationwide, Maher tells us. In light of that volume, your silly dog biscuits don't amount to a hill of beans (which Maher did not tell us, but which any reasonable person could surmise).

It isn't just ZIP codes -- Maher says he's seen the same thing with apartment numbers. Once a package was sent on the slow boat to China and subsequently sat in Customs for days -- only for the postman to realize upon arrival that it lacked the necessary unit number. Back it went to the U.S. where it sat in Customs for weeks before making its way back to Square One.

But at least that one made it home. We suspect by the time our friend's biscuits arrive in Santa Monica, they're going to be nothing but crumbs.

Moral of the story: Doublecheck your ZIP codes. Or maybe just try UPS?

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