Mackey Wright was on his way to Toys R Us on County Line Road, where he planned to shop for a Christmas present for his son, when he saw something in the road that didn't belong there—a FedEx package.
Ripped open. Pages fluttering in the wind. The package was hit repeatedly by passing cars and trucks that left greasy black tire marks on the battered envelope. Wright pulled off the road and ran out into traffic to rescue the forlorn package, gathering up pages to stuff back into the envelope.
It was almost midnight when my telephone rang.
Awakened from a deep sleep, I grappled to find the telephone in the dark.
The voice at the other end was not familiar: "I have a package that belongs to you."
Thinking the call was from an overnight courier, I turned on the light and glanced at the clock, still groggy with sleep. "Can't you deliver it tomorrow? Are you with FedEx?" I was thinking, "Damn, those FedEx guys never sleep!" It used to be "positively overnight." Now it's "in the middle of the night."
"You don't understand—I found the package in the street."
That bolted me upright.
In addition to writing this column, I represent other authors as a literary agent. That morning I'd dropped off a book-length manuscript at the FedEx/Kinko's location on County Line Road. Reality was setting in.
My heart beating a tad faster, I asked, "Does it have FedEx markings on it?"
I paused to ponder my options.
"Can I have your telephone number so that I can pick it up from you tomorrow?"
"I'll text it to you."
The next morning, I called the author of the book and told her what'd happened. There was a sigh and a long pause. Writers have nightmares like everyone else, but one recurring nightmare that all writers have is that something bad will happen to their manuscript. I assured her that her manuscript would be in my hands within an hour or two, thanks to a Good Samaritan.
I called Wright and made arrangements to meet him at Northpark Mall, where he works part-time at Belk's. On the way to the shopping mall, I wondered what kind of person would find a package in the road and call the owner. Not many people would do that.
Wright met me at the door. He's African American. Stocky build. Probably in his 20s. We went to his car to retrieve my package.
I asked, "Why'd you do it?"
He said he felt sorry for the package. "Cars were passing over it. Papers were flopping in the wind. If it was being shipped FedEx, I knew it was important to someone."
Luckily, my telephone number was inside the package.
The more I talked to Wright, the more insightful the story became. It turns out that he was homeless for a time. One of those guys that society gives up on. But no matter how rough things got, Wright didn't give up on himself. He pulled himself out of homelessness and enrolled at Jackson State University, where he received a degree in social work. Today he is on the scholarship committee of the Mississippi Conference on Social Welfare.
Mississippi needs more Mackey Wrights.
As soon as I returned home, I called Federal Express at their headquarters in Memphis to find out how it was possible for my package to end up on the street. I spoke to Carmen Echols, executive assistant to FedEx CEO Fred Smith. She promised a full investigation. Obviously disturbed by my holiday tidings, she found my experience "very alarming. ... We want to get to the bottom of it," she said.
When she called me back, she explained that she'd spoken to the terminal manager in Jackson, who located the driver. "It was human error," Echols explained. "We are taking steps that it doesn't happen again. Our terminal managers will go over procedures with the drivers so that everyone makes certain that the doors are secure and packages are properly stacked inside the truck."
I figured Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx, would take action once he knew about it. During my stint as an editorial writer at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, I found Smith to be a standup guy. Despite his conservative, Republican image, the Marks, Miss., native has a rock 'n' roll streak in him that I admire. It's not generally known, but while attending high school in Memphis, he co-founded a record label with John Fry, who subsequently started up Ardent Recording Studio, where Big Star and ZZ Top did their best work.
Would I use FedEx again after such a nightmarish experience?
I reshipped the manuscript two days later via FedEx, on Mr. Fred Smith's tab. FedEx took a bad situation and made it right.
That's the kind of Christmas story I like.
Incidentally, something tells me we haven't heard the last of Mackey Wright.