If you've ever sent or have been waiting to receive mail, you're familiar with the idea that there is something you purposely have had sent out into the world to travel a certain distance, and you really have no control over what happens next.

The great thing is there is a public service that takes care of this. What a luxury to have. The United States Postal Service has all the means necessary to take care of your package and make sure it gets to the proper destination in a crazy fast amount of time. No worries, right? Unfortunately, this reliable middle man can sometimes act as the town drunk that blacked out at the worst possible time when you needed them to come through. I have recently had such an experience.

First off, let me just say that in the limited time that I've been in Bismarck, ND, things have been pretty great! Being from the St. Louis, MO area (on the Illinois side), I'm not really sure exactly what I expected when I arrived here since I've never been, but in all honesty, Bismarck has far exceeded any sort of expectations that I previously had of what it might be like here. However, it was when I needed to send some mail back to my family that I came across a cluster of problems with the aforementioned reliable public service.

The situation went down like this:

Last Monday, June 13, I was at the post office, which was the first time I've been since being in Bismarck. I needed to send a check to my brother in East Alton, IL (about 20 minutes northeast of St. Louis), as it was to pay him back for the money he lent me to move here (if you've ever moved a distance over 1000 miles, you understand the cost). My brother (let's call him Peyton) is taking a couple vacations this summer. Peyton's a teacher/coach so you'll understand why he has the time to do so. Last week, he was going to the College World Series in Omaha, NE. Knowing this, I paid to send the check I owed him by way of 2-day shipping. They tell me that the estimated time of arrival is Wednesday, June 15. This is depicted on my receipt, along with a tracking number. One would think at this point, "Check is sent. My job is done."

Then comes Wednesday. This is the day in which Peyton is leaving to go to the College World Series. The check should be arriving just before the time when he's planning to leave. It does not. He notifies me and I check the tracking number, it says that it's in transit from Bismarck, nothing further. Peyton tells me it's no big deal and leaves for his trip. I didn't think much about this at this point, as I assumed the check would be delivered in the next day or so and he would receive the mail upon his return.

Fast-forward to the afternoon of Tuesday, June 21. Peyton has returned home and the check is not in his mail. He is furious with this and calls to notify me that he has yet to receive this mail. If you're thinking that my brother could be BS'ing me at this point, I assure you this is not the case. Peyton and I are essentially best friends. I once again check the tracking on the mail I sent back on June 13, and there has been no change from roughly the week before. It says, "In Transit..." There should probably be more emphasis on the ellipsis at the end of that sentence.

It is now Wednesday, June 22 and Peyton tells me we need to find out where this check is. He's again going on vacation to a resort in Mexico on June 27 (my brother works as hard as anyone I know, he deserves it). I call the Bismarck Post Office and they tell me that the mail I sent is no longer in Bismarck. It is now in Alton, IL (Alton is, you guessed it, just west of East Alton). I proceed to call the Alton Post Office. They have no record of the mail being sent there and assume that the Bismarck Post Office must have meant to say the East Alton Post Office. I call the East Alton Post Office and they say they have not seen such mail, but will search as they know my brother well since, being a local teacher and coach, he's relatively well known in the community. However, there's no guarantee on whether or not they'll find it by the end of the day.

Infuriated at this situation, it's now approximately 2pm, less than an hour until my live show for the day, but I decide that I need to get to the bottom of this. I make a special trip to the Bismarck Post Office and I tell them that I need to find this mail. The clerk assisting me goes to a special computer that is in a side room of some sort. Apparently the real computers that track these things are in this side room. Not the ones sitting in front of them at the counter. The clerk then comes back with a print-out showing where the mail has been scanned out and in. The only locations are in Bismarck. It has been roughly 10 days and 2 hours since I sent this piece of mail with guaranteed 2-day shipping and the piece of mail is 'somewhere' still within the city limits of Bismarck.

The mail was apparently scanned out to be shipped out, and then, for whatever reason, possibly the mail clerk doing the scanning has the work ethics and principles of postal employee Newman from the show, "Seinfeld," but the mail is immediately scanned back in to the confines of the Bismarck postal service, where it has not only stayed, but is nowhere to be found. To quote the aforementioned Newman, "I'll tell you a little secret about zip codes....they're meaningless." Apparently this seems to be true.

Oh, and on a side note, when I asked for my money back on the 2-day shipping, I was addressed by two different clerks. One clerk replied with, "I'm not authorized to complete that transaction." The other said, "2-day shipping isn't necessarily guaranteed." I'm sorry, but what exactly did I pay for when I asked for 2-day shipping? Is it like a raffle where the more tickets you buy, the better 'chance' you have of winning, even though it's not 'guaranteed' that that's the case? It seems I bought a few raffle tickets that heightened my chance of the mail making it there within the two-day window, but that did not guarantee my winnings, or in this case, my mail being delivered.

It seems that when you send mail, it's very similar to the lottery. In order to have a lottery, you need prize, chance, and consideration. It's kind of like when you send something via the United States Postal Service. There's definitely a 'chance' that your mail will get to the destination. There was 'consideration' that took place within the transaction of myself paying for the "guaranteed 2-day shipping." However, the 'prize' would be knowing that my mail was delivered to my brother, and he would be paid back for helping me move to the fantastic city I now call home. Unfortunately, this metaphorical lottery that should be known as a reliable public service has no prize and/or payout.