A visit to the Post Office used to be as American as white bread. As hospitable as the Red Cross. A ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. I could always count on friendly, helpful folks who might even know my first name, mailing preferences and when I needed a new book of stamps.
A typical conversation with the smiling faces behind the postal counter a couple of decades ago might go like this:
Cheerful and Upbeat Postal Employee: “Hi there, Kerry! Isn’t the weather beautiful today! I am so happy to serve you! What’ll it be?”
Me: Overwhelmed with bonhomie (look it up) and flushed with pleasure to be welcomed with such bright and chirpy enthusiasm, (to those of you that really hate enthusiasm, you may not want to finish reading this article because enthusiasm is a secondary theme here…); I respond, “Hi, ummm, Mr. Postal Person! I am glad to see you too! And yes, the weather is amazing today. I have here a package to mail (I sweetly extend the package for his perusal) and also, I need a book of stamps!
Cheerful and Upbeat Postal Employee: Retrieving the package, he turns it over carefully to see if everything is in order. “Hey, I see you missed a spot right here! Uh, anything breakable in here?” I nod that no, there is not. “Okay, just a sec, (he grabs handy tape dispenser) and I will tape up that spot for ya! Heeeere you are, now will you be needin’ first class or parcel post?” Then, when he is absolutely sure my package is spiffed up and ready to hit the mailroom, he slaps postage on, whips out a book of stamps, and efficiently completes the transaction.
Me: “Wow! You are so upbeat and cheerful! It is such a pleasure walking into the Post Office!”
Cheerful and Upbeat Postal Employee: “I know! We are taught to be that way because you, the customer, are our pride and joy. Don’t ever forget that!” He beams at me and waves as I exit. I cannot wait for the next visit to the U.S. Post Office.
Over the past few years, I have noticed my joyful treks to the Post Office have been somewhat diminished by the demeanor behind the counter. The same postal scenario today might go like this:
Disgruntled and Surly Postal Employee: Nowhere to be seen. The counter is deserted.
Me: Standing in front of deserted counter with package. Still standing in front of deserted counter with package. Becoming irritated standing in front of deserted counter with package. Finally, I say, “Hello? Anybody there?” Notice a bell on the counter, and slap my hand down on it. That is what it’s for, right?
Me: “Um, well, no one was around, and I’m kinda on a tight schedule and -”
Disgruntled and Surly Postal Employee: “Yeah, yeah, everyone’s in a hurry. We’re operatin’ with half-staff, y’know.” She indicates with a brusque hand wave I should put the package on the scale in front of her to weigh it.
Me: “Aaah, we can weigh it but I need some tape please, to shore up a few spots I missed.”
Disgruntled and Surly Postal Employee: Huge, beleaguered sigh. “We don’t give out tape. You need to get your own and come back. Anything else?”
Me: Looking behind me, noticing NO ONE ELSE is in line, I am her only customer. She cannot bend the rules for me just a teensy-weensy bit? I am hopeful there may be seeds of cheerful and upbeat postal-employee persona deeply-imbedded in her soul somewhere. “Do you think, that maybe, just this once, you could let me use a little tape so I don’t have to come back?” I display my most ingratiating smile.
Disgruntled and Surly Postal Employee: “Why is it everyone that comes in here thinks we should help them wrap their packages? Ridiculous!” Throws the tape dispenser in my direction, and it lands on the floor behind me. She adds, “And you cannot use my pen! I have lost more pens to you people!”
Me: Quickly grab package off weighing scale, drop to the floor to locate tape dispenser, hurriedly tape area in question, push off from the floor on hands and knees, stand, dust myself off and lug package back to counter. “There, that should do it!” I remain outwardly winsome, because I need to get the package on its way, and if I slug her for being an absolute jerk, which is what I really, really want to do, what would that get me? I think this is one of those situations where self-control is key.
Disgruntled and Surly Postal Employee: “That’ll be $1,048.34. It’ll get there in 21 days. Maybe. Anything else?”
Me: “Stamps?” I am breathing heavily because of my tryst with the tape dispenser on the floor. I notice I am still clutching it, and lay it gently on the counter.
Disgruntled and Surly Postal Employee: “Stamps?! Why didn’t you tell me that first! Now I’ve closed the drawer!” With a huff she clicks around on something and a drawer pops out. “Religious or Non-religious?” Her eyes land on the tape dispenser I have apparently put in the wrong place. She grabs it and throws it toward a shelf behind her.
Me: “Um, can I see the selection?” I involuntarily duck, then shield my face with my hands in case she launches a volley of U.S. Postal Service pens at me.
Disgruntled and Surly Postal Employee: “Wait a minute.” Stomps into the back, returns with several species of stamps and slaps them on the counter. “There!”
Me: I select a series with religious overtones, and she scowls deeply. Rings up my transaction and hands me a receipt. Stomps into the back without a word. I make plans to check out UPS or FedX for my next package-mailing ventures.
What a contrast! But I want you to know, dear reader, that JUST THIS WEEK, I experienced a bright spot in an otherwise bleak postal landscape. The U.S. Postal Service Employee at my local Post Office actually SMILED AT ME!
The clouds parted, birds sang, and the encroaching sunset outside the window painted the U.S. Postal Office walls in lovely shades of pink and yellow.
My postal optimism was somewhat restored that day. A memorable moment.
I still duck, however, if I happen to be in the Post Office and am in dire need of tape.