I just bought a new Standing-on-line-in-the-Post-Office-to-buy-stamps book. It’s “War and Peace.” I only read it while at the Post Office. No cheating.
While I was aging in the line with my book recently, I realized that the Postal Service had spent about million bucks to create a larger, more spacious and efficient post office to serve the community, and didn’t spend a penny to hire anyone to man the extra cash registers.
With my stamps in hand, I was fifth from the counter and watched as a tall, white haired man wearing a plaid shirt and jeans hand the clerk a yellow postcard. “This was in my post office box,” he explained. “I have a package.”
“Okay,” the lady nodded as she took the card.
The new building is so labyrinthine, she slipped on a steel helmet with a light attached, flicked a switch and disappeared.
Two chapters of my book later, she reappeared with a medium sized package. A co-worker at the register next to her blinked in surprise, then made a slow circle in the air indicating the first clerk should turn around. To our surprise, her back was covered with tarantulas! The co-worker brushed them off, and they skittered away. The clerk set the package on the counter, turned off the lamp, and took off the helmet. The man grabbed his package, nodded his thanks and left.
The line inched forward.
The co-worker returned to helping an elderly lady who had requested a change of address form. “Are you living there now? When will you be there? The form is over there, under the sign that says ‘Change of Address Forms.’ Next!”
The first clerk sold a couple of money orders, and when the customer started filling them out, she told him to go to the desk in the middle of the room and do it there. “No way,” he replied. “I ain’t standing in that line again!” The guy bore a passing resemblance to Martin Sheen. (“This drivers’ license photo doesn’t look like you.” “It did when I came in here.”)
I recalled that on November 6, 2002, the United States Postal Service announced that due to an accounting error they had over contributed billions (that’s with a “b” and an “s”) to their retirement accounts. Ooops. According to the news story, there won’t be a postage increase for three or four years as a result. Maybe they could use the billions to hire a couple of extra people to man those unused cash registers.
Then, I flashed back to July 2001. Mom, Dad and I went on the Great Western Prison and Post Office Tour. We drove from Fredericksburg to Colorado and back. At the edge of every little town and village, a gleaming new Post Office glittered in the sun. (And about every 200 miles we passed a prison. They must be building the closer to the roads so the escaping prisoners won’t have as far to walk to carjack somebody.) Are they also overused and understaffed?
I recognized the glazed looks on the faces around me. I see them in Wal-Mart and HEB all the time. Did the Postal Service design their clerk stations according to what I call the Wal-Mart principle? Here's how it works: Take the maximum number of parking spaces and divide by 25 to get the number of check-out lanes. Then man four of them and leave the rest empty, and watch the lines swell. Oh, yeah. Make one of the clerks a trainee. That'll brighten anyone’s day!
I stopped my wool gathering and returned to my book. I was half way through it, and completely confused by the intricacies of what was going on—the book was confusing too—when the clerk shouted, “Sir! Next!”
Startled, I looked around and saw she was speaking to me. Drawing glares from the line behind me, I walked up to pay for my stamps. Thoughtfully, I had opened the little package and put stamps on my mail. I handed her the mail, and she asked, “Anything fragile, explosive or dangerous?”
“Just their tempers,” I replied indicating the line behind me.