Friday, March 27, 2009

Hey, Mr. Postman

"The post office will run out of money this year unless it gets help, Postmaster General John Potter told Congress on Wednesday as he sought permission to cut delivery to five days a week.

"We are facing losses of historic proportion. Our situation is critical," Potter told a House panel.

The agency lost $2.8 billion last year and is looking at much larger losses this year. Reducing mail delivery from six days to five days a week could save $3.5 billion annually, Potter said.

I'm always interested in post office stories because the post office has been central to my life, since my father worked for the post office for some 30 or so years. He worked the mail on the train in a car like this:

railwaymail.jpg (69974 bytes)

When they took the mail off of the trains and on to big trucks, my father moved into the main post office to work, and had a nervous breakdown because he couldn't handle the change. I'm not sure how long he worked there, but he retired as soon as he could.

I've always been a mail junkie. As a kid I had penpals in England and lived for letters from my new friends. I also wrote to Peach frequently and I'm sure other people as well because I lived for the mail delivery each day. We were the third house on the route. You could sit in the bay window of our flat and watch the mailman get off the bus at the top of the hill and then make his way down the hill to our house.

Christmas was great. We frequently had two mail deliveries a day and as it got closer to Christmas and the volume of mail increased we might have three mail deliveries for a day or two. (In contrast, Christmas was the worst time of the year for my father, who detested the whole month of December because he had to work harder and was exhausted most of the month.)

postman2.gif (4632 bytes)As I grew up, the mail delivery was still a very important part of my day. I "adopted" a girl from Korea and heard from Foster Parents Plan about her each month. I continued to write to friends who lived at a distance and though I was the bane of everyone's existence because I responded by return mail (and nobody else did), I was quick to tell people that I didn't expect them to be as compulsive about mail as I was, I just appreciated their writing to me at all.

When we had foreign students here, I stayed in touch with most of them for years (now there are only a handful that I still have information about ). There was a time when our long-term mailman got a letter addressed to "Mrs. Beverly, Davis, CA" and knew where to deliver it. He told me we got more international mail than anybody in town.

During my Lamplighter years, my friend Phil Dethlefsen was in and out of the hospital for awhile and suffering from mental problems for a long time after that. I got into the habit of writing to him once or twice a day, and eventually I started sending letters in blue envelopes, so that I would buy them by the case. When he went on vacation, he would give me the address of his hotel so I could continue to write to him. As the price of postage began to rise, I always questioned whether it was worth it.

I always made my big contribution to the post office at Christmas time. It was not unusual for us to send out 200 Christmas cards, and as the price of stamps rose, it became a not-insignificant cost each year, especially when you added the cost of cards and the cost of printing the annual Christmas letter. Yet, to start cutting and slashing my Christmas card list seemed cruel. I really enjoyed communicating with so many people each year. I just gritted my teeth and bought the stamps.

Enter the internet! And most of my closest friends having e-mail accounts. There was little need to write actual letters any more when you could get a message there faster and for little to no cost. Obviously a host of others started doing the same thing. The post office reacted by raising the cost of postage stamps, which just solidified our resolve to use the free mail at our fingertips.

I must admit that I still feel a bit tacky sending out electronic Christmas greetings, and I do mail a few to people I know won't read a Christmas letter on line, but the printed version is plain vanilla. Black print on white paper. Period. The on-line version can be multi-colored, have lots of big pretty pictures, can be designed to have a Christmassy look to it. It takes a LOT more love and effort to design an on-line Christmas letter so I'm gradually getting over my sense of the "tacky." Sending 200 Christmas cards at 42 cents apiece just seemed silly. So I no longer make my annual big donation to the post office.

Oh, I still use the post office. I mail things to Peggy that she has purchased here in the US but which vendors won't send to Australia. I send packages to others now and then, but whereas I used to be a regular at the post office, now I'm there maybe 4 or 5 times a year. And my "postage budget" has been reduced significantly.

Part of me wants to feel sorry for the postal service that it is losing money, but I don't see it ever disappearing entirely. How else will e-Bay customers get their stuff? How will Amazon survive? I think the post office needs to re-invent itself in order to maximize potential revenue.

But as for me? They've priced themselves out of MY price range, when I have a faster, better alternative.

As for cutting from delivery 6 days a week to 5 days a week, I can't see why that's such a big deal, in my life at least. I can certainly go another day without a mountain of catalogs for stuff I don't intend to buy!

1 comment:

Rebekah said...

L'Empress's UD, now reading via RSS

I love this post.

I did want to comment on How will Amazon survive? I review for Amazon Vine. My packages are split pretty neatly between Marty the Mailman and Corey the UPS Guy.

Sworn Enemy, a New York Hardcore band, donated an autographed guitar for me to eBay for my sick friend Libby. It's gotta go UPS - I won't be able to lift it up the post office stairs, and UPS will take the guitar out of my trunk and then pack it for me (at $24/box) so i don't have to do more than print the label.

But I'm with you: I'm a big fan of the USPS. Where else on the planet can you get a five page plus envelope letter to go 3000 miles, for under 50c?