August 04, 2006

Post Office Adventures

Overheard at Bethesda Post Office on Arlington Road yesterday: A rather Kafkaesque conversation in which two men were complaining to the Supervisor that their oversized post cards (the type sent by galleries or restaurants to announce events) had been returned for insufficient postage. The men said that they had put first class stamps on the post cards. The Supervisor said that the problem was that the address labels and text were placed horizontally across the width of the postcards, so that they had to be scanned into the machines vertically, in which case they are considered oversized and require additional postage. She said that, if the address labels and text ran across the length of the postcards so that the machines could read them horizontally, they would not be considered oversized. She said that the process is done completely by computers, and humans are not involved. Isn't that exactly what Uncle Skip was talking about a day earlier during his Balducci's Tea Party?

But aside from the computer dependency silliness, what was really striking was the response by the two men. Rather than taking issue with the illogical system in which the computers read identically-sized postcards two different ways, they complained that one of their postcards had been delivered, therefore all of them should have been delivered. In other words, one had fallen through the cracks by mistake. This is a bit like going through a toll booth, mistakenly not being asked to pay, then going through the next day, not paying, getting pulled over by the cops, and complaining that they weren't required to pay a day earlier so why should they have to pay today. Obviously, these men are not glass-half-full types who should have thanked the Supervisor for getting at least one postcard through at a discount.

Even worse, one of the men played the false "stay calm" card. Even though the Supervisor was extremely calm and the men were the agitated ones, one of them falsely told the Supervisor to "stay calm." Isn't it irksome when someone does that? It must be a form of projection. To her credit, the Supervisor calmly and accurately told the men that she was very calm. If anyone was in danger of "going postal," it was the customers and not the Supervisor.

It's easy and cheap to criticize Post Office and other government workers. However, I don't know about DC, but I find that, in Montgomery County, Maryland, the Post Office employees are courteous, friendly and efficient, making the best of a system in which we all have to operate.


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