Three cheers for the post office gang

Published 8:33 am Sunday, October 11, 2015

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

   A youngster asked the riddle without expecting an animated response. “What do the post office and the 8-ball have in common?” Answer: Both are typically linked to the word “behind.”

Still, most postal employees are friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, somehow managing smiles at a time in history when both they and their patrons are harried and hurried.

The other day, a postal friend–call him Ray–said he and his associates often face situations not covered by manuals, directives or even the counsel of authorities higher up on the civil service food chain.

Ray contributes what he can to reduce tensions. A veteran at the counter, he provides “by the book” postal services, accompanied by quips such as, “Here’s a receipt to remember your money by,” or numerous other smile-makers, like “Just get it out of here” quips when patrons don’t want to spend any money for extra services.

Some happenings are long remembered in a joking manner even if anything but funny at the time. One route carrier–Marvin was his name–was alert for dogs lying in wait at certain addresses. He wasn’t ready for a cat springing from behind a shrub, locking claws of all four feet into his leg. The animal was finally dislodged, one claw at a time.

Another carrier named “Jo” didn’t know what to do when a turkey–wings flapping wildly–“attacked,” seemingly at war with the postal vehicle’s windshield. She managed to make the mail delivery, but a sub driving the route later was chased back to her vehicle by a turkey–presumably the same one. Turns out the wild turkey, somewhat domesticated, didn’t take to postal folks.

What kind of stamps do y’all have?” This is a common question, particularly around Christmas time. Despite having an inventory often including every possible stamp, if one is missing, that’s the very one the inquirer wants.

Fever pitch at the post office is reached during the final five minutes or so before closing time. That’s when folks arrive with mailings that “must get out.” Phone calls are commonly received, callers asking if they can “still make it,” oftentimes failing to indicate where they are calling from. Answers are much more accurate when it is known whether the caller is a block away or some distance from town.

If patrons have a toenail inside the door at the final second of the closing hour’s final minute, they are served, even at high noon on Saturday, some with pillowcase marks imprinted on their cheeks.

Postal folks persevere in an era when losses mount, despite cutbacks in processing centers and personnel. Mail formerly arriving in 2-3 days sometimes now takes considerably longer.

Automation speeds things up in general, but it can be fouled up, too, particularly when wrong numbers are entered.

Situations are mindful of the guy who owned a computer capable of making 24 million mistakes per second.

Other awkward situations produce predictable requests, most of them bobbing up in the churning sea of human error. “I forgot to put a stamp on an envelope I dropped in the drive-through box” is a boo-boo commonly heard. Sometimes, patrons say they forget to affix stamps–or even to address envelopes. Some aren’t sealed. A key to reducing many foul-ups is making certain to provide return addresses. When mail arrives at what is called the “dead letter office” in Atlanta, personnel duly search for return addresses, hopeful to get things back on track ASAP.

Of course, postal folks do what they can locally to “untangle” mistakes whenever possible, even if excessive time is required.

The old line about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did–“backwards and in high heels”–is akin to ever-changing expectations of postal personnel.

Each year, it seems, they are doing more with fewer employees, with most maintaining smiles.

We can help by arriving earlier and smiling more. I grin in recollection of the old door signs: “No dogs allowed–except seeing eye dogs.” People without eyesight don’t see signs–and dogs can’t read. I reserve the right to be wrong. There may even be an “app” for that, or at least a postal regulation.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Columns archived at, newbury blog.