Tuesday, August 12, 2008

US Post Office

I have to mail a package before my flight back to Canada today, but because of time zones I can't get the destination address until 9 a.m. So I'm in the post office, which opened at eight-thirty. I've already bought the postage, but the postmaster tells me that I can't just drop it in a mailbox because it weighs more than a weasel, and new regulations require anything weighing more than a weasel to be submitted to the mails at an actual post office. (He didn't use the word "weasel" but rather some reference to ounces, but I don't know ounces, except in the context that puts them in the same phylum as weasels, and "weasel" is a funnier word.)

My plan is to stand in line, letting people go ahead of me until I have completed the telephone call that gave me the correct mailing address, then just hand over the parcel and run back to the hotel so I'm not late for my flight. It's a good plan, but an unnecessary one, because this post office defies the stereotype about post office lines. There is never more than one other customer here.

I use my waiting time to examine the post office decor. Like Canadian post offices they have community notices, like a copy of the police blotter. (The post office wasn't in Grass Valley. I linked to that one because the blogger's commentary always makes me laugh). Of course the post office has rules. No parking for more than 18 hours at a stretch. No carriage of firearms. Photographs may be taken in in public areas, except where prohibited by official signs, security force personnel or other authorized persons, or a federal court order. Fascinating: that's official sanction of security personnel concocting arbitrary photography restrictions. Gambling at the post office is forbidden, with one curious exception: sale of state lottery tickets at vending facilities operated by licenced blind persons. I wonder if that's a licence to sell lottery tickets or a licence certifying that you are actually blind. Probably the former, but the wording makes it sound like the latter.

There's also a detailed list of the rewards available for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators of illegal mail-related activities. You can collect up to $100,000 for helping to solve a murder or bombing; $50,000 if the crime is assault, meter tampering, robbery or child pornography; and $10,000 if it's burglary or money laundering.

And I can pick up a form to fill out to buy a postal money order, to send money to another country. The fascinating thing is that there was one version of the form, a bilingual Spanish/English form, and the primary language is Spanish. The prompts telling you which information to put in each blank are printed first large and in Spanish, and then the English is given, small and in parentheses, underneath. Clearly the vast majority of American residents who send money to other countries without using bank wire transfers are from Latin America, but I didn't expect it to be so blatantly acknowledged on the form.

A couple of people come in to get free mailing boxes (cool!) and all-you-can-fit fixed price mailing boxes (really cool!) I asked about the latter, and yes, it doesn't matter how much you put in them. The postmaster said some people use them for mailing pennies. I guess uranium would be out, for other reasons, but you could mail lead weights and barbells around the country for a low fixed price. Awesome.

The postmaster is very cheerful and patient with everyone who comes in, and recommends ways people can save money on their postal needs. As each person gives him a parcel, he asks them if it contains any liquids, explosives or dangerous items. Everyone says no.

At 09:01 I completed my telephone call, got the address and handed over the parcel, pre-emptively stating that the parcel did not contain any liquids, explosives or harmful materials. I made my flight, and I understand that the parcel arrived safely.


Anonymous said...

I used to laugh at the very concept of blogs: "Reading about people going to the post office, bla bla bla, why would I do that?"

Well, trust Aviatrix to make even that type of story an interesting read.

When will you give out a book?

Richard said...

Last time I used a US post office, I was excited to learn that stealing the Post Office's chained ball point pens rates a $400 fine!