The Christmas package wasn't very big, but since it was going to California I had to mail it ASAP. Lucky me, I chose Tuesday afternoon to make my run to the Post Office. I've seen shorter lines for free beer.
I tagged onto the end of the queue that was about two-thirds across the post office lobby. Because I'm a headcounter, I scooted up the side of the line and checked the numbers . . . seven inside the lobby door and I was number 15 on the outside. 21 transactions before my little package would begin its trip west. My watch read 4:17.
Checking the three windows revealed two postal clerks and one station marked closed. I don't know what it takes to man all three windows because I've never seen that done at our P.O. Neither Christmas nor tax time seems to justify additional service, but I'm sure their austerity budget is the reason. All I know is 22 customers weren't enough to add personnel . . . 22 and growing rapidly.
The postal clerk at the middle window was the perennially smiling Richard Geer no, not the hunky actor from "Pretty Woman" although our Rich is pretty cute. From my position in line I couldn't tell who was working the other station, just that I could see patrons going there from our long line. Hmmm, maybe this train is going to chug right along after all. Within a minute or two of that optimistic thought, I saw the female clerk close her window! Nooooooooooo! She can't be serious. The groaning rippled the length of our line. Actually, I was surprised that no one sounded off although I was half expecting it. The clerk left very quickly and when she returned to retrieve something from her station she raced in and out making no eye contact. I couldn't blame her. Who would want to face that many beady eyes of impatience?
Thinking about impatience I realized that maybe we're all just resigned to this fact of life at the much-beleagured business called the US Post Office. A few years ago I noticed the clock was missing in the lobby and have since learned that they're down in all P.O.'s. Someone in the hierarchy probably figured that if we were allowed to watch time click by while we waited there'd be a greater chance of the postal clerks needing riot gear.
I'd been chatting a bit with the man in back of me who gave up and left when the window closed. He said he'd been there just after 9:00 that morning and the line was completely across the lobby. "I brilliantly decided to wait, thinking it couldn't be any worse," he'd said. After he left, I learned the woman behind me was named Sue . . . and Jim stood behind her. I thought we should at least get acquainted because we'd probably all be related by the time we got to the window.
Sue had one small envelope, a home-made card. A scrap-booker and card maker, she knew her lovingly crafted Christmas card couldn't go through the machines so she wanted it hand-canceled. That's all, nothing more, one little card. Jim only needed to buy a couple of stamps. We all mutually bemoaned the loss of the stamp machines. I looked ahead down the line at one lady with two enormous boxes that she shuffled along the floor . . . one looked like a washing machine and the other, probably an undercounter refrigerator. I hoped she was carrying a gold American Express card or had her banker on speed dial.
I think the post office is missing out on an opportunity best perfected by the airlines. If you want more service, how much are you willing to pay for it? With the airlines now charging for sandwiches, blankets, pillows, and even seats with more leg room, the P.O. needs to rethink their policies. They need a concierge window one with all the services one expects, but at a premium price for those of us for whom a 40 minute wait is out of the question.
I can hear it now: "Forever stamps only $1.99 each, with today's senior discount three for $5.79. Hand canceling special, today only $2.99 each. Pack and ship any size package for only ten dollars a pound east coast, twenty-five bucks for west of the Rockies. If you want that to arrive within one week . . . no problem . . . merely double the fees."
I do know that as I slowly progressed through the line thinking about this absurd possibility, I thought sure, I'd gladly pay a coupla extra bucks to ship this to Los Angeles on time . . . and not have to stand here. How much? Well, I assumed it was going to cost $8, maybe even as much as $10, to send it anyway. Yikes.
When I finally reached Rich's window, he was, as always, warm and friendly. "How are you today, Marcy?" he grinned.
"A lot older than when I walked in," I quipped. We both laughed. While weighing my little package he asked his litany of questions about perishables, breakables, insurance, etc., etc. After all my no answers he announced the price: $16.05.
Maybe premium service is not for the post office after all, not with the premium pricing already in place. What they need is a pair of premium self-serve cardiac paddles on the customer side of the windows.
When I reached the door my watch read 4:58 and the line was still in the outer lobby. As I walked away, my arthritic lower back rebelling from the 41-minute standing marathon, I thought a bench would be nice. I would pay a small premium for that. I'd happily put a quarter in an armrest meter for a five minute break from the conga line.
Maybe the Christmas post office scene has become just another Christmas ritual, sort of Black Friday without the hysteria. I'm sure if I'd been more organized and mailed two weeks earlier I could have avoided the tedium. But I'd have missed meeting Sue and Jim and I'd have missed my Christmas laughs with Rich, the world's most patient postman.
I wish you fun-filled days ahead with all the blessings of family, memories, and a safe, healthy holiday. And may you have short lines at the post office when you file your tax return.