Tonight around the dinner table, my husband and I were discussing the things of the world, when he mentioned that when he was a younger man, a sage with whom he was conversing told him that within his lifetime, the United States would no longer be a nation that manufactured consumables. The United States was on its way to becoming a nation of service industries. I commented that I had heard the same prediction when I was younger. Had we reached that prediction? Not so much. Let me relate a current story concerning the US as a service provider.
Last week, May 25th, to be exact, I went to my mail box to collect Saturday’s mail. We have one of those community mail boxes that looks like a miniature apartment building. In the almost twenty years we have lived here, we have never had much trouble with the mail box. Today was different. The key went into the box as usual, but the lock would not turn. From time to time, the mail person puts too much mail into the small apartment that we call ours. Sometimes we have to ‘jiggle’ the key a bit to move the mail lodged too close to the lock. I ‘jiggled’; I asked my husband, who can ‘jiggle’ with more vigor than I can to take a turn. Nothing. The lock would not budge. Not worrying too much, as we had collected the mail the day before, I made a mental note to call the USPO on Tuesday, which would be the next business day. I did not expect the USPO to be open on Memorial Day. However, in the interim, I put a neon orange 4 x 6 note card in the outgoing mail slot, addressed to Postmaster. On the reverse, I plastered a return address label with a personally (legibly) written note advising said Postmaster, that I was locked out of my box. Of course, knowing that it is a federal offense to molest a community mail box, I figured that as we were moving toward being a word leader in the service industry, I would get excellent assistance.
Tuesday came and went. I dialed my local USPO, following the directions on the little sticker affixed to my ‘apartment’ mail box. I must have called several times that day, but received the ‘busy’ signal every time. I called at various times during the day. Believe it or not, both my husband and I keep business hours that are very comparable to the USPO. As such, it was not possible to go and visit the mail carrier in person.
Wednesday came around, and about mid-day, I was able to connect with the fine people who run the mail service, and who would be able to release the mail that had been held hostage since May 25th. The nice lady I spoke to, assured me that the carrier would go to my mail box, ensure that the mail is not pressing too tightly against the lock, and would contact me the next day, Thursday. Thursday came and went, no phone call. Friday also came and went, with no phone call from the personnel at the USPO. I tried to contact the local postal office on Friday, but alas, their telephones rang ‘busy’ all day.
Saturday was on the horizon. I had two options. I could camp out at the community mail box, and ask the mailman to assist me with the now week’s worth of mail which was being kept extremely safe in a box that I could not access. Or the Hubbz and I could go to the USPO and make a plea for the release of our mail. We chose the latter.
Of course, there was a line at the Post Office. Of course, there were service windows not being manned by service personnel. There was only one window which dealt with homeowners who were having their mail held hostage by unrelenting locks on community mailboxes. When we were finally at the counter, the lady who was ‘serving’ us, asked the local postal carrier if we had too much mail in our box, thereby preventing the lock from turning. The carrier (who had been off duty for the preceding week,) attested in the negative. When the supervisor asked how she could know, having been off duty all week, the carrier replied that she would need to check. Meanwhile, I was advised by the senior service person that I could have a new lock installed for $35.00 cash. No checks, and the ATM machine did not work. I was further advised that I needed to make a trip to said Post Office daily until the new lock was installed. I asked what the Post Office hours were, and surprise, they are the same hours that my husband and I are at our respective offices.
I explained to the Senior Service woman that it was most inconvenient to have to collect our mail at the Post office, and could I please have the mail forwarded to my office in Kingwood. The woman in the official USPO uniform gave me a withering look. She explained to me that should I opt to forward my mail, I would be without mail for a long time. Apparently, it takes about a week to get the mail going to a new address, then it takes approximately a week of indeterminate travel for the mail to make it back to the original homestead. No, no, said the lady in the uniform; I needed to come to the Post Office to collect the mail while a work order was issued for a new lock, new lock purchased, and then installed in my box.
I again explained to the Lady in Blue, that my mail box key worked perfectly on Friday, May 24, but did not work on Saturday, May 25. I objected to paying for a replacement lock that I had not damaged (though, truth be known, in my frustrated state I would have relished doing.) I explained to the lady that should I need a new key, the cost of the replacement should fall on the very broad shoulders of the USPO, as no one in my household had damaged the lock. The kind Lady in Blue assured me that the lock was thirty years old, and needed replacing: Please bring appropriate identification, and $35.00 cash to purchase the replacement lock.
I again interposed, and asked if the mail carrier could please withdraw the mail which was (in my humble opinion) blocking the movement of the key, and deliver the mail to my door. I was told that the carrier would check the lock (Could I have the key please). Should the mail be impeding the lock, the carrier would put the key under the mat at the front door. Oh, and by the way… there is a custom package to deliver today, can we leave that at the door as well. Of course, service at last.
As you can imagine, we left the local USPO very annoyed. We drove to the other side of our metropolitan city, and took care of the errands that were on the agenda for that day. On returning to our domicile, what did I find on the porch, but the promised parcel and the key to our mailbox. Shouting for joy, I went to the mail box to withdraw a week’s worth of invoices and junk mail. With breath held in anticipation, I inserted the key, and lo and behold, the lock turned. I opened the box, but was greeted with a cold, sterile, grey aluminum interior. Not a letter; not a circular, not a stamped piece of mail to be had.
Frustrated, I looked to the right side of the ‘complex’ where the larger, bulk mail is delivered, to see if perhaps our sweet carrier had left our mail, (which was obviously too large to be in our small compartment). No, that box door was swinging on its hinges, key in lock, but empty all the same. Sighing, I mentioned to the Hubbz that I would need to arrange my day for the coming Monday to incorporate the time needed to go by the post office to collect more than a week’s worth of mail.
Monday comes! Happy day! I get to go to the USPO and collect my mail. It was a happy day. I walked into the service area, and there was no waiting line. I was invited to the counter right away. The Lady in blue from last Saturday was nowhere to be found. I explained my story again to the fresh face at the service counter. She disappeared into the bowels of the office and returned shortly with a very large stack of mail, including two boxes from the bank. I asked the lady why my mail was returned to the central office when the key obviously was working, and for convenience sake, the mail could have been placed in one of the containers on the right of the box, which would have held all the mail, and not necessitated my arriving at the Post Office on Monday morning? I was told in a very officious manner that the big boxes were for parcels only (remember, my mail contained TWO boxes) and that if I would collect my mail daily, the mail box would not be so jammed as to make the key ineffective.
I can’t say that this experience rates high in terms of service. Now that it is over, it is somewhat laughable. However, the story puts into perspective the ultimate act of service we also witnessed on this past Friday. In trying to rescue civilians from a hotel fire, four of our first responders lost their lives in their pursuit of excellence. Let us never forget that we ARE a nation which, for the most part, and in most cases strive to do our work with excellence of service.
Until next time,