broadsideblog

The End Of The Post Office

In behavior, books, business, life, news, urban life, work on February 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm
Truth or Consequences Post Office

That's the one! Image via Wikipedia

The last time I enjoyed being in a post office — sort of like enjoying being at the dentist, these days — was in the small, funky town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico with a woman who owns a house there on a ranch outside of town. When we dropped in to pick up her mail from one of the tiny gilded post office boxes, (and they really are boxes, one forgets), we had a great chat with the lively woman working at the counter. We admired the WPA murals and went for lunch.

Now that the U.S. Postal service is about to shut down thousands of post offices, many of them in small towns and rural areas like T or C….does it matter?

I think it does, as Walter Kirn wrote recently in The New York Times magazine:

The painful truth, of course, is that the post offices most likely to vanish also happen to function as the centers of the communities in which they’re situated. Social-networking sites aren’t just Internet phenomena. In Livingston, Mont., my current hometown, the post office does what Facebook only purports to as far as promoting human interaction. On the wide granite steps of the neo-Classical edifice that stands as one of our few local reminders that we 7,000 people of the Great Plains belong to a civilized modern nation, my neighbors and I trade news, contract for services and generally mix and mingle in a manner that permits us to feel like neighbors rather than strangers subject to the same weather. For people who live far out in the countryside or who are too old and frail to get around much, this can be a life-sustaining service, particularly in the winter months. The chance to chat improves folks’ mental health, and the failure of an old man to fetch his power bill for several days alerts others to go check on him.

I like the physicality of letters and packages, wrangling tape and cardboard and wielding a Sharpie pen for the address. I like the idea of a post office as one of the few services we all use, whether rich or poor, whatever our political views. In an increasingly divided country, it’s one of the few glues left.

As I prepare to launch my new book, I’ve sent a dozen of them out to reviewers in those little padded envelopes, lining up each time with a little bit of hope.  With a mother living in another country, I’ve become adept over the years at minimizing the cost of the real contents I mail to her, and at finding gifts that won’t shatter or spill en route.

I have many great memories of post office visits while traveling — in Antibes, Florence, Paris, Venice, Sydney — but, sorry to say, very few as nice as that T or C encounter.

For me now, living in a small town north of Manhattan, my post office in recent years has beome a true circle of hell — dirty, understaffed and with clerks who seem to take a special delight in being rude because they know no one will discipline or fire them.

I’ve started to avoid the post office whenever possible, and that makes me sad and angry. I used to enjoy it.

And my damn taxes are paying for it.

What’s your local post office like?

Would you miss it if it were closed?

  1. That’s really sad. I love the description of post offices as social networking sites, and it’s true that the people who really depend on them for so much of their connection will be the ones devastated by the changes.
    Here in London, post offices are usually tucked away in the back of convenience stores, and the staff are rude and the customers often abusive. I’m sure in the smaller towns and villages they are the centre of the community.
    Sunshine xx

  2. Overseas they were often located in embassies or military/government mission buildings which were the center of our social lives anyway. But these days I only ever make it to a PO if I’ve missed a large package that couldn’t fit in the mailbox or something.

    • That’s cool…Were they covered in really thick glass? I have never seen so armored a site in my life as the American consulate in Palermo. OMG. You could barely see anyone through all that glass.

      C, how do you know what things weigh/cost? Do you use a postal meter? I send enough parcels, and to Canada, I have to go stand in line.

  3. I think the loss of post offices is another sad symbol of loss of connection. I miss letters.

    • Me,too! I love pulling out cards and letters from years past, remembering who I was then and who the writers were to me then or now. As a writer, I am also very fearful we will lose enormous amounts of really important historical material as people do not use paper but only pixels to communicate.

      Will we really pay to read “The Collected EMails Of…”?

  4. Our town is so small we do not have a mail person to deliver in town to most houses. We have to go to the post office to pick up our mail. I get to talk to other adults while getting stamps. If it closes that will be a real shame.

  5. That’s a small town! That was the neat community feeling I got when at the T or C post office and suspect this is true for many smaller places. I miss community and the easier, less structured ways to find and enjoy it.

  6. Walter’s analysis is spot on. I don’t get to the post office much anymore, but when I do go I am treated with dignity and respect. It’s a shame that some people who are ROAD (Retired on Active Duty) have given such a great institution a bad name. I adore my post lady and don’t know what I would do if she didn’t come I and brighten my day just by asking how I’m doing.

    There are ways to trim the fat without completely getting rid of all of the essential post offices. One of these days we’re going to learn that the post office is not a business. There’s no way it’s ever going to make money delivering mail to all of the real small neighborhoods throughout this great land of ours. I don’t think you’ll see FedEx or UPS going out there unless you pay an arm and a leg.

    The Nation magazine had a fantastic article a while back delineating several ideas on how we could save the post office. One is by getting rid of these ROAD (Retired on Active Duty) individuals who don’t care about customer service.

    • Thanks for such a thoughtful comment! I know that for many people the post office is truly a social hub and at one time I felt that way about ours. It’s a shame because, as you point out, we all need it and many of us cannot afford any other service. There’s an analogy, I think, to its inablity to be profitable — like the railroads who have also cut out/off many small communities.

  7. I live in a fairly large city. I go to the post office only when I need to buy stamps and have a package weighed. I do still pay my bills the old fashion way – with envelopes and stamps. I also send notes, cards for special occasions, etc. A friend once commented on the money I could save by paying my bills electronically. No, thanks. I want to keep the post office in business.

  8. Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Many thanks, However I am going through problems
    with your RSS. I don’t understand why I am unable to subscribe to it.
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