Monday, January 30, 2012

Saturday at the post office

A fiction I tell myself is that the post office is closed on Saturdays, when in fact, the main branch is open.  I don't want to believe that the post office is open on Saturdays because I don't want to expose myself to that scene, ever.  It has, however, become inevitable that I make Saturday trips to the PO, and this Saturday was the day.  I had already been to Whole Foods---it is a measure of how far I have progressed  that I can now shop at Whole Foods on a Saturday.

Mailing a package ought to be pretty straightforward.  You present yourself to the counter, your package is weighed, you pay, you leave.  Two minutes, tops.  WHY then, are other people's transactions at the post office so protracted?  You'll be standing in line, there will be two clerks, one of whom will be dealing with a guy with a manilla envelope.  Beware people with manila envelopes!  Their transactions always take the longest. The other customer will be a guy who speaks only Russian.  He will have a huge, bulging, poorly-taped package that must  be sent to Irkutsk overnight and if it doesn't get there overnight, everyone in his village will be put to death and what do you mean you don't accept rubles?  The guy with the envelopes will finally leave, tearful, because whatever it was that had to happen with his envelopes can not be done and he is now financially ruined.  The next person in line will plop a moistly leaking package onto the counter and demand that it be delivered to Alaska before it spoils.   (I had a friend whose mother used to send her raw chorizo sausage through the US mail.)   I wouldn't be surprised if someone walked in with a live goat, expecting to mail it to Antarctica.  But a live goat isn't perishable, fragile, liquid, or potentially hazardous.

On this particular Saturday, the business that was holding up the line involved a young man, his two young companions and a huge box of cardboard tubes and assorted small packages that each needed to be mailed individually somewhere--a transaction of such breathtaking complexity that it required the attention of two clerks and multiple trips out to the car by the two companions.  I'm not saying anything against these people.  They have as much right to use the post office as I do.  It was just my bad luck that the day they decided to mail their multitude of cardboard tubes was the day I finally decided to brave the post office on a Saturday.

The other clerks were occupied with a guy with envelopes (envelopes again!), a Spanish-speaking woman, a woman attempting to pick up a registered letter that the clerk was unable to find, and a Pakistani family awaiting a package.  Their clerk emerged, panting, after a very long delay, from the back room with a huge, bulging, poorly-taped package, that no doubt had held up the line at the PO in Pakistan.  A nice symmetry.

I was uncomfortably conscious of the groceries melting in the back of my car. The people with the cardboard tubes finished their business at last--the clerk who'd been helping them abruptly left the counter and never returned.  The other clerk who'd been helping them was now free and the line moved faster.  My turn came, my package was weighed and payed for in under two minutes.

It's worth mentioning that yesterday was the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Blizzard of '77, which buried Buffalo, NY under 158.4 million cubic feet of snow.  Looking at that slide show, I can hardly believed I lived through a disaster of that magnitude, although I was, in fact, stranded away from my family for two full weeks.  It's also incredible that there were only twenty-nine deaths.  One casualty was our school crossing guard, a kindly man who helped us across Main St. on our way to St. Benedict's.  I urge you to watch the slide show below, for some unbelievable images.  That is a real winter.


  1. I also never understand why that particular branch of the post office is always the one with the longest lines and the ones that move the slowest. I use the downtown branch during the week and they can have people lined up out the door, but we'll move swiftly through the line in 10 minutes (I always time it).

    The main branch, however, could have 10 clerks working and only 2 people in line and it will still take 35 minutes to get in and out.

  2. Does The Breast Man still work at the main post office? He's the creep who spends all of his time talking to and staring at chests.

    I loved the branch that used to be near the hospital. Downtown is second best. Barracks Road might be all right these days, but our psychotic mail carrier used to work there so I avoided it for years.

  3. Whole Paychceck AND the post office on a Saturday? Whoa.

    I love this post. Made me laugh.

  4. I'm a Virginia native, and prefer my winters mild, but I used to fly in and out of Buffalo frequently when I was an airline pilot. I admire how BUF "does" winter. At a certain point, they just quit plowing the taxiways, and you just drive around on packed snow. Packed snow has pretty fantastic traction, especially compared to pavement that has had fair to middling snow removal, combined with drifting, thawing, and refreezing.

  5. I am working on not grumbling, but when it comes to the post office, I can't help myself. My complaint is they don't seem to know how to sort mail any more. We get other people's mail all the time, so presumably other people get ours. We wonder why we don't get certain magazines we've subscribed to.
    This never used to happen to us. I don't know if it's due to a change in location or an institution in major decline.

  6. This is so true about most post offices! And you really made me laugh.

    I have to confess to having a husband who sometimes goes to the PO with 15 different packages, all going to different places, each having to be weighed, and many needing customs slips filled out.

    However, I feel blessed to live in a tiny town, where the PO never has a line of more than two people, I know all the clerks by name, and they'll go out of their way to be helpful. There are many drawbacks to living in a small town (no Whole Foods, for instance), but the PO is a definite benefit :-)

  7. best post office in town is the one two doors down from my office (basement of McKim). open from 8:30-4:30 except 1-1:30 for her lunch break. no cards but otherwise great!

  8. Margaret--I'm stunned! I had no idea there was a post office at UVA. I thought that when they tore down the one where the core lab building is now, that was the end of a UVA post office. Well now I DON'T have to go to the PO on Saturdays. :)

  9. Mama Marathon, I'm a little nervous about flying into Buffalo this February. That's how they do the side streets too--allow a layer of hard packed snow to become the new "road." It works pretty well.

  10. i know! no one knows its there except for the residents (where their mail comes) and the McKim people! I only found out when my office was just down the hallway. and I've done my own (very unscientific) research-that place has some sort of special mail delivery goin on because my checks are processed just 24 hours after going into the mail slot! And they have the UPS and FedEx bins in the stairwell next to the post office. mckim has it going on :)

  11. I live in the most diverse neighborhood in the country according to the latest census. Going to the post office in my neighborhood is an event filled with so much suffering that it almost defies description. Mailing a package here means standing on line for four or five hours as people blabber on in languages no one else speaks and customers ahead of you never, ever leave the window.

    My fear of snow grows daily.