The UPS Store and My Red Ring of Death

So, inevitably the day came that I had to strip my Xbox of its hard-drive and faceplate like the dog tags and letters for home of a fallen fellow soldier and take it in to the local UPS Store for shipment to a mysterious Microsoft repair station somewhere in Texas. When I walked in, I laid my stripped Box down on the counter and the UPS woman (middle aged black lady) instantly asked if I had "the form". I slid the paper across the counter to her thinking "she may have done this before..." While she typed something in, another UPS worker (thirty-something white guy) standing behind her said "Aww, Dude. Did you get the RED RING OF DEATH? That sucks. My roommate had that a few months ago." He went on to tell me about what I've come to know as "The Towel Trick", which is a method of temporarily circumventing the RED RING OF DEATH by wrapping your Box in a warm towel or blanket for about half an hour, at which point it overheats and, for a while at least, forgets that it has the most fatal and dreaded of all console failures, the RROD. [NOTE: Check it out on YouTube if you're interested. The squeaky twelve year old kid that showed me how to do it assured me at the beginning of his video that it doesn't void the warranty. He sounded trustworthy...]

So while we're talking about the RROD and the towel trick, he starts to measure the Box with a tape measure. Before he can finish, the UPS woman (middle aged black lady) interrupts him saying "They're 15" x 13" [NOTE: It turns out Xbox 360's are actually 12.15 in wide x 3.27 in high x 10.15 in deep. But I'm assuming she was referring to the dimensions of the box that I was purchasing, the box that about 54.2 percent of all Xbox 360 owners have purchased over the last couple of years.]

I go on to tell the UPS guy that Microsoft sent me a postage pre-paid adhesive instead of sending a box so I had to buy the box myself - $6.50. Not bad, I guess. Although, originally Microsoft was sending out free boxes [coffins they called them, appropriately morbid] with padded molds inside to protect your 360 during shipment and all you had to do was drop it off. I doubt it cost them $6.50 a box to do that, but it's not the first time Microsoft took the cheap and easy way out at the expense of their customers, is it? [An initial internal test production run of the 360 came back with a 68% fail rate. To be fair, this was just internal testing, but come on. Did they fix it or what?]

Then from across the room, an older white guy (probably 40-50, looks like he's dressed from an L.L. Bean catalog) gets our attention. He's finished getting his package sent off and he comes over to talk to us. "Did you do the overheat thing where you solder the two pieces together?" I said no instantly, because firstly, I can't imagine cracking open my $300 Box with a soldering iron, and secondly, I have some respect for the concept of the warranty, especially in the context of Microsoft's well-documented RROD fiasco. He kept talking: "Yeah, I tried this fix-it-yourself thing I found on YouTube, and it didn't work for S***. I spent like $50 on parts, too. Ended up just buying another one, but I got the Elite this time. It's supposed to be designed differently; they don't have the same problem."

He went after his Box with a soldering iron because of something he saw on YouTube. Unbelievable. And he spent $50 on parts, plus $300 for a brand new Box when he could have sent it off to Microsoft for about $100. What a series of unfortunate decisions. I sure hope he's right about the Elite.

But the point of the story is that I walked into a UPS store with an Xbox and one of the workers instantly knew I had RROD, and his roommate had just recently recovered from RROD. But he was a young white guy and a gamer, so maybe he doesn't count. The other worker though, the middle aged black lady, she knew that I was supposed to have a form for her, and she knew off the top of her head that I needed a 15” x 13” box. AND, some random older guy who didn't look like a gamer at all had had the same problem. So there we were together from all our disparate walks of life united by our shared pain, talking about YouTube, the towel trick, and how Microsoft is a piece of crap.

When I leave the place (promising the young guy that I'll check out Mass Effect 2 and BioShock 2) I'm smiling to myself, and my friend Jonathan is waiting in the car because we're going to lunch. I tell him I just had an interesting talk with a gamer and lay out the whole story and he laughs and laughs and tells me his story. When he had RROD, Microsoft was still sending pre-padded boxes to people. All he had to do was load it up and take it to a UPS drop off location; he chose Staples. When he walked up to the counter with his sealed, unmarked brown box, the young girl working the counter said "Oh, no. Is that your Xbox?"

If a young guy comes in carrying a box of roughly these dimensions, he's a RROD victim. Period. That's incredible.

[This same friend has another similar story. When he got his Apple Magic Mouse in the mail shortly after they released, the delivery guy asked him what it was because he had been delivering identical boxes all over town for days. The UPS life must be kind of interesting. Imagine going to work one day and half of the packages you have to deliver to random people around the city are exactly the same. I'd be really tempted to "lose" one of them just to see what I was missing out on.]

So, maybe I live in a tech oriented part of town or something, but this seems unusual. It makes me believe the insane numbers that have been thrown around regarding Xbox 360 failure rates (54.2%) are probably true. At any rate, all that's left for me to do is sit around and endure what I'm told will be at least three weeks of Boxlessness. I miss the gaming of course; my friend Jonathan and I have a regular appointment every Wednesday night that I haven't been able to honor for nearly a month. What's worse than the gaming fast, is that the Box is our only DVD player, which means we've been watching Netflix on our computer and it's terrible. I mean terrible. The TV hasn't been turned on in weeks, except for the time I was so desperate to get my gaming fix that I fired up the Wii. Which, of course, left me ashamed and completely unsatisfied.