Stopped by the Roaring Branch post office the other day to check my PO box. In
addition to the mail there was a notice from the Postal Service that outlined the possibility of that small but efficient operation closing in the near future. This is a small village post office that could be the model for a Norman Rockwell print, diligently servicing 125 miles of dirt road patrons and going the extra mile of excellent service on the route and at the counter on behalf of their patrons. All across the country thousands of similar notices were being posted. Service provided by the lost post offices would be
consolidated into neighboring communities lucky enough to survive the metaphorical meat cleaver. Once again the perverted hand of government is about to reward long term bad behavior and punish jobs well done. Let me explain that sarcastic statement.
My story begins sixty years ago when I was a teen aged high school student who had hired on as a temporary mail courier to assist with the avalanche of Christmas mail that overwhelmed the regular couriers. That was an era when family Christmas card lists numbered in the hundreds. For many distant friends and relatives the card was an annual ritual to exchange family news as well as holiday greetings. My parents had completed many of their cards to out of state friends long before the Thanksgiving turkey had been consumed. Air Mail was an extra charge that was considered an avoidable expense and regular interstate delivery, festooned with a special holiday 3 cent stamp, would take at
least a week or longer to deliver. It was considered a serious fax pax not to get your cards out on time for delivery by Christmas. My first day as temporary courier involved delivery of two bags of mail, each with a hand written route supplied by the regular courier and an allotted time for mission completion. Without rushing I completed delivery of the first bag in 40% of the allocated time. Feeling proud of myself for a job well done, I returned to the post office only to be chastised by the regular courier. "kid,you're making us look bad. When I give you a four hour delivery estimate, stay out four hours." That was my introduction to featherbedding, a disease that back in the 50s had
already infected big city postal service and has today assisted in rendering the postal service comatose.
At what size zip code does this sinister morphism begin? It varies by region but one thing's for sure, there is an inverse correlation between post office size and performance.
Over the years I've had the pleasure of visiting 46 of the lower 48 states on engineering assignments, many of which have been in rural areas where the post office was a small area in the back of a general store. Everywhere I traveled the unofficial motto of the post office was alive and well: " Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" That motto also held true for the people serving inside. At the other end of the spectrum was deteriorating performance in the big cities. 32th Street Station in Philadelphia was a poster child for
dysfunctional behavior where chemically impaired employees were left to sleep it off in the rest rooms rather than attempting behavior correction. It seems the hassle of fighting union grievances had worn down management. The delivery routes weren't much better.
The worse kept secret in the cities were the card playing hangouts of carriers killing time before returning from their appointed rounds. True, the internet has made inroads on traditional mail markets and will be the whipping boy for the consolidations, but the truth of the matter is that poor employee performance in the cities, has finally caught up with the bottom line for the entire department. They have "gone postal" in more ways than one.
This debacle has been 65 years in the making. Like amputation, you don't wait until the patent is terminally bleeding before administering triage. To quote Lady Macbeth:"What's done is done, and can't be undone."
I'd be remiss if I didn't conclude this observation with a sincere complement to all those rural and small town postal employees who truly live the motto of the post office. Thank you for your service.
Retired Consulting Engineer farmer