Snail mail

I think the term snail mail is cute, though I often feel bad using it.  I’m uncomfortable insulting the United States Post Office.  As many of you know, I have long been fascinated by the post office.  I just think mail delivery is amazing — so reliable and so cheap and also a little romantic.  I love looking at little tiny post offices in postage stamp-sized towns.  The idea that I can send a note to friends and family in New York, California, northern Wisconsin, or across town for the same couple of cents is just so great.  It was particularly warming to me when I lived in Charleston and then Miami, when I was a kid at camp, or when I studied in Italy.  But more recently, I’ve been turned off a bit by the USPS.  I am uncomfortable criticzing them in the way that I’m uncomfortable criticizing a good friend or family.  But, the prices of stamps continue to rise and they’ve closed several mailboxes around town that I used to use regularly.  I know that times are tough and there are more competitors to their services, including, of course, email.   In response to their latest budgetary challenges, they’re now proposing dropping Saturday mail service, which I can probably live with, but I’d still like to take a look at their books.  They apparently have debt at around $10 billion.      

When I lived in Berea, Kentucky the summer between my first and second year in law school, I lived with an older woman named Leta.  Leta was fantastic.  She was also an extern in the same program that I was in, but she was a student at the University of Tennessee.  One weekend, she invited me to go to her niece’s wedding in Knoxville.  Well, everyone knew that I had no car and nothing to do in Berea on weekends but ride my bike around the neighborhood cul-de-sacs and check out Pat Conroy books from the library, so I accepted.  Of course it seems weird to go to someone’s wedding uninvited but, weirdly, it was the second time that summer I had done so.  [My boss had a friend whose daughter was getting married in eastern Kentucky, by the West Virginia border, and he and his wife insisted I go to that wedding with them.  I ended up sleeping on some stranger’s couch and being nearly molested by some old Kentucky man who lived with his even older mother.  I digress.]  Ok, back to the Tennessee wedding.  Leta wasn’t exactly thrilled with this wedding because her niece had previously been engaged and gone through all the rigamarole associated with weddings — showers, planning, buying, buying, buying — and then called it off at the last minute.  This wedding was supposed to be smaller, I think, and all I really remember of the ceremony was that it was at a church on a very pretty lake and when the officiant declared the couple husband and wife, they turned around and screamed, “We did it!” at the audience and ran down the aisle.  They both worked at a Lee Greenwood musical theater place in Pigeon Forge, TN.  After the ceremony, we all went to some condo-type place in the Smoky Mountains where there was a keg of beer and some cheetos and a black velvet groom’s cake with a replica of Kiss on it.  Lee Greenwood called for directions as he had gotten lost on the windy roads.  Anyway, Leta’s sister-in-law whose name I am now blanking on worked for the post office.  I was fascinated and bombarded her with tons and tons of questions.  The next morning at an ungodly hour, while I was sleeping, she drove up to Leta’s mom’s house, where we were staying, and started honking her horn as she delivered the mail.  Apparently, she thought that if I loved the post office so much, I should be up at that ungodly hour to accept delivery of Leta’s mom’s mail.  I slept through the whole thing.   

Some interesting facts (courtesy of the omniscient and ever-reliable Wikipedia, as well as my own research) about the USPS:

  • The post office is authorized in the Constituion in Article I, s. 8, granting Congress the power to establish “Post Offices and post Roads.”  [Sidenote, I’m fascinated by weird, old capitalization.]
  • It is the second largest civilian employer in the US, after Wal-Mart, employing 656,000 people.
  • Its first incarnation was as the United States Post Office (USPO) in 1775, followed by the United States Post Office Department (USPOD) in 1792.  It was not until Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act into law in 1970 that we got the USPS as we currently know it.
  • Prior to 1970, the post office was part of the presidential cabinet and the Postmaster  General was the last person in the presidential line of succession.
  • After 1970, or 1971, the USPS was no longer part of the cabinet and instead became an independent federal agency, like the CIA or the EPA.
  • UPS and FedEx and DHL and anyone else who is not the USPS cannot deliver packages to PO boxes because the USPS has the exclusive right to deliver mail to those boxes.  I always thought it was maybe because the private companies didn’t think their packages would fit in those boxes.  Hee hee.  Dumb Kate. 

These are just a few of the interesting tidbits I learned today.  Oh, Post Office, please turn yourself around without raising costs, cutting services or reducing pensions (the latter of which it seems the Postmaster General himself has suggested).  How this would work, I’m not exactly sure.  I’d need to get a look at those books.    

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3 Responses to “Snail mail”


  1. 1 Aaron March 2, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Ditto on old capitalization. I also like how the Constitution uses “chuse” for “choose” and I also like &c for etc.

  2. 2 gwendolyngarden March 3, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Another interesting (to me) note on the postal service… Top Gear just did a show where a Porsche Panamera raced a letter from the tip of Cornwall to the Orkney Islands off Scotland. The letter won. I’m just saying.

  3. 3 Sarayu March 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Oh my god. That story about Leta’s niece’s wedding had me laughing so hard it hurts a little. I’m sorry to hear you were almost molested in eastern Kentucky, though. That sounds scary. I think if I get married a black velvet Kiss cake would be very appropriate. And necessary. Although something tells me at my wedding, it’s my friends who’ll be shouting “They did it!” Hee hee.

    I love the USPS tidbits too, and I completely support both your prior admiration and your current frustrations. That wedding story, though? Prime comedic material. Well done.


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