I Remember Eddie

All the latest news about how poorly our mail service does has reminded me of my first recollections of the same service. Today, we complain about how much it costs to run the department, how long it takes to get a letter, and how often we find boxes of undelivered mail lying about in secret stashes. I will use a cliche to make my point, back in the good old days getting mail was considered sacred. Remember the old creed “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”? Today, it is still somewhat a sacred bond to deliver the mail, but it is no where near to the service we once had.

My first bone of contention is related to the position of the mailbox. In my home town of Chicago the mailboxes were mounted to the front of the house next to the door. Some doors had mail slots instead of boxes, and your mail was delivered to the interior of your home. Of course they couldn’t do that in the rural areas where homes are often many yards back from the road so the USPS allowed farmers to have post boxes along the road side. When did a suburban community become a rural farm?

My parents were poor and had a very small home in the city. The houses were two feet apart. In the modern vernacular that is known as urban density.

Our mailman’s name was Eddie. Do you remember your first mailman’s name? No? Probably because you never see him when he flys by in his cute little USPS delivery van and pokes his hand out the window into your box. Back in the nineteen forties and fifties, mailmen (Women who delivered mail were scarce back then) carried all their deliverables in a heavy leather pouch that he slung over his shoulder onto his back. He carried a hand full of mail that had been pre-sorted and gathered together in the order of delivery. The man or woman in the delivery van also use this system. It seems to work better when all the mail is bunched by address in the same order as the houses on the street. We knew Eddie because he knocked on the door to let us know when he put something important into your box. My mother was a very personable woman and made friends with him soon after meeting him.

Eddie’s first deliver was in the morning. When his leather bag was empty at the end of the street he was in front of a drop box. He opened the box with a special key that hung from his belt. Inside the box was more mail. After filling his pouch he went back to delivering. After lunch, Eddie made a second round of deliveries, and this happened six days a week. Today, the service is limited to one delivery a day to a box at the curb.

Back then, most mail we received came from someone we knew with news of the family. Today, I picked up six pieces of mail. Of the six, four were vanilla grade advertising flyers and two were important to me, namely bills. Yesterday, all the mail was of the type I label as junk-mail. Most mail is junk these days, and for this reason the USPS is seventy-eight billon dollars in arrears this budget season. If my math is correct every citizen of the US now owes the USPS $260 on top of what they normally spend in the budget year.

One year, I remember Mom gifting Eddie with some Bantam hen eggs for his kids. He was amazed at how small they were. Eddie could not stop thanking Mom for these eggs. Their friendship became really solid after that gift. I don’t remember when Eddie retired but after he did we never saw him again.

Evolution overcame the USPS and slowly the twice a day deliveries were stopped, Bags carried on the back lost out to bags on a carts, and eventually in the nineteen eighties the carts lost out to the zippy little Grumman vans designed especially for delivering mail.

Stamp collecting was huge hobby in the fifties. I began in the fourth grade and stopped collecting in the eighties or nineties. Today, I am pondering how to deal with the collection. People my age are flooding the market with old stamps in their collections making them valueless. I heard rumor that collectors who bought entire sheets of stamps as an investment are getting as little as thirty cents on the dollar for them. Talk about losing your ass, that is one sure way to do it, buy a stock for ten dollars and sell it for three. Have you ever wondered why some junk mail comes with a block of old stamps of small denominations? It is because people can buy the stamps cheap and the USPS has to deliver the letter as long as it has the correct amount of postage on it.

When I collected, I often thought the USPS was missing the boat. I thought they were dumb for not issuing more new stamps than they did, because collectors buy the things just to look at them, the postal service never has to provide any service for all those stamps they sold making collector stamps a huge profit. I would have provided collectors with special service above and beyond that of regular mail because other than selling me the stamp they didn’t have to do a single thing for that money.

Anyway, we find our selves debating how and when we will cover the 78 billion dollar shortage.

