Monday, May 30, 2011

Because the mail never stops...

In the early 2000's, I worked for about 10 months in the US Post Office. It was a God-send of a job, and I appreciate my time there immeasurably. My role was to put up the inside Post Office Box mail, so I was not a carrier delivering in the weather. I did become familiar, though, with the trials and tribulations of what the other employees did, including the clerks, Postmaster, carriers, and substitutes. Being a Federal establishment, there were byzantine, complicated, unnecessary duplications of rules and tasks, and just plain stupid things we had to do. But the whole process is still amazing, if you think about it. If you're in California, you can pen a letter, put it in an envelope, and for little over 40 cents, it will travel across thousands of miles and be delivered to a tiny box by the side of the road, directly to you, in only a matter of a few days. Amazing. And I know from personal observation that the carriers and clerks and Postmaster I worked with are hard-working, honest, committed people who care.

We still like to poke fun at the PO, though. It doesn't help that the most famous cultural roles have created characters that are less than esteemed. Cliff Clavin from the long-running comedy show Cheers and Newman from the long-running comedy Seinfeld come to mind. This clip from Seinfeld where Newman explains why some workers 'go postal' is hilarious. I understand completely where he is coming from. My job as to first put up the first class mail and then start on the third class (junk) mail. There was tray after tray after tray of it...just as you get one tray done, three more come in...and your sense of purpose and accomplishment diminishes proportionally, not helped by the fact that you know people throw it away immediately.

Here is an article from an environmental website that talks about a USPS collapse. Think about the fleet of cars and trucks connected to delivering the mail, about how many people it employs, and the gas used. It is a lot more complicated than we like to make fun of.

USPS report says total collapse is imminent
The United States Postal Service is headed off a cliff, and – according to the US Government Accountability Office - few are even giving its demise a second thought. ... So, what happened? That’s what Phillip Herr, of the US Gov’t Accountability Office, is trying desperately to find out … for the past three years. Herr finds the USPS fascinating, for (perhaps) obvious reasons:  the USPS is ubiquitous, relied on, and (my words, not his) totally screwed. “It’s one of those things that the public just takes for granted,” he says. “The mailman shows up, drops off the mail, and that’s it.” How bad, then, is the situation for the USPS? In scientific terms:  Really bad. Since 2007 (the “salad days” of America’s last economic bubble) the USPS has been unable to cover its annual budget (80% of which is made up of employees’ salaries and benefits).  To stay afloat and pay its people, the USPS has had to borrow more than 12 billion (with a b) dollars from the US Treasury, which (unlike GM and Chrysler) it has been unable to pay back.  Earlier this month, the Treasury reached its statutory debt limit … so, unless something pretty drastic happens on Capitol Hill, it’s pretty much Game Over for the USPS, already."

There's more at the link, the author talks about the environmental impacts to having a fleet of a quarter million vehicles using so much gas every day, etc. He ends by saying that the USPS has outlived its usefulness...and perhaps, just perhaps, the last clip from Seinfeld (from the 1990s no less) speaks to that thought.

Why do carriers go postal? Because the mail never stops....

I'd like to cancel my mail

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