stuck for sticks

I needed three eight-foot-long 2x4s yesterday. I can order them on-line from the local DIY store. Makes it super easy for me to jump in the car after I’m done with my day job, run down to the store and pick them up. Takes 20 minutes, 30 tops.

So I placed an order yesterday after lunch and got an email about 15 minutes later telling me my order was ready for pickup. After I clocked out of work, I jumped in the van, drove to the store and showed the email to the gate guard so I could drive back to the lumber shed.

“You know where you’re going?” she asked me after she used her tablet to scan the bar code on my email.

“I think so,” I said.

She glanced at her tablet. “Looks like Door 6,” she said.

Well, that wasn’t right. Door 6 was one of the roller doors out the back of the store. You go to Door 6 when you’re picking up something like a power tool or a kitchen appliance. The lumber is in a big shed behind the store. So bonus points to the guard for trying to help, but I ignored what she said and drove around the back to the shed.

I found the bay where the lumber I wanted should have been. It was empty. There were two signs showing the SKU for the lumber, so I was sure I was in the right place. I thought, Hmmm, maybe the guard said Door 6 because they were going to tell me when to come back, so I drove back to the store, parked outside Door 6, and called the phone number for in-store pickup.

The person who answered the phone asked for my order number, and after I told her she said, “That’s Aisle 19.” Aisle 19 is out in the lumber shed. “So my order is ready, and it’s in Aisle 19?” I asked, just to confirm. “That’s right,” she said.

When I’m sure something is true but then somebody else says it isn’t, I tend to doubt myself. This was one of those times. I drove back to the lumber shed even though I had just been looking at an empty bay where the lumber I wanted should have been. It still wasn’t there. I slowly drove down the aisle, checking every one of the bays. Found just the one empty bay with the SKU number for that particular kind of lumber.

Drove back to the gate to leave the yard.

“Find everything you needed?” the gate guard asked me.

“Nope,” I said. “I’m going into the store to find out what’s up.”

“No?” She suddenly became very concerned. “I’m very sorry.” I’m not even sure why she cared. She didn’t work for the store, she worked for one of those 3rd-party security agencies.

“No worries,” I said, “I’m sure they’ll be able to sort it out for me inside.”

She put her tablet away. “Well, I won’t scan your ticket to close it out, then,” she said.

“Thanks, I appreciate that.”

If you place an order for lumber in person, you have to visit a desk in the store that’s about as far from the front door as it’s possible to get. There are six or eight work stations at the counter but I didn’t find anybody at them when I got there, just one guy at a desk in the back banging away at his computer keyboard, pretending he didn’t see me pacing back and forth. I gave him about ninety seconds before I waved and said, “Hiya. Are you closed?”

“Hang on, I’ll get somebody for you,” he said, then muttered something into the mic pinned to his shirt. Another guy came out of nowhere about a minute later to ask me what I needed. (Tangential note: He was one of those people who wears their mask sort of dangling off their face. The mask was too big, or too worn, or just so badly made that it loosely hung off his face around his mouth and chin. I could see his mouth when he spoke, it was that loose. If I had thought I would be talking to him for more than two minutes, I would have just walked away.)

“I ordered this online,” I said, showing him the email on my phone, “and went to the shed to get it, but the bay where it’s kept is empty.”

He looked it up on his computer. “No, it’s not empty. I’ve got 400 of those.”

“Pretty sure it’s empty.”

“It was probably stacked up top,” he said. (It wasn’t. This time I was sure enough that I didn’t doubt myself.) “I’ll get somebody to restock it,” he added, before muttering into the mic pinned to his shirt.

Well, if he’s going to get somebody to restock it, I’ll give it another shot. I left the store, climbed into the van, and drove around to the gate to show my email to the gate guard.

“All cleared up?” she asked me.

I shrugged. “We’ll see.”

On my way back out to the shed, I spotted a forklift leaving Aisle 19 at high speed, so I felt some small ray of hope that maybe the lumber I needed would be there. But no. The bay was just as empty as it was before.

I parked the van and walked over to the next aisle to find the guy on the forklift. Wasn’t there, so I walked to the next aisle. Ah, there he is. He kept on stacking rolls of insulation as I walked toward him, pretending not to see me just like the guy inside the store. Must be a thing they learn during training. “Excuse me,” I called, when I was within hailing distance, “I’m looking for some 2x4s but the bay is empty, and when I told the guy inside he said somebody out here would refill it.”

He fixed his eyes on a spot somewhere about 400 yards behind me, just over my left shoulder. “Yeah, no, I looked for more but we don’t have any.”

“Really? Your guy on the inside said you had 400 of them.”

He shrugged, still not making eye contact. “Inventory’s wrong. There aren’t any. I looked.”

This guy obviously wasn’t going to help me. “Okay. Thanks.”

Back to the van. Back to the gate.

“Still not there,” I said to the guard, “so please don’t close my ticket.” She didn’t.

Back into the store, all the way to the desk in the back. There were three or four employees milling around this time, none of them the guys I saw before, so I snagged the first guy I saw.

“Hi, I ordered this online,” I said, showing him the email on my phone.

He cut me off: “Oh, you want to go to Door 6 to pick that up.”

“Hang on, let me finish my story,” I said. “I ordered this online, went out back to pick it up, found out the bay where they’re kept is empty. Spoke to a guy at this desk, who’s not here now, who said he would get it restocked, but a guy in the lumber shed told me he can’t restock it because the inventory’s wrong and there aren’t any more.”

“Oh, well, he should have cut some for you, then.”

“Okay, well, when should I come to pick it up?”

“You’ll have to pick it up from Door 6.”

“Okay. When?”

“I mean, do you need it today?”

“Whenever. Please just tell me when to come get it.”

“Tell you what, come with me and we’ll sort it out.”

I followed this guy to what turned out to be the rooms behind Door 6, where my guy told some mouth-breathing half-awake zombie what I needed. In response, the zombie shrugged and said he didn’t have my order. I think my guy expected zombie guy to do something to help, but zombie guy shuffled away without saying anything more.

My guy gave me a helpless look. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Well,” I said, “when you figure it out, would you please call me and tell me when I can pick up my order? That’s all I want.”

“Tell you what, wait here and I’ll get it. What did you need again?”

I showed him my phone with the email. He snapped a photo of it with his phone, then said, “Be right back.”

I waited outside Door 6 because my van was nice and warm, the radio played tunes that weren’t “SAVE BIG MONEY, YOU’LL SAVE BIG MONEY,” and because it wasn’t full of people wearing their masks over their mouths instead of their noses.

I’ve got to give my guy the credit he deserves: He went out to the lumber shed, picked out three straight pieces of 2×4 lumber and cut them to the length I wanted, then brought them to my van on a hand cart. All in about 15 minutes. He must have run all the way to the shed, too, because it’s not very close to the store.

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