Over Easy: No mail today

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Boxes for sorted mail are stacked at the main post office in Omaha, Neb., on Dec. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Boxes for sorted mail are stacked at the main post office in Omaha, Neb., on Dec. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) Nati Harnik—AP

By DAN MACKIE

For the Valley News

Published: 02-15-2024 6:59 PM

Modified: 02-18-2024 7:58 PM


The U.S. Postal Service seems to think it can get mail to us more quickly by sending it far away and hauling it back. It is hatching a scheme — for all I know named Project Hither and Yon — to ship mail from Hartford, Vt., to Hartford, Conn., where it will sort it so expeditiously it will save time and money.

Umm, OK.

I don’t get it.

I am not an efficiency expert. I hardly even dabble in the field. But adding 300 miles to my mail’s journey in service of speedy delivery may defy the laws of physics and/or speed limits on Interstate 91.

I have some acquaintance with that highway, since it takes us to our daughter in Massachusetts and our son in Connecticut. It is a good road, a straight shot, and we know the best stops to grab a snack or, vitally, pee. But none of these would likely be needed by the brave postal convoys herding junk mail in the night.

I don’t think I am making a wild claim when I say that something is amiss with the postal service. Delivery times are erratic. People say they are short of help. I can’t say with certainty that my street is skipped some days, but it seems plausible.

Currently, we mostly receive incomprehensible financial summaries from Medicare, peppy L.L.Bean catalogs, enticing Viking River Cruise flyers and, now and then, mail that was meant for 7 Someotherstreet, instead of 7 Pearl St., our residence for some 40 years. This does not happen much, which I attribute to the diligence of our carriers, whom I do not fault.

Errors, in my mind, are more likely to be linked with management, which is spending its days dreaming of routing my mail to distant places before sending it to me. Why stop with Connecticut? Miami is colorful, stylish, warm. Chicago is all business and, according to poet Carl Sandburg, the “city of the big shoulders.” Perfect for sorting.

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Why not think even bigger? How about one truly massive sorting center for the entire nation? Dedicate one of the Dakotas, North or South, for the task. Whatever they occupy themselves with now — hogs? corn? conspiracies? — cannot be as rewarding as seeing that the mail goes through.

I care about this because I am a long-time fan of the mail. If I remember correctly and it is not just a pleasant dream, one of the mailmen who delivered to my childhood home whistled as he briskly walked his route, waved to men and women out in their yards and stopped to share pleasantries along with the Saturday Evening Post. His name was probably Hank, Ernie or Ike. I fear my memory is getting too rosy, but I think of him as a Norman Rockwell-esque figure of a happy America on the move.

No more. The mail service is expected to support itself with ever-more efficiency. That usually means cuts. I have little faith in Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, whom liberals suspected of scheming to slow the mail before the 2020 presidential vote. Wasn’t the whole point of that election to get rid of him? Maybe they don’t make postmasters like they used to. I became curious about the prominent postmaster whose name is chiseled into handsome 1930s post office buildings in Lebanon and White River Junction: James A. Farley.

Farley was credited with building the coalition that put Franklin Roosevelt into office. He was postmaster general and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He restored the post office to profitability during the Depression. As a Cabinet member, he was fifth in line to the presidency.

There were flaws with the politics of that time, but they were building things up rather than tearing them down.

Even if DeJoy and his team are not up to something, the post office faces trouble. Volume is down. Digital is disrupting everything, maybe even this column. Sadly, the letter has almost entirely been replaced by texts. You can pour your heart into a letter, but a text rates an emoji. You can see where that has taken us.

The U.S. Postal Service website addresses confusion about its official motto. It doesn’t have one. But it’s associated with something written by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus about messengers. It goes: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

That’s a phrase that could stir a young boy’s heart, maybe even the heart of a grown-up boy. Instead, we get modern efficiency, cost-cutting and consultants.

And no mail today.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com … or via the U.S. Mail.