I finally broke down and couldn't take waiting for our "free" samples to be processed anymore. We have deadlines to meet and time is becoming more valuable than money with a couple of these samples. I wrote to Free Center and told them that I appreciated their help, but if they couldn't get to the samples in the next couple of weeks I would rather they send them back to me so I could find another place to do the work.
Apparently, this was motivation.
For the first time in weeks I got prompt responses to my emails and suddenly everything is ready to go. What is normally about a 4 week turn-around is going to happen in the next two weeks and we should have the data in no time. I'm cautiously optimistic, based on my phone conversation with Free Guy, that this is actually going to happen - not just for one project, but for two projects worth of samples that Free Center has in their possession. This is huge on a couple of levels because we are generating critical data for two projects and saving thousands of dollars in the process. If the timeline we talked about actually comes to pass, I will have plenty of time to analyze the data before the next round of grant deadlines and I might have something to talk about in the three invited seminars I am giving in the next couple of months, which were becoming an increasing source of concern.
A pity I spent all that time working on my shadow puppetry.