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Monday, October 14

Please Mr. Postman

It's been a while now since I lost faith in snail mail.  This was partially from experience and partially just circumstance.  I work at an international law firm with 25 offices, where you can stick anything into an interoffice envelope and will it to arrive at any office in any of the three major world regions by the next day.  Interoffice pouch has redefined the slowness of mail and shipping.  The other side of this coin is that snail mail got its name for a reason.  It can be epically slow.  My latest experience inspired thought.

One thing super lovely about online buys is it's like each one comes with its own GPS tracker, active from the moment of purchase (thank you, Amazon).  Watching a package make its way to you for an adult is like a kid tracking Santa on Christmas Eve.  This system seemed pretty spot on, that is until it was applied to a recent purchase  of mine, destined to arrive via USPS.  Just like UPS, the tracking page included a delivery date.  What I learned is that this date is flexible and up for negotiation--sort of like our nation's debt ceiling and healthcare system.  When that date came and went and no package had arrived, I began to think in a little more detail about our postal system's resources.  To offer tracking that is not reliable is the equivalent of offering any product that isn't really the product.  And in any world outside of the government, it wouldn't hold up.  This, in sum, is not a sign that resources are being used efficiently or well.

This takes me to the stories about the abysmal state of our postal system--not making payments to pensions, laying off workers, eliminating positions, routes, offices.  It all sounds terrible.  And the only thing that makes it more terrible?  Being a customer of the now 3-legged service available.  I placed a purchase that originated out of Youngstown, OH.  I didn't know this when I made the purchase, but as the story unraveled, it grew painfully apparent hat I could drive to this location in a little under two hours.  Keep this in mind as we proceed.  My package left Youngstown and journeyed northwest to Toledo, OH--about 2.5 hours away from its point of origin and 4 hours from its destination (that's right, further away from its destination).  From Toledo, it headed back east to Warrendale, PA, which is about 3 hours of travel time and literally took the package just a bit south from where it began.  Right now, my package can be confirmed for having left Warrendale, but where may it end up next?  How many more stops before hitting my mailbox?  Only my package's, dare I say, temporary caretaker knows.

Not long ago, when I lived one block away from my parents, if I put a birthday card in my mailbox, it would go an hour away from here to Pittsburgh before then coming back down and ending one block away from where it started.  Needless to say, I quickly learned to save the stamp.  That's right, the plot thickens, and it becomes apparent that we pay for this type of service.

Given all of the above, next time I hear a story about what awful shape the postal service is in nowadays, I will pause before reacting.  And in the end, I'll probably just shake my head because if anyone could look at a system that runs as this one does and expect things to look good, then I'd like to meet that person and have a conversation about their conclusions and what they are built upon.  I would write a letter and share my thoughts with someone who runs the service, but by the time my letter would reach them, we may be 1) still in the midst of our government shutdown, 2) in the midst of a new government shutdown or 3) in the midst of the next federal holiday.  Get it together government.  Just work on getting it all back together.      

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