Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Going Postal

  Letter carriers have a very tough job. Lugging the carrier sack in all kinds of weather with the possibility of a stray dog lurking around every corner and having to memorize hundreds of addresses isn't easy, but when was the last time some mail you sent or were expecting didn't get delivered? Letter carriers are also some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Joe Skovil was a letter carrier in Hillside New Jersey and was the first person to ever call me Hank. I started using that name full time when I got out of High School, so I can thank Joe from saving me a lifetime of being called Henry (except from my brother). I’ve met most of my local Marshalltown letter carriers when I see them while walking my dogs and they’re always friendly. Whenever I’ve gone to the Marshalltown Post Office to do some sort of special mailing, the service has been efficient and if more than 2 people are in line, like magic another clerk will appear from the back to keep me from waiting a long time.

  I wish I could say the same about the clerks in the Urbandale Post Office. I had occasion to send some certified mail a few months ago. I got there shortly after noon during my lunch break. There were a dozen people in line and 1 clerk. You could hear the other workers in the back laughing and joking. Someone told them to keep it down and one of the workers yelled out, “If they don’t want to hear us, they shouldn’t come here during our lunch hour!”. You would think the postal service would be able to see the sense of having the counters fully staffed during the one hour that most people have off to use their service. I’m sure McDonalds and Burger King don’t have all the workers eating lunch at the same time as they would get the most customers. I felt like I should have waited until Saturday and taken care of it in Marshalltown, but I was already there and I waited while the clerk got done with the dozen customers and took care of me 40 minutes later. I heard the other workers having a good time but no one came out to help anyone. Aside from email and electronic billing replacing letters, this kind of garbage service is what is causing the Post Office to go out of business. And the first people who lose their jobs will probably be the letter carriers not the so-called ‘service’ clerks.

  I hadn’t mailed my Iowa Tax Forms yet and I had a couple of other large envelopes to mail so last Friday I went to the Urbandale Post Office at 12:15. There were 7 people in line and one clerk explaining the various options of sending a package to Bosnia to a little girl who was interpreting for her father and mother. There was also the Post Office supervisor who was telling people that if they had a debit card they could use the self service station right behind him. The man in front of me decided to use the machine, so I was now number 7 in line instead of number 8. Sadly, after the man had spent 5 minutes entering the required information into the machine, it wouldn’t take his debit card for the amount and I was back to being number 8 in line (If I was younger and in New Jersey, I’d probably have either still been number 7 or in a line at the emergency room). On the positive side, it was my turn to be told by the supervisor that I could use the self-service machine if I had a debit card. In a moment of what could only be divine inspiration, an idea popped into my head, and I gave the supervisor my nicest smile and said

“No thanks, I have to wait in line to do the audit.”
said the supervisor with a disbelieving smirk on his face
“Yeah, I’m supposed to see how long it takes me to send these.” I said, holding up my 4 pieces of mail and smiling as nicely as I knew how.

  The supervisor looked at me closely and smirked like he knew I was lying and I just turned to stare at the back of the head of number 7 in line, while the people now in line behind me were offered to the chance to play ‘debit-card roulette’ with the self service machine. While the lady in line behind me went to try her debit card in the self-service machine and the rest of us got a 5-minute Berlitz lesson on how to say “Air Mail”, "How long?" and "How Much?" in Bosnian, I took out my cell phone and casually made a 360 degree sweep of the postal station as if I was taking a video, and put the phone back into my pocket without fanfare. The supervisor’s eyes opened kind of wide and he disappeared into the back for a minute, reappearing with an old guy with a cash drawer who started hurriedly punching numbers into his work station. 3 minutes later, this guy was still fumbling around with the computer, the lady who had been behind me in line was back, having had her debit card rejected, and I pulled out my phone to make another 360 degree sweep. The supervisor (who wasn’t smirking anymore) stared at me, disappeared for another minute, and reappeared behind the counter with another clerk and a cash drawer. The supervisor punched the numbers in her station and in a few seconds, she was helping the next person in line. Then the supervisor helped the old guy get his station set up and after 40 seconds, I was number 6 in line. Then the package at the first station finally got on its way to Bosnia and I was number 5. A few short minutes minutes later, the old fellow was telling me how much I had to pay for my 2 tax returns and the other 2 oversized envelopes. I was tempted to try to pay with my debit card, but just gave him cash. As I left the supervisor was waiting by the exit and told me to have a nice day. I thanked him for doing such a nice job getting me through the line so quickly and he had a big smile.

  Maybe it was a coincidence that as soon as I started faking a video, the service improved markedly, but I think the supervisor had a vision of him becoming a star on YouTube or 20/20 or Undercover Boss. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I don’t think I’ll be going to the Urbandale Post Office anytime soon, but when I do, I’ll bring a camera crew and be out of there in no time flat.