In May or June 2020, amidst the pandemic’s awful first wave, I had an inquiry from an Australian living in the Netherlands and working in Saudi Arabia. He had a very nice early-’70s BMW 2002 with original headlamps in badly degraded condition. Wanted much better seeing at night, better than could be had with his original European headlamps restored to perfection.
From 1940 to 1983 all vehicles sold in the U.S. had to use sealed beam headlamps of specified size and shape. The standard size and large installed base (many vehicles over many years) means there are now headlamps available in those old standard sizes but with up-to-date technology and performance, for drop-in upgrades on older vehicles. Even if we ignore the giant amount of fraudulent junk, there’s actually never been a better time to be in the market for good headlamps in the old sealed beam sizes. No such standard-lamps law existed elsewhere in the world, so whatever the car came with is what it’s stuck with forever. The solution for this guy’s Bimmer, as for the Mercedes in Thailand, would be to install the U.S. headlamp mount-aim fixtures and put in some up-to-date standard-size headlamps.
I explained all of this to the customer, and he was onside. I could provide the headlamps and hookup components, but not the fixtures. I spotted a set of the fixtures on Fleabay, new-never-used, and pointed him at them, figuring I’d do him a good deed rather than pouncing on the auction just to turn around and mark the items up. The seller wouldn’t ship outside the States, and there were a few ancillary items he wanted for the install from Amazon, so I did another good deed: I agreed to receive the eBay and Amazon items, consolidate all the parts, and send them all to him in one box.
That’s not the only time I’ve done this same good deed. I’ve had it work out perfectly well for some customers deeply grateful for my logistical assistance, but things were a little rockier with a crazy dude in Switzerland who needed a bunch of parts to restore his ’89 Chrysler Voyager, and that sort of went sideways, too. Remember what they say about good deeds? Memo to self: stop doing that!
By and by, everything was in hand: new U.S. fixtures, the good headlamps, the hookup components, assorted other items. The box got sent out about 10 June from Michigan, and I sent the customer the tracking number. The next day came his first email demanding to know why he hadn’t received the package and what I’m doing about it. I gently reminded him that transport takes time.
On 16 June, USPS tracking info said Departed Chicago international facility en route to destination. The tracking info stopped changing at that point; it stayed the same for days and weeks. That happens sometimes, even when everything’s running normally (no pandemics or deliberate legislative attempts to destroy the US Postal Service, etc).
I calmly informed the customer every time he wrote—which was often—that I would do and was doing everything possible to figure out what’s up and get the situation straightened out as necessary. Again and again I patiently explained that the Postal Service has a certain number of days that must elapse before they will initiate an investigation, and that I would be opening an investigation as soon as possible. He kept on writing back and accusing me of dragging my feet and doing nothing, etc.
The first day the USPS would open an inquiry, I did so, then immediately wrote to the customer to share the info with him: USPS will do their own investigation to see if the package can be found here, see if there’s evidence it might have left the US without getting the scan it was supposed to get, etc. They’ll also notify the postal people in the destination country of the Netherlands who will do their own investigation. All of this will take not less than 33 days. If the package is found during the investigation, it will be sent along to the addressee (that’s him!). If not, then it’ll come time to fill out insurance claim forms, etc.
Customer accused me of stealing his money and his parts. Made weird and unrealistic demands, phrased in ways that made me feel less coöperative: I shouldn’t have to wait! You know the right thing to do is to refund me in full and then if the parcel is found and reaches me I’ll send it back to you as I no longer have any desire to receive a parcel from you, but of course you won’t do the right thing!
I kept about 98 per cent of my cool and informed him that we’d be doing this by the book: we’d let the postal services do their investigations and go forward from there. I reminded him, as the USPS rep reminded me, that everything was taking longer than usual on account of Covid, and some usually-air shipments were going by sea instead, etc.
In return I got more vitriolic bilge, and a new accusation that I was using Covid as a dumb excuse. So I was down to about 97 per cent of my cool; I told him “With all due respect: don’t be an arsehole. Breathe. Be patient. Be grateful for life’s gifts. Understand that this will get resolved, just not as quickly as either of us would like.”
He came back with Arsehole, really!! Wow, a new low of customer service from you. Well done, showing your true self and level of business acumen. I’ll be sharing your email with every single person I know in the classic car world. No need to contact me again by email, I look forward to meeting you in person.
So this was some kind of silly…threat? He’s gonna what, hop on a plane, fly over the ocean, declare his travel essential to bust through the Covid border closure, find me, and give me what-for?
(Every once in awhile over the decades I’ve been slinging headlamps, I’ve had some dillweed threaten to tell everyone to avoid me because I won’t sell them blue headlight bulbs or HID kits or bogus LEDs, won’t provide components I know will be used with an unsafe lighting system, etc. I encourage them to please do so, because it keeps away timewasters and brings a nice flurry of BS-avoidant people. If any such smear campaigns have been tried, they haven’t worked; as I’ve already complained, I’m still slinging headlamps.)
That brings us to 7 August. On 8 August I got the news from USPS that the parcel had been delivered. Not lost, or stolen, or strayed; it just took some extra time because pandemic.
So I sent customer “Well, lookit there—success! All that took was some extra patience; your parcel was delivered today. Enjoy. Drive safely. Smile! (And maybe work on being a little less quick to assume bad faith, eh?) Cheers!”
He didn’t try to undo his payment or anything, so I assume onehow or another he wound up happy with the contents of the box. Never did hear from him again.