I went to the Post Office (aka P.O.) on Friday--second time last week. It's the holidays and visits to the P.O. are pretty much expected. Mailing Christmas packages has become a way of life for our family with our nearest direct relatives in the north-central and southern states and grandchildren on both coasts. In fact, by the look of the lines outside and inside the P.O., dispersed families must be pretty common these days.
The demographics of Postal Customers (forthwith referred to as P.C.s) are multi-ethnic and multi-generational. Indeed, the P.O. market is the American melting pot. Even local P.O.s with relatively homogeneous neighborhoods are filled with P.C.s of every stripe, both rank and rainbow, all snaking their way to the head of the line. Needless to say, the wisest P.C. comes prepared with equal doses of patience, good humor, plenty of legal tender and maybe a snack.
With all the queuing and waiting, the P.O. turns into a real social center this time of year. The guy behind me said he didn't have anything to mail at all. Yet, he felt compelled to pack a lunch and put in a couple hours down at the P.O. with the other P.C.s in the queue. I guess you could call it mail bonding.
To get the most out of the social experience, especially if you're not mailing anything, it's not a bad idea to carry in one or two empty boxes that are wrapped, taped and addressed so you won't feel out of place. Besides, any P.C. standing in line without packages this time of year is immediately suspect. I believe it falls under Homeland Security Yule Rule 12-25(c) which covers anyone acting out of line with normal P.C. behavior. Just ask a Postal Associate (P.A.) about the details if you have any questions before security arrives.
As for the mailing process, just remember when you come to the P.O. you are in it for the long haul. And you can be assured that all P.C.s receive personalized customer service to help them get over the sticker shock. I know I shouldn't have, but I actually found myself eavesdropping as a P.C. timidly presented his package to the P.A at the nearest window. I sensed trouble from the outset.
P.C.: Finally, I made it! I was about to barter one of my grandson's gifts for the sandwich someone was eating behind me in line.
P.A.: How may we help you today?
P.C.: I'd like to mail something to Tierra del Fuego for Christmas.
P.A.: Sure. No problem, although I should mention we received a high priority postal alert memo this morning advising us postage and delivery times are going up soon in the Southern Hemisphere.
P.C.: That doesn't sound good. But hey, it's Christmas. How bad can it be?
P.A.: Are you mailing anything larger than a breadbox, fragile, liquid, explosive or that would arouse suspicion among our highly trained Postal Inspectors (P.I.s)?
P.C.: No. Well, there is an heirloom neti pot that's been passed around the family for years.
P.A.: Would you like us to guarantee the contents will be usable when they reach their destination?
P.C.: You mean you can do that?
P.A.: Why, yes. Of course, it will be a little extra. But we have a special rate this month.
P.C.: Can you tell me how much the postage will be first?
P.A.: Yes. Would you like it to arrive before the end of the Year of the Dragon? That's our cheapest flat rate at $96.00 if the gross weight of your package is less than 2.378 kilos.
P.C.: That's a little pricey. But I guess it's not too bad if it will get there by Christmas.
P.A.: Christmas? Get real. Maybe by Christmas 2012 if you're lucky. At the lower flat rate, we're prohibited from actually mailing the package until we're actually in the Year of the Dragon.
P.C.: Do you have anything faster?
P.A.: Of course we do. We can get it there in two business weeks for just under $200 (not counting Sundays, Saturdays after 2:00 p.m. and any other day the package remains in the P.O. awaiting inspection by our part-time P.I.s). Oh, and we may have to add a little something for time and materials in case re-wrapping is needed.
P.C.: I suppose getting it there by this Christmas is out of the question, then?
P.A.: No. Not at all. In fact, going with the two-day priority delivery option will save us both some time. Just leave your credit card with me and we'll handle everything.
P.C.: Two days. That sounds great. But you didn't mention the cost.
P.A.: Well, you know what they say, "if you have to ask...". By the way, you have pre-paid your mortgage through next June, haven't you? Oh, and if you don't need the card back right away, we'll mail it back to you postage free, which saves you the $96.00 flat rate charge.
P.C.: I was hoping to take the card with me today. And now that I've thought about it, I can only afford to go with the cheapest rate and shoot for next Christmas.
P.A.: OK. Just step to the back of the line. This could take a while. The Year of the Dragon doesn't start until January 23.
Merry Christmas one and all. Hope all your packages arrive on time.