In order for JYA to make video episodes; I have to send video from India to New York. NBC pays to do that via FedEx and DHL. After a three-day fiasco with the FedEx office in Pune when I tried to mail in episode two, I decided to go with DHL. It worked out fine, they even came directly to the hotel to pick it up, despite the fact that NBC had given me the number for an office in Mumbai rather than Pune.
By today, I have episode 3 wrapped up and ready to roll. And this time; I figured I'd save some time a trouble by calling the Pune office directly instead.
Here's what happened:
I look up the Pune DHL office on their website and get not one, but two phone numbers. I go to the hotel front desk and ask if they will call DHL for me. The front desk tells me to go call from my room. Our program administrators have given us some very basic instructions regarding smart conduct here. One of them is do not call out from your hotel room. The hotel apparently charges exorbitant fees for outgoing phone calls, including toll-free numbers.
So I grab my stuff and head out to an STD booth instead--
--quick clarification: STD stands for Subscriber Trunk Dialing. It's a telephone service. It has absolutely nothing to do with venereal diseases; I am not trying to contact DHL by contracting herpes, I'm trying to make a phone call. STD/ISD/PCO booths are usually quick, cheap and easy ways to make calls.
--anyway, I go to the booth and ask to make a local phone call. The guy behind the counter checks my one rupee coin and passes over the phone. I dial the first number.
There was a beep. A pause. Another beep.
“Hello! Please check the number you have dialed!”
I try again. And again. I try the second number. Same result. I hand the phone to the guy behind the counter (henceforth to be known as Phone-man). He tries both numbers. No luck. He pulls out a second phone. Still no luck.
I spot two phone books on the counter and flip through them looking for DHL. The first one didn't have anything under 'package', 'mail', 'delivery', or 'courier', but the second one had a toll-free number in the first section I tried. I pointed it out, Phone-man dialed, and handed me the receiver.
The person on the other side couldn't quite understand my American accent. I was halfway through explaining to him that my name was Joel and the company's name was NBC and not the other way around when I heard five beeps. Then nothing.
I told Phone-man what happened, and he dialed again. This time I got a woman who understood my accent perfectly. It wasn't until I was spelling out the street address that I heard the five beeps. I looked up.
“Why does it keep cutting me off?”
“Toll free number sir” Phone-man replied, as if that explained everything.
“What? Does STD not work with toll-free numbers?”
He didn't answer or even seem to understand that I had just asked him a question. He dialed the number a third time and handed me the receiver once more.
This time, instead of trying to arrange a pickup from my hotel, I asked for the number of the Pune DHL office. They asked why I wanted it. I told them I had a package to be delivered. They asked what it was and where it was going. I said I just wanted the number for the Pune office so I could tell them that information. They asked for my account number. I repeated that I wanted the Pune phone number first. They said they couldn't do that. I asked why not.
Since I did not own the phone myself I did not violently slam it down on the cradle. Instead I gently put it down and looked up at Phone-man. I asked him again why the toll-free number kept getting cut off. He said they are cutting it off from their end. “They is paying for it, sir. It is not cheap. The time is limited.” Then he reached for the phone directory again.
After about five minutes of more searching, he called what must have been an information line and asked, in Marathi, for the number of DHL. There was a long pause. He said “hello”. Another long pause. He tried again, “hello?” After the third time, he hung up and dialed information again. This time he grabbed an envelope and a pen and wrote down a number. He hung up and dialed it. Then he hung up again.
“Out of service.”
He called information again, and got a completely different number. He tried that. It was disconnected. He called information, started writing down the first number, then said in Marathi that he'd already gotten that number and it didn't work. A pause. He writes down a third, brand-new number and tries it. He hangs up, and says it doesn't work either. He calls information again. He gets yet another new phone number and tries it. He waits, hangs up, and hits the redial button. Then he does it again. And again. He does this three more times before finally hanging up, turning the envelope 90 degrees and rewriting every faulty phone number he has gotten so far in a list. He dials information yet again. He then rejects two numbers, and writes down a brand new number. He hangs up and dials it.
When he said hello and handed me the receiver, you could've knocked me over with a feather.
“Yes this is DHL please? How can I help you please?”
A big grin spread across my face. Finally!
“I'd like to arrange a pickup for a package to the US.”
“Ah for that you will please call our toll-free number; we do not arrange pickups at this office.”
That wiped the grin off my face in short order.
“You will be please calling our toll free number.”
“I can't do that, it keeps cutting me off.”
“Where are you calling from please?”
“I'm at an STD booth.”
“Ah then you will be please calling this toll-free number,” He gave me a completely different number, said 'please' about five more times in as many seconds and then 'thank you', 'goodbye' and hung up.
I handed the number to Phone-man. He looked at it. “This is not toll free number. This is in Mumbai.”
I stared at him blankly. “You would like to call?” he asked.
I paused, shook my head, got out the very first number in Mumbai that I had gotten from NBC, and dialed that instead.
The pickup was arranged within minutes. I thanked Phone-man profusely, paid for the call, and went back to my hotel. DHL was there in half an hour, and took the package without a hitch.
So the moral of the story is: the next time you are in a web-based reality TV show with a major broadcasting network, and the show involves travel, and you are getting the raw footage yourself, and you have to send in tapes from India to New York, and the broadcasting company gives you a number for a courier service they can pay for, and it happens to be an office located in another city...
...do yourself a favor and just call the number anyway.