Monday, March 20, 2006

Post Office 101

Recently I had to make a trip to my neighborhood U.S. Post Office to mail something. I had to stand in line because I needed to (a) purchase a large envelope and (b) send the item Certified Mail. Well, it was sort of late in the day, after 5pm I think, and there was quite a long line. There were three people behind the counter, but one of them had a "Window Closed" sign up (though there is not technically a window, but I digress).

Post Office Employee 1 was a young African American woman. When I got far enough up in line to observe the various people, I noticed that the man in line with her was chatting her up with several stories that he apparently found very amusing. He was probably in his 50s or 60s, and had quite a few things to mail, apparently of different sorts because it appeared she was doing a separate transaction for each one, all the while politely smiling and chatting with him. As the line grew longer. But she WAS polite and friendly.

Post Office Employee 2 was the aforementioned "Window Closed" lady. She was actually still at her post doing some sort of tasks, I think related to closing out her station. She seemed to be counting checks, money, etc., totaling out her register, etc. The thing I noticed about her was that she was conducting all these tasks as though underwater. I have never seen anyone move so slowly and deliberately who did not have some sort of handicap or was really old. This woman was probably not a whole lot older than me. Now I suspect that, being Government employees, they must shut down their station when they are scheduled off, regardless of how many patrons are still in line. But it is a little disconcerting to see someone who brings to mind the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare (her being the Tortoise) milling around glancing up at the line and yet making no acknowledgment that there were probably 20 people waiting to do their postal transactions.

Post Office Employee 3 was a woman in her 50s I'm guessing, though since I am now in my 50s, I find it is much harder to guess someone's age. I don't look my age, or so I've been told (and I have to confess I agree - good genes), and yet I know of a number of people who are actually younger than me but look quite a bit older. Anyway, this woman has bleached blondish-gray hair, too long for her age, and looooong red fingernails. I observed her and noted that she took the time with pretty much every single person to fully explain their myriad postal mailing options in great detail. She was very nice, very polite, and seemed to be willing to take all the time necessary to educate people on the intricacies of the United States Postal Service and help them make the most cost and time effective choice for the particular postal needs. But I found myself wondering, don't most ordinary people, unless they have never ever held a job or have lived a very sheltered life, already KNOW the basics of say, the difference between Certified Mail and Priority Mail and Book Rate, etc.? I mean, if you have ever worked in an office, you have had some kind of experience with mailing something. But most of these people seemed as though they had never set foot in a post office before in their lives. It was surreal.

The next odd thing I noticed was that there were two women standing sort of behind the "windows" area, kind of halfway behind a partition around which the employees go to put mail in some sort of bins or whatever. One of these women was holding a clipboard, and she kept stepping around the corner, looking out at the growing line of patrons, several of whom were holding large boxes and getting a bit agitated. She would look at the crowd, look at her clipboard, smile at us, smile and say something to the other woman, and step back around the corner. This happened quite a few times while I was standing in line, and several people commented to each other about this woman, and about Employee 2 and why she didn't open her window back up since it was obvious they needed more help. I found myself wondering what the woman had on her clipboard - was she doing some sort of postal traffic after 5pm survey, some kind of assessment of customer service, some rating of how quickly the employees processed the customers . . . trying to see how long the line would have to get before someone started to get ugly? Who the heck knows.

I must say that the employees were polite and nice, and we all know that sometimes postal employees can be a bit surly, though I've never understood why. The job pays good and doesn't look all that hard. But I was thinking that day that most of those people who were tired and ready to go home and have dinner or play with their kids or crash in front of their TV or whatever would have gladly traded the pleasant chatting and Post Office 101 classes for a little speedy processing and fast service.

I'm just sayin . . .


hampton said...

were you at the post office on green oaks across from the domino's? there is a guy there maybe in his late 40's early 50's, and he looks kinda like he's stuck in a 70's sitcom. he's SO nice though, i am always hopefull that he'll be working and i'll get him when i go to the post office.

mytriparoundthesunshine said...

This is why I love working from home. If I have to go to the post office, I go around 10 AM. Not much of a line that time of day. Also, I love living in a smaller town because (at least in Burly Q) the staff is very nice and do their jobs very efficiently. I actually love going to this post office. Even when I had a job with regular hours and I had to go after 5 PM, I loved my post office. Go, Burly Q Post Office!