All Hail to the United States Postal Service

“Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. Most Americans, I’d say, think this is the motto of the USPS, but actually, they don’t have a motto. This particular quote appears as an inscription on a post office in New York City.
The quote itself is taken from the writings of Herodotus (circa BCE 500), the Greek philosopher that I remember as being famous for saying that you can never step in the same river twice. (Still a very profound thought.) But describing the Persian system of messengers, he said, “It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey, and these are stayed neither by snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.” Think Pony Express. It also reminds me of the origins of the Iditarod.
The USPS is in a very weird position. It’s mandated by the U.S. Constitution, and yet, it’s received no money from the taxpayers since the early 1980’s. So it’s expected to sink or swim on its own merits, by hook or by crook. But let them try to raise the price of a stamp by even one cent (which has to be approved by Congress), and watch the outcry. They are always between a rock and a hard place. They’re expected to act as a private company would, but without the ability to set prices or charge higher fees based on whatever hardships may be involved based on where they have to deliver. They have to deliver everywhere for the same price, regardless.
For instance, they deliver mail to a Native American tribe living at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which they have to do by donkey.
This is an unsustainable business model. They cannot compete with private companies that aren’t hampered by these archaic regulations. FedEx killed them. Email killed them. In the sink or swim category, the answer is…sink. The USPS lost $5 billion last year.
Think about what you get in the mail these days. Bills and ads, mostly ads. Crap you just throw away. Wasted paper, and wasted labor to deliver it.
It’s no wonder that working for the Postal Service is very depressing. The employees are under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform, but in the end, what is the reward? Yes, you get very good federal benefits, if you can manage to keep your job. But how motivating can it be that your goal is “Don’t get fired”? The first mass shooting by an employee in the workplace in this country was by a postal worker. We even have a saying for it…”going postal”.
So…at work have a regular mail carrier named Alvin. Alvin is black. Always wears an earring and has a little soul patch on his chin. Has ear buds in his ears, connected to his cell phone in his pocket. There was a time when none of that would have been permitted. The ear buds and the earring may still not be permissible, so it could be that he attaches them once he’s out of headquarters, but the soul patch isn’t something he can take off and on. So the USPS has relaxed its standards…or, said another way, has migrated into the 21st century.
Alvin likes us, because we are always glad to see him, and we tease and joke with him, so he sometimes spends a few extra minutes with us, even though he is always in a hurry. On Friday he regaled us with stories. One of the stories is that the USPS now delivers on Sunday for Amazon. When you go to work, they give you your packages and map which says, “Go here first”. And how long has FedEx been doing that? Apparently there was a bid, and the USPS won. In another story, he told us all the things you can ship via USPS, which includes food and dead bodies. He also said that because of his appearance, he is often approached and asked to take packages from one address to another without postage and without it going through the normal channels. He said he thought that was the quickest path to federal prison for him. So he isn’t going there.

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8 responses to “All Hail to the United States Postal Service

  1. I am a Hugh USPS fan and have been since my youth. I hope it can go on through my lifetime. Getting mail is still a part of the human social experience that thrills me or helps me run my life, though not as much now as before the internet. I lived next to the Val-P post master as a child, and one of my best friends father was the Eglin AFB Postmaster. I have known many postal workers personally. In the 80’s I helped them staff their major Tampa Airport location with part time holiday workers when I worked for the Fl Dept of Labor. I don’t care if my Tax money supports them, and it surely does. Finally, I collect US stamps and enjoy that hobby very much.

    The employees are in the Federal Retirement System which requires tax dollars to administer and fund. They are defaulting annually on Billions of dollars in required payments to the treasury, yet they have enough capital to continue to exist. The 65 Billion they make in postage sales leaves them way short of fiscal viability so it is us the US taxpayer who bails them out.

    What is most hilarious about the entire thing is to listen to the Legislature deny that tax payer dollars go to the USPS. They don’t want to give up oversight because to do so is to give up the leveraged power of said oversight.

    Sadly the only way I see to make it profitable is to kill it and start over. Even then, unless we default on retirement pensions the taxpayers will be on the hook Anything that comes out of the U S Treasury is tax payer money. I am sure the Pols all know this they just don’t want us to know that they know. It’s a most disingenuous dance….but typically American government.

  2. I agree. The trend is working against the postal service as we know it. We are spending too much money, and our poor economic policy combined with a lower birth rate dictates that more people take than receive. Europeans and Japanese face the same situation.

    Our town lost its post office about ten years ago. A neighboring town will lose its post office after a meeting held this week.

  3. I hate that, James. It always makes me sad to hear of a post office closing. In small towns, the post office is kind of like Starbucks. It’s a place where people meet and greet, a center of social activity. pt, you are right. I should have clarified. The Postal Service gets no money for operations, but indeed, Congress bails them out so they can meet their retirement fund obligations.

  4. The Postal Department surprised us. They will repair the building foundation in the neighboring town and the post office will stay for now. Yes, closing a post office effects a small town as much as when it loses its school. An empty lot remains in our home town.

  5. Noe does Congress want to allow them to implement non-postage stamp increases which will help, such as no mail on Saturdays. I wouldn’t have a problem with delivery only on MWF.

  6. “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” … but as you pointed out to me Mardi Gras stops the mail cold!

  7. Alvin sounds like quite a guy. You can ship bodies USPS! Great source of info. Personally, I hate the post office and have had many bad experiences. I can’t believe Amazon & FedEx use them but I have experienced it unfortunately.

  8. Nice to “see” you again, Ellis! Alvin was indeed quite a guy, but unfortunately only a few days after I posted this, Alvin was abruptly reassigned to a different route. They have no choice in the matter.
    As to fakesister’s comment, yes, mail is not delivered in New Orleans on the day of Mardi Gras, even though it’s obviously not a federal holiday. The problem is first of all that it would be almost impossible to navigate the streets. Second, no one would show up for work anyway.

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