I’ve been selling an awful lot of stuff on eBay lately in order to get some space back in our closets and bookshelves. It’s actually been an overwhelmingly positive experience – out of about a hundred transactions so far, I’ve only had two non-paying bidders and one person who had moved without updating her address with PayPal.
It has also meant that I’ve gotten quite familiar with the nearest post office to work.
Since eBay lets me print out pre-paid labels, and since I’m mostly mailing stuff out in flat rate packaging – part of the overwhelmingly positive experience I mentioned – I normally just walk into the lobby with a bin of packages, walk past the line, stack the packages on the counter, make eye contact with the clerk and walk out, picking up any new flat-rate packaging I need on the way back to my car.
Today was the day after Veteran’s Day. I didn’t really think about this when I was going to the post office on lunch.
The first thing I noticed was a full parking lot. The next few things I noticed, in no particular order, were a counter covered with a variety of boxes – so I couldn’t do my drop-and-go – a line stretching around the lobby a couple of times and a bunch of people who were in various stages of outright confusion.
It turns out that going to the post office on the day after Veteran’s Day is much like going to a Catholic church on Easter. There are an awful lot of VERY well-meaning people who suddenly realize that they should be doing SOMETHING for their family member that’s in service, but they’re maybe a little shaky on the what and how.
And yes, I actually have done the Easter thing. There was a girl in the choir who I rather wanted to see more of. I also wanted to spend more time with her. But I digress.
Anyway, allow me to paint a picture for you.
There were a few people with shopping bags full of things they wanted to ship to their family members, some other people who had actually gone through the buying-stuff-and-putting-it-in-boxes stage at home but had chosen, oh, a produce box with holes in the side, a few regular customers in the mix trying to do things like buy money orders and a very businesslike woman who was probably an eBay or etsy seller because, like me, she had a bin full of flat-rate packaging with prepaid postage labels printed and kept glaring at the counter that was covered with boxes blocking her from doing a drop-and-go.
Oh and kids. Kids EVERYWHERE because the whole family had come down to the post office to mail their care package to dad or son or daughter or whatever, allowed to run free because the parents were trying to deal with the unfamiliar and confusing world of the post office, and shrieking gleefully at getting to meet so many other new people.
Finally, behind the counter, two of the most stoic and patient clerks in the 220-year history of the US postal service, established by George Washington via the Postal Service Act in 1792, a cabinet department from 1872 until 1971, and an independent entity since then.
Thank you, Wikipedia.
To their credit, the post office was obviously prepared for this craziness.
There was a large counter set up with flat rate (and free!) boxes laid out at one end and purchasable mailing supplies laid out at the other end, and there were people emptying their Wal-Mart bags onto the counter and wrapping and packing industriously, then unpacking again once they were told that the box they were using would actually cost them money, then repacking into a free box, then complaining at the counter when they got up to the counter and found out how much shipping the “free” box would cost.
The most heartbreaking example was a couple who got their package up to the counter, all nicely bundled up and ready to send on its way, and then got to find out exactly how much it costs to send a large flat rate priority mail box to South Korea.
For the record, it’s $60.95.
There was a stunned moment as they stared at the clerk, who chose to return their gaze with the look of someone who had been giving people terrible news all day and for whom “mercy” had become a four-letter word.
Then the credit card came out.
My normal lunch run to the post office takes all of about 10 minutes, including driving time. Waiting in this line made the round trip closer to 50 minutes. I scarfed down drive-thru in the parking lot of my office, with barely time to chew, and still got back to my desk a couple minutes later than I honestly ought to have.
It was WORTH IT.