As one of the last writers of letters — actual letters, on paper, written with pen or typewriter and mailed in an envelope — and a regular sender of small packages (mostly literary, nothing hazardous, liquid or perishable), I am a frequent and faithful patron of the United States Postal Service. Several times a week I stand in line to do business across the counter with one of the no-nonsense, low-key, congenial and efficient clerks at my local post office.
While waiting I sometimes observe the variety of other customers, with their great range of moods and aptitudes and personalities, and I admire the clerks’ patience and professionalism in dealing with these sometimes difficult individuals. Most postal workers I’ve known, whether delivery people or over-the-counter clerks, are among the most courteous and cool-headed public servants around. Insulting epithets like “snail mail,” which mock the deliberate pace of some deliveries, demean what remains of one of our most irreplaceable means of communication.
Like the newspaper industry, the Postal Service is under increasing pressure and stress from all the virtual alternatives. As if email and idiot phones weren’t enough, Congress mandates a substantial percentage of postal revenues be stashed in future retirement funds rather than applied to current operating expenses. Between these market-driven and government-imposed handicaps, the USPS is constantly losing money and contemplating cuts in service, thus threatening to perpetuate a vicious cycle into the vortex of its own inevitable doom.