Thoughts While Standing In a Post Office Line

by John M. Hotchner

hotchnerA daily trek to the post office is an established part of my routine. As often as not, I have to stand in line to mail a Priority Mail package, pick up packages or controlled mail, and/or weigh something to determine postage. Yes, I usually have something I can read while I wait, but sometimes I daydream. Over the course of a week, I wrote down those random thoughts:

  • If the Post Office is losing so much business, how come all three counters are staffed, and there are still 15 people in line? Aha — one of the counters is doing only passport applications!
  • Could this be the day I buy stamps and get a missing color, or stamps with no die cuts?
  • Will I get the slowest and most careful clerk when I get to the head of the line; the one who makes sure that every stamp on the packages I get has at least two cancels?
  • Looking through my post office box mail.…Looks like permit imprint impressions are taking over the world. If only 25% of these used stamps…
  • If Saturday delivery goes away, does this mean the Post Office is closed just like on a Sunday, or will it be open for lobby business? If so, great way to sell post office boxes!
  • Has the new commemorative come out yet? If so, will they have it? Recollecting the visit seeking the Cherry Blossoms stamps, the day after it was issued — and they were already sold out!
  • Why individual stamps for ten poets, and only two Civil War designs?
  • Why do customers wait until the clerk announces a total amount due to fish in their wallets or pocketbooks to find their credit/debit card? An extra 30 seconds for half the patrons each day adds up!
  • Wonder if there is anyone from the Inspection Service actually looking out at the transactions from the peepholes above?
  • Nice that supervisory staff are out here working the line to resolve some issues and get forms filled out before folks get to the clerks.
  • Waiting for a certain item to show up — wonder if this pink slip is it? They used to write in the upper right corner who the pick-up was from; no longer. Well, it will get here eventually. After all, in the last five years, only one item I have sent or expected to receive disappeared into thin air. Given my mail volume, that is a pretty spectacular record.
  • The clerks are really nice folks; putting up with the occasional grump — explaining the rules they must live by and doing their best to sooth ruffled feathers. Rare to hear “I want to talk to a supervisor!”
  • Used to be I could weigh small packages and place the correct amount of postage. Now they have added size, destination and weight rules such that I have to wait in line to find out what a particular small package requires. Recognizing that they need to make back their costs, is the new complexity of rates not offset by the amount of clerk time (not to mention my time) that is now devoted to dealing with the complexity?
  • Similar issue….The Unabomber is in jail…..Do we really have to continue to weigh and ask questions about flat-rate Priority Mail packages to prevent bombs in mail being moved by air, rather than just putting those packages in the mail slot?
  • Computer-vended postage seems to be taking over the world! If only 25% of these people would use stamps….
  • “I simply must mail this today!” — the cry of the person who arrives at the post office eight minutes after closing time, while the clerks are serving the last customers who arrived before closing time! Not unsympathetic, but sorry about that.…Go to the 24×7 station about 20 miles away!
  • Why is it that the waiting line so often blocks the entry door instead of people figuring out that they need to fishtail the end of the line to move it away from the door and keep the entryway clear?
  • Wonder how the new policy of not allowing patrons to use tubs is going? Used to be I could borrow a tub if I had a lot of mail, and return it the next day. Suddenly six months or so ago, the Postal Service told its staff not to loan out the tubs any more. Too many being diverted to other uses and not returned — adding to cost overruns, it seems. After a couple of months of heavy handed enforcement, we seem to have returned to common sense, but beware the new clerk.
  • Need a money order today. Remarkably inexpensive for the convenience and the system’s security.
  • I have alphabet stamps on one of my packages to mail. Will they take my word that A is 15¢, B is 18¢, etc., or will they have to take time to look it up, or even worse, call a supervisor? I must remember to bring my chart.
  • Half the clerks seem to understand and be tolerant of stamp collecting; making the effort to cancel lightly, check to see if another clerk has something they are out of, etc. With my luck today, chances are I will get the heavy-handed Grinch.
  • Used to be my post office box letter mail was available at 7:30 a.m. Now I can’t be sure that it is there before 11 a.m. And the new hours for window service (9:30 to 5, instead of 8:30 to 7) meant that I couldn’t get pick-ups during the week unless I left work 10 minutes early. (Retirement solved that problem!) Welcome to the new world of reduced staffing.
  • Liberty Bell Forever stamps seem to be taking over the world! If only 25% of these people would use commemorative stamps…It may not sound like it, but on the whole I am a happy camper. The staff at my local post office and I are on first-name terms. They generally go out of their way to be helpful. Where they are allowed to give me the benefit of the doubt, they do. If I have one real complaint in a week, it is a lot. But I’m like most folks — too often I fear the worst…and it does not happen. Still, I am not happy about the diminished service, and the prospect of further erosion. Neither are the staff members at the post office.

    Should you wish to comment on this editorial, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.

    Or comment right here.

One thought on “Thoughts While Standing In a Post Office Line

  1. Glad to see your mind is busy while in line. About the slow to get payment people.
    It seems that this happens everywhere now. If there is a line a fair number of the
    members are not aware of the consequences of their lack of readiness. They know they will have to pay . . . always! So why dont they get it.

    On the whole the P.O. in my smaller town is a very good and friendly group.
    but I noticed during the pre Christmas rush that is has its down side. everyone is a familiar face. So with a line out the door I wish they wouldn’t do so much catching up during lunch hour and beyond. They are at work and some of us need to get back there. 🙂 Just sayin’

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