Postage Due

Last week my doorbell rang. It was the mailman. He had a postage-due package from my new healthcare provider. I asked him why this particular package required $3.17 to receive. He showed me the metered stamp. It was a third class document, and third class cannot be forwarded to my new address. Hymmph, my healthcare provider considers his detailed book of benefits as third class, I’m in trouble.

The postage due was a benefit I never expected because I met a very interesting man. His name is Henry. Henry asked if I had read his letter to the editor published in last weeks free newspaper. I had not, in fact, I did not receive the paper. Before Henry left to continue delivering mail to his customer’s I learned a lot about him, his political views, his religion, and his family.

Henry came to America from Guatemala. He speaks excellent english and seems very well-educated. He told me he had been a merchant sailor for twelve years, and sailed to many ports around the Atlantic Ocean. He visited many countries. “When I arrived in America the very first time, I knew this is where I wanted live,” he said. “I am part Jewish and went Israel and I would never live there, nor Spain, or anywhere in Europe. I just knew America was my home. I love this country.”

He went on to explain that we have some very bad people coming into the country now, and we need to fix the borders. “I came in and applied legally, I waited, and I became a citizen, but these new people walk across the border and expect everything.” He was not happy with the situation. Then, he said something very surprising. When the current president came into office, Henry and his wife decided to migrate away from America because they do not approve of  Obama’s socialist transformation. They visited New Zealand with the idea of moving there. “It is a beautiful country, not like Australia, but we didn’t do our homework before we traveled there. We learned that New Zealand has a socialist medical system like the one coming to America, and we abandoned our plan to move.”

“Where will you go,” I asked.

“In a few years I will retire and return to Guatemala.”

Talk about  going full circle, Henry moved from Guatemala to have a happier life, which he found in America, and will return to the life he didn’t like in Guatemala just to get away from America turning socialist.

A few days went by and I found a copy of the Sun City West Independent that he promised to leave me. He circled his letter to the editor. In his letter he addressed the problem of the Post Office losing money. He urged fellow citizens to mail more letters instead of using e-mail and Facebook to communicate. He explained the reason for the P.O. losing money as follows

“But one of the Postal Service’s biggest problem has nothing to do with the mail. Its finances sank in fiscal year 2007, shortly after Congress passed the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. It required the postal Service to start pre-funding the health benefits of future retirees 50 years in advance at a rate of about $5.6 billion a year. No other agency or corporate entity is required to do this. Without this restriction, the USPS would be profitable.”

He is right, it doesn’t make sense to pass a law to make the USPS behave one way when every agency of government rides on the tax-payer without providing any service.

Henry’s complete letter is below.

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A Public Option Lesson

     Let me start by chronicling an event that just occurred. Two days before I left on a long trip, I went to the post office to change my address so my mail would be forwarded. In past years, I went in, filled out a yellow change of address form, handed it to a local USPS clerk and forgot about it. I left town, and the mail stopped coming to the old address on the date I requested, and it arrived a week later at my new address. Each piece of mail forwarded had a yellow sticker on it with the new address.  I timed my travel to cover the time of the relay. It worked every time.

     This time, I was in a hurry when I went to the post office. I asked a clerk for the form.

     She asked me, “only one?”

    “Yes,” I responded too quickly. I went to the counter to fill it out when I remembered that I have to fill out a form for each name that receives mail to an address. In the past, I was lucky. I got away with one form for my Sur name, and covered my family by checking the family box.  That way, my wife’s mail forwarded also. This time, I had to complete four cards. 1) Peggy is known by her former name, 2) her new name covered by a check in the family box, and 3)a hyphenated combo.  The fourth is mail that still comes for my beloved Aunt Marie. In the interest of time, I got sucked into doing the job on-line.

     The USPS web site is enormous, but relatively easy to navigate. I found the page quickly, and filled out the form. I clicked finish and the damn thing asked for  a one dollar transaction fee. Hmmm, they never ask for that in the PO. I thought a computer was supposed to improve productivity, and reduce costs. Each name cost me another buck on the credit card. I saved the transactions, and went about packing.

