The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is under siege. Mail volume fell from 213 billion pieces in 2006 to 177 billion pieces in 2009, a 17 percent decline in just three years. By 2020, USPS deliveries are projected to plummet to a mere 150 billion pieces.
This still seems like a lot of mail to me. I think if you have 150 billion pieces of mail, you need to keep the system going. Yet, there are calls from different corners of the world, usually the right corners, (you can take that one of two ways) to privatize the U.S. Postal Service, lay off hundreds of thousands of workers and compromise or cancel those pesky benefits.
I like getting mail. When I hear the mail drop in my box in the garage as I work upstairs, I interrupt my day to see what has landed. The mail often includes stuff I have to shred immediately such as credit card and loan offers. I own two shredders for this purpose and they get a workout after the mail arrives. I never throw an intact piece of mail away as the prospect of identity theft haunts me.
In spite of the plethora of junk and bills, the mail typically contains something I want. My kids and I each subscribe to at least one favorite magazine and there’s usually a thank you note or invitation we enjoy.
I know my mail carrier by name, Richard. He is as dependable as the fog in my part of town and unfailingly cheerful. Richard works hard hauling his sack of mail from door to door and puts my mail on hold when we go on vacation. I reward him with a bottle of wine, but it hardly seems adequate for the valuable service he provides.
Some of the finger pointing over the post office’s financial straits has been directed at e-mail, which has replaced traditional letter writing. I disagree. I think the telephone rendered most letter writing obsolete a long time ago. Now we e-mail or text when we don’t want to pick up the phone.
Personally, I try not to write anything personal in e-mails. Why? Because they can be forwarded with a click of a mouse. Has this ever happened to you? I know I’ve received a few e-mails that the sender would have preferred I not see. I especially enjoy the drunken e-mails sent around midnight. I haven’t seen a lot of them, just enough to inspire a tortured scene of degradation and disgrace in my first novel.
And then there’s the “Reply All” e-mail. I plead guilty of using “Reply All,” but do so sparingly and reluctantly. It never ceases to amaze me that people think their replies interest the collective e-universe. Do all 15 recipients really need to know that SallySue is not available Tuesday or Wednesday because she is booked in high-level meetings, but that she could, if pressed, squeeze us in Friday?
While snail mail lacks the instant gratification that e-mail offers, I think it still has its place in civilized society and deserves our support. Few services positively impact the taxpayer the way that our postal service does. I can’t think of too many businesses that provide door to door service for 44 cents.
Since the early 1980s, the U.S. Postal Service has not received direct tax subsidies except for costs associated with accommodating disabled and overseas voters. In other words, it has paid for itself until now. There are a variety of complicated reasons for the USPS’ financial woes, but I am reluctant to alienate my handful of readers with my opinions any further. Suffice to say, our mail carriers were not bundling subprime loans in their mailbags.
The James A. Farley Post Office in New York City bears the famous inscription that has become synonymous with our mail carriers: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Apparently, only Congress has the power to get in their way.
Enjoy the Marvelletes’ “Please Mr. Postman.” I don’t think my Internet server could inspire lyrics that yearn like this song does.