Ah I remember when I first moved back to New York after almost two decades in Europe.
It’s 3 in the afternoon on a muggy but sunny New York summer day. I need to go to the post office, physically, to certify a letter being sent to the container operators who are responsible together with US customs for causing at least $3,000.00 worth of damages to our household goods. Lessons in “less is more”? Nah I don’t think so. Lessons in cutting through the morass of red tape and indifferent bureacracy that shapes and molds this country. Yep!
Yet first I need to enter the pitiful structure of the USPS. What a shambles! I’m in a third world country without the humor and charm. The hand-made glass vitrine stores the handiwork of students who are probably in the 11th grade yet read on a 4th grade level. “Back to School” it droops. Then the warning signs, half dazed from being nailed to the cross of a fire resistant door, “Employees Only – Enter Here”. Ooh foreboding. Who would want to enter there?
Go to any European or Japanese post office. Quaint and small or huge and corporate, they are modern. They are clean. There is consistent signage. Logos and post office identity are in recognizable colors. In other words, attention and money is paid towards esthetics.
There is a senseless barricade made of poles. The postal workers like showing off their meager authority by shouting, “get behind the poles, stay in line”. Everyone blithely obeys shuffling soundlessly, as an ancient ceiling fan that has seen better days whirs overhead. Each window is a miniature fortress, protecting postal worker from the shameless public. Plexiglass about the thickness of a wall separates the divide between the haves and the have nots. The have nots need stamps. The haves couldn’t care less. They slur their words without punctuation. Unless of course you happen upon one who feels gregarious. Luckily, I did and my experience was quick and to the point.
Here in the richest western industrialized nation, the U.S. post is losing more than $1.5 billion dollars a year. That’s because people use UPS, Fedex and other private courier services to delivery their mail and packages. When asked how long it would take to get an airmail letter to Singapore, the clerk said between 5 to 8 days. 5 to 8 days!!! In this day and age that’s a lifetime. That’s Pony Express.
Monies here go into defense systems while the entire infrastructure rots. The roads are atrocious. Potholes of gaping proportions and slabs of thick metal to cover construction works make driving a daredevil’s wet dream. It feels like BMX in a covered vehicle.
Our well-kept condo building (in a complex of three structures) was built in the 60s, a time of prosperity and architechtural monotony. Well, the bridges may crumble, the Rockies may tumble, they’re only made of clay. So grin and bear it, I may.