Your email inbox was surely jammed yesterday with alarmed messages regarding the U.S. Postal Service's plan to stop delivering most mail on Saturdays. Esquire wasn't surprised: The magazine's February issue includes a feature story on the crossroads facing the Post Office.
It's a lengthy beast (it takes about as long to read as it does to deliver a letter), but it adroitly combines a Sesame Street-style tour of mail infrastructure with a spirited argument that the postal worker is crucial to taping society together.
Why bring this up now? The story is filed from Gold Hill, Oregon.
Carrie Grabenhorst heads out of town on highway 99, follows the Rogue River, and turns right on Sardine Creek Road. She turns left at a large madrone tree and heads up a quarter mile of dirt road, takes the right fork, goes past the sagging red barn to a white clapboard house with green trim, where she takes a dog biscuit from her pocket and offers it to the large golden retriever. It's a Monday, about 2:00 p.m. The dog stops barking. This is the usual peace, negotiated after thousands of visits over eighteen years.
Often Grabenhorst's elderly customers are waiting at the door, or even by the mailbox, for her right-hand-drive Jeep to edge onto the shoulder. Many of them are alone all day. Their postal carrier is that one reliable human contact, six days a week. Some are older veterans. Quite a few have limited mobility, and it isn't uncommon for her to lend a hand with an errand; she's been known to pick up milk in town and bring it along with the mail. Grabenhorst drives seventy miles a day and makes 660 deliveries. On a typical day, that might include fifty packages of medicine.
Jesse Lichtenstein's piece follows a letter from Gold Hill—a town of 1,100 about 13 miles outside Medford—as it is processed and delivered all the way to New York City, complete with a stop at the Portland International Airport.
WW's news department was talking yesterday about the end of Saturday delivery and, not to name names, but some of us expressed skepticism that this decision would have any effect other than trimming some jobs from the government dole. While not fully assuaging that suspicion, Lichtenstein's reporting shows that the Postal Service is astonishingly efficient.
Its finances are crippled mainly by pension commitments (sound familiar?) far above those of other federal agencies. These were mandated by Congress in 2006 to make the rest of the federal budget look better. Now they're throttling your postman.
Give it a read. Maybe you won't be persuaded. But if you ever mail a postcard from Gold Hill, you'll know everybody that's going to touch it. Assuming Gold Hill still has a post office.