I love getting my mail. However, I must say that I like getting my mail in the city rather than the country. In the city, the box may be small but the mail carriers have become quite talented at fitting the September special fall issue of Vogue magazine into the tiniest of boxes- even with the plastic wrap on. it was typical of my mother and I to sit at the window and wait for the mail hoping that the special letter from my brother who was overseas in Germany. His letters would have colorful postage stamps which were actually more exciting to me than the contents of the letters. Other important mail included letters containing money–a much needed twenty dollar bill and some food stamps. Mother would get into dire straits and grandmother would have to bail us out. There were times when the surviving grace of my Saturday afternoon was seeing that postal carrier walk into my building. Little did he know that the letter contained in his pouch was standing between whether I was fed or not.
By contrast, getting mail in the country was evident that the experience of rural life was meant to be much more personal. I was living in Texas with my brother…Deep rural, Texas. We are talking tarantulas and snakes, 100 degree weather, crab grass. The funny looking mailbox was my only connection to civilization. Punctuality was the biggest difference here. In Chicago the mailman would come whenever. If it rained it was later. If he ran into his mistress, he did not come at all and you could expect your box to be double stuffed. But in the Texas country, at exactly 8:35 AM you would see the white Ford pick-up truck of the mailman “Bob” coming over the hill blowing away the tumbleweeds, his wheels spinning with remnants of roadkill. Bob would honk his horn if you had a package. I was not used to a mailman that came before 2PM. If I took too long to climb out of bed, Bob would just speed off. Even if he saw me walking from the house- the ornery bastard. He was training me to get my mail his way. My brother explained to me that Bob was the post office. My stamps and everything comes from Bob.
“How do I mail a letter?” I asked.
“Put a stamp on it and pull up the red lever,” He answered. “If you don;t have a stamp just put the money on top of the letter and Bob will put the stamp on for you.”
The appearance of me in my nightgown and slippers creeping out to the mailbox at 7AM to put a letter to my mom in the box with 20 cents on it was a sight to behold. I pulled up the red lever and ran back into the house. When I awoke at 10AM, PRESTO, the red lever was back down. My bedroom slippers went running to the box for a peek. My letter was gone. I did this four more times before Bob in his passive aggressive way let me know that licking my stamps was not in his job description. One Saturday, a surprised Afrocity found her letter addressed to mommy, still in the box with the twenty cents on top of it, along with a bright orange envelope. It was an order form for stamps. Apparently Bob wanted me to order my stamps in bulk so he would not have to lick them for me. How rude, I thought. He could have at least gave me a warning first. Being a Saturday meant that I would have to wait until Monday to purchase the stamps from Bob, which meant that the letter would not be picked up until Tuesday.
Squawking about this to my brother only got a laugh,”You are in the country now girl.”
Speculating that Bob wanted to “break me” , I gave in an slipped twenty cents in the orange envelope and marked 1 US STAMP on the order chart. The chart went up to 300 stamps but I just wanted 1 stamp. I pulled up the red lever and waited for Bob.
8:35 AM the white Ford pick-up came over the hill and stopped at my box, took out the contents and sped off with a screech. Despite the rain, I scurried out to the box. In it was a water bill, some junk mail coupons and the orange stamp order envelope which contained my one stamp, five cents change and a receipt with a smiley face drawn on it and the words “YOU SHOULD HAVE ORDERED MORE CITY GIRL”.
EWWWWW!!! I was livid. This war. I did not want to buy stamps from Bob again. The next day I stuck the orange envelope back in the box again requesting 1 STAMP. I also mailed the letter to my mother with a stamp on it. By now it was Tuesday and I was getting pretty pissed off. In Chicago this letter would be well on its way to Neptune by now. I like not knowing my mailmen. They should be seen and not hard-asses.
8:35 AM Bob’s truck comes and stops. He stayed in front of the box for a bit longer today. Screeched off. The two bed slippers come running from the house and opened the box. My letter was not mailed. There was the orange envelope with a stamp in it and a note:
YOUR LETTER TO CHICAGO, IL EXCEEDS THE WEIGHT FOR A 20 CENT STAMP. PLUS ADD MORE POSTAGE. (SMILEY FACE).
ARRRGHHH! I was furious. Why didn’t he just add the damn stamp that I just bought to the letter? That way the letter would have had 40 cents postage. That Texas dick!
You can only guess what happened next, right? Nothing. I became Bob’s humble postal customer. I ordered stamps in bulk. Bob took my letters, he even gave me a candy cane for Christmas with a card signed:
“From your friendly postal carrier- BOB THE MAIL GUY“.
Years later when I moved back to the city, I developed a new appreciation for my postal carrier. Whether in Chicago and dodging gang fire or in Texas and fighting snakes hibernating in the mailbox, these people have a very important job that is often unappreciated. The art of letter writing has gone with the wind due to email and the U.S. Postal Service is suffering:
JUNE 15, 2009
Post Office Looks to Scale Back
By KATHY CHEN
WASHINGTON — Americans aren’t using the Postal Service as much as they used to. But that doesn’t mean it will be allowed to scale back easily.
Faced with wide losses and a long slide in mail volume, the agency is considering eliminating Saturday deliveries and closing more post offices. The challenge will be getting consumers, unions and lawmakers, who have fought even small changes in mail delivery, to go along with the plan.
“We know all the mail volume won’t bounce back” once the economy improves, Postmaster General John Potter said in an interview. “There is a need to change…. Every option has to be on the table.”
The volume of first-class mail, the Postal Service’s most-lucrative business, has been eroded by the migration of bill payments and individual correspondence to the Internet. The economic downturn has exacerbated the financial woes by hitting catalogs and other direct-marketing mailings.
The Postal Service reported a nearly $2 billion loss for the second quarter ended March 31, with mail volume down nearly 15% from the year before. Postal officials predict it will handle about 180 billion pieces of mail this fiscal year, down by 32 billion pieces two years earlier.
The agency has previously struggled to cover its costs while meeting its mandate to provide mail service six days a week to all Americans, some 135.7 million delivery points. Faced with a $1.7 billion deficit in 2001, the agency raised postage rates and froze headquarters staff jobs…
Mr. Potter said general delivery could be stopped on Saturdays, when mail volume is lightest, but post offices would likely remain open and certain types of mail could be delivered, perhaps at a premium.
That idea is running into less resistance now than when first proposed a few months ago. “It’s good to look at” such an option, said Jerry Corasale of the Direct Marketing Association, a trade group. “For many of our members, it probably would not make much of a difference.”
Congress would need to approve such a change, and some lawmakers, including Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.), who heads a key oversight panel, have toned down their opposition. But William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, has described the plan as “an act of desperation.”
The Postal Regulatory Commission, which is reviewing the plan and must sign off on any change, estimated it would nick mail volume by 2% if delivery is cut. “It could diminish their brand,” said commission Chairman Dan Blair.
No mail on Saturday!!! You have got to be kidding me. Saturday mail is very important. It could be the difference between someone eating or not, a piece of good news that may make a person’s weekend. It could be a much needed Netflix movie. Saturdays are often the only day a person can get to the post office. What ever happened to the ol’ post office motto of Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail? I suppose that poem does not apply to a failing economy and government layoffs. (sigh)
Autographed Letter Signed,