     The result of the new on-line system is totally unsatisfactory. Here is what happened:

  1. The mail continued to come to my old address for one week beyond the asked for shut off date.
  2. It’s been eleven days since I left home, and fourteen days since I filed my on-line change, and the mail is still not coming.

     If this on-line system were implemented in the private sector it would have worked like a charm.  The USPS has some of the most sophisticated automation systems in the world. It knows about computers, they have used them for years. So why can’t they get something as simple as changing an address? They did okay when it was a paper system.

   The supporters of big Government argue that the USPS is not a government run service. Why then, does Congress have to approve every move the USPS tries to implement? If they want to change the price of a stamp, it takes a congressional approval. If they try to change work rules to get concessions from the union, it takes a congressional approval, and Congressmen don’t like upsetting unions.

     Imagine a Public Option Health Care System that works like the USPS. I see a nightmare. I see a dollar charge for every on-line appointment I make with a doctor. I see a major delay in getting satisfaction because of the inability of the bureaucrats to run anything. I see the administrators going to Congress to beg for money to continue the job. I see the American people being taxed to death to pay for a system that gives nothing in return but health improving stress.

What do you see?

Take Vitamins and Live Healthy

My Flag Flies Everyday

My Flag Flies Everyday

Life continues to teach lessons to the end. I confess that I am three score and ten in years, but I am still learning everyday. Just this week I learned something new. Since I try to be a positive person, I look for the positive that comes out of a negative. Last week I received a call from a loan company telling me that I was fourteen days past due on a loan payment. The loan company is a government backed organization similar to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  For once they were correct about my late payment. They did me a favor by calling to remind me of the oversight. I told them I would send them money immediately. At the same time, I completed a form requesting a direct debit from my checking account to prevent the problem from occurring again. On Thursday, I rushed to the Post Office to send the check and the request.  I wanted the check to get there fast so I chose to send it by “Express Mail.” It cost $17.65 to send the money this way. It was guaranteed to be in their hands within twenty four hours.  At the same time, I mailed my request for direct debit by certified first class mail; the cost was $2.65.

My experience with the US Postal Service has been fair. I always trust them and expect my mail to get through. I remember as a kid that the mailman came to the house twice a day. We had a morning and an afternoon delivery to the front door. Currently, I have to walk to the curb to pick up my mail and I’m lucky if it comes sometime between nine and four. The service is now threatening to cut service to five days a week down from six. I still expect them to perform as faithful servants of the people by getting the mail through.

Today, I received a letter from the loan company telling me that I was in arrears. I decided I had better check on the status of my payment. I enterred the tracking number into the USPS website and got a surprise. The payment arrived at the loan company on Saturday afternoon, not on Friday as planned. There was no one at the office to receive the mail and sign for it. The USPS left them a form indicating they have special mail and they should make arrangements for a redelivery to occur. It is Monday and the payment is still late.

I was furious and called the local PO. A nice lady explained the process to me. Yes they were late with the delivery. I had no recourse except to hope  the loan company will request a redelivery. I asked her if I can claim a rebate for the $17.65 . “Yes,” she said, but you have to wait until the item is delivered to make a claim. Then I have to prove to the local PO that it was late.

Later this evening, I checked the USPS site again and learned that the item was delivered at 10:00 a.m. ten this morning. The second item sent to the same place by snail mail arrived at  8:39 a.m.

All of this got me to thinking about our  desire to make “Change We Can Believe In.” The latest direction is to nationalize health care. The idea that we will screw up our health care system by giving it to the government is insane. The USPS has had two hundred years to get it right, and they continue to erode their service. Their employees are indifferent to their performance, and are generally unhelpful. Can you imagine what it will be like trying to get cured using the bureocracy? I suggest we all take vitamins and live healthy, because getting help will be like expecting the post office to deliver a piece of mail on time.

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