When they chiseled the words from Herodotus over the entrance to the James Farley Post Office on 8th Avenue in New York, the US Postal Service was perhaps hoping to emulate the mail couriers of ancient Persia — ‘Neither snow nor rain not heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.’
Jump forward 2,500 years to the USPS television commercial that followed the 9/11 attacks. Text cards on an otherwise blank screen, Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” playing in the background. ‘We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. And neither snow, nor rain…’
Maybe I’m spoiled. Maybe I spent too many years abroad enjoying the kind of service described in these words. Or maybe the postal service is not what it should be, not at all like it describes itself in inscription and television commercial. I wrote something about the post office back in May, saying that bumps and snags will crop up at the PO. Nothing has changed in five months, and the situation in my neck of the woods at least, has nowhere to go but up.
I went to the post office today to mail a letter, forgetting that it was Columbus Day and a holiday for government employees. Our little one-woman post office was locked up tight, even the post office boxes beyond reach. I looked around for a letter drop and found nothing. Asking next door, the lady said the nearest mail drop was a couple of miles away. Two miles away? At first, I thought she might be joking. After driving those two miles to the mailbox, I saw that there was one pick up a day at 3:00 p.m. Not certain, but I think the pick ups are more frequent at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Here, in a city of 23,000 people there is one pick up a day.
One day last week I had again gone to the post office, knowing that it closed from 1:00 until 2:00 for lunch. I got there at 2:00, but found the door still locked. By 2:20 there were eight people lined up outside waiting for the postmistress to return from lunch. A few minutes later she arrived, pulling her car into a parking space out front and sitting behind the wheel for another five minutes talking on her cell phone. The eight people in line stood watching while she waxed on about onion dip and blueberry crumble—at 2:25 p.m.
Waiting at home for mail delivery… Apparently there is no fixed schedule regarding delivery. The mailman arrives, hopefully each day anywhere from 2:30 to 4:30, maybe early on Monday and late on Tuesday. It’s a guessing game.
I suppose times have changed, and post office employees as well. Maybe I'm spoiled. Maybe I spent too many years abroad being pampered—or is it well-served?—by a postal service that takes some pride in doing a job well, and at least provides drop boxes outside each post office, as well as all around town.