By Bill Taylor
It seems to me that sometimes a look at the past can be revealing. I got to thinking about that recently as a result of a little incident which occurred when I requested a local office provide me with a document I needed. I called the office on a Monday a little before noon and was told they could provide me with what I required and that it would be mailed either that afternoon or the next day – which I figured would be acceptable. The document in question had to be a “signed original” so it couldn’t be sent electronically.
By Thursday when the letter hadn’t arrived I called the office and was told it had been mailed on Tuesday. Friday came and went with no letter. Finally late on Saturday it appeared in my mail box. Yep, a “first class” letter mailed from an address here in town took from Tuesday until Saturday to be delivered – which meant I couldn’t do anything about the contents until the next Monday.
This time lapse was annoying but because the matter wasn’t extremely urgent there was no real harm done, however, it did stimulate my memory box. I can recall how, many years ago, if a letter or post card (remember those?) was mailed to an address in the same city, the common practice was to write the name of the addressee and the street address followed by the word “City”. We didn’t have to include the city and state in the address because that notation alerted the post office to mail designated for local delivery – and next day delivery was routine.
I don’t know when we had to start including the city and state in the address but I do recall there were still two mail slots in the post office for some time. One slot was marked “Local” and the other “Out of Town” – undoubtedly to assist the mail sorting and delivery process. The change from “city” didn’t appear to make much discernable difference and we could still expect next day local delivery if the mail was deposited at the post office in time for the last pickup of the day.
That all changed when, “to increase efficiency and reduce costs”, the U S Postal Service (what used to be known as the Post Office Department) decided local post offices would no longer process, postmark, and deliver local mail. Outgoing mail was simply shipped to mail processing centers – which in our case was in a large city some miles away.
Once there the mail, along with that from a number of other post offices, was sorted, postmarked and otherwise processed, and then shipped to area post offices or to another mail processing center. This meant local mail made a round trip to the processing center and back to the local post office. As a result next day “local” delivery of first class mail became a thing of the past as an additional day or possibly two was considered reasonable.
I guess the postal service powers-that-be were so pleased with the results of this change that they decided to “improve” the mail processing procedure even more by consolidating mail processing centers which included closing the one that had been serving us. The result was that our “local” mail now is shipped even further away before being eventually returned to our local post office for delivery. Yep, delivery of a “first class” letter mailed to an address here in town can now be expected to take 4-5 days. That’s a pretty big change but is it progress?
One point should be made clear. Postal employees, whether serving in the post office itself or delivering the mail to homes and businesses, are hard-working folks doing the best they can in a system imposed on them. Remember, they are our neighbors and should be respected for their services.
You know, the postal service has been getting considerable criticism in the past few years – criticism which perhaps has not been totally deserved. However, when we ordinary folks find mail service has come to the point where a letter to be delivered to a local address may take the better part of a week, there may be some valid grounds for griping – and possibly for some changes on our part.
The office sending me that letter is only about a 15 minute walk away and even less time by bike. I could easily have picked up that document myself thereby saving me some aggravation – and the exercise would have done me good. The more I think of it, there are several “local” letters, such as checks for bills, I could easily hand deliver rather than trust them to the postal service. Such a change on my part, that is, ensuring speedy local delivery, wouldn’t make much difference in the big picture of things, but it sure would result in a feeling of making progress. At least that’s how it seems to me.