Saturday, January 30, 2016

Still Life With Robin: Mail, Plus or Minus

Photo by Quadell (via Wikimedia Commons)
by Peggy Robin

One of the advantages of being on a large and busy email listserv is that you get the perspectives of many people with different experiences from your own. After a blizzard there’s typically a flurry of reports about when mail service has resumed, and under what conditions. Some people as of yesterday, a full week after the snow started falling, still had not received a single visit from their mail carrier – even though walkways and steps were shoveled and all other deliveries were getting through. A few streets away, others reported, full service was back on within a couple of days, and they appreciated seeing their dedicated mail carriers making their way over and through heaps of snow "in the daily completion of their appointed rounds."

My house was on one of those routes fortunate enough to have only a short interruption in service, but that is not to say I have no complaints. At least once a week we get a packet of mail addressed to other neighbors -- a phenomenon that occurs year round, in good weather and in bad. Yesterday, however, I got a sense of what it's been like for those unlucky enough not to have had any deliveries since the storm. I had gone to the Friendship Post Office at Wisconsin and Upton St to mail a package and encountered a mob of frustrated customers arrayed in a long queue running the length of the building. Since I had a lot of time waiting in line for the two clerks who manned open windows, I found time to chat and find out what others were there for. “Mail pick up” was one of the common refrains; those who had still had no delivery had come to see if they could retrieve a week’s worth of undelivered mail. One man told me he was collecting for his business, which is very dependent on postal mail.  

After a while, a postal employee came along to interrogate people in the line and find out, first, if anyone was there to drop something off and get a receipt (something that could be done without waiting for an open window), and second, if anyone was waiting to collect their undelivered mail. He directed those in each category to step to the side, so that they could be helped separately. I remained in the line.    

Twenty minutes later, I made it to the window to have my package measured and weighed, and then learn my options for tracking, insurance, and delivery speed. I made my choices, paid the postage, and was on my way. As I exited, I noticed that the businessman who had come to pick up his mail had not budged from his waiting space on the side. He gave me a rueful wave goodbye. For all I know, he’ll have to be back again on Monday.  

This is something of a shaggy dog story, I know – rambling and probably pointless. Not being at all knowledgeable in this field, I have no constructive comments to make about how to improve this situation. I usually devote this column to recommending local activities or websites or pointing out this or that quirk or characteristic about life in Cleveland Park and vicinity. Somewhat tangentially, I have two houseguests at the moment who spent much of yesterday visiting the Postal Museum down by Union Station ( They came back from the visit bubbling over with enthusiasm for this somewhat-lesser-known tourist attraction; they rated it far above the usual top ten visitor-draws on the Mall, and urged me to go. (I’ve never been.) After listening to them gush about the experience, I initially thought I might make today's column a recommendation for others to pay a visit to this under-appreciated treasure-house, but then I started musing about the quality of the service that is provided in the present day and time by the institution being celebrated at the Postal Museum, and it struck me as something of a conundrum: How can a museum about the Postal Service be so great when the service itself is so decidedly un-great?

I must sign off, but will note that right now it is 7:13 PM on Saturday, and there’s been no mail delivery so far today.


Still Life With Robin is published on All Life Is Local and on the Cleveland Park Listserv on Saturdays.

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