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DAMN POST OFFICE
8 July 2006
I had to get to the store today, and I had 3 things that needed to go to the post office: some CDs and DVDs for Peggy, my friend Diane's coat (which she left behind when she stayed here), and -- finally -- Jose's paperwork, all "official" now, and just needing posting to Central Europe.
So anyway, I had to get out. But I also had an interview I was doing at 6 p.m. very near the post office. Though my cough is better, I was still coughing a lot and decided I could run the errands all in one trip, so I would only have to get out once -- stop at the post office, mail the stuff and still be at the theatre in time for the interview, and then do a grocery shopping on the way home.
Only I miscalculated. I got into the post office lobby literally one minute after closing time. They were closing the doors with a bunch of customers still in line and they refused to let me in. Damn. At least all the packages are now in the car and I have a dental appointment at 10 a.m., so I will go to the post office during regular working hours and finally get the damn packages mailed.
My initial inclination was to be furious at the postal guys, but I can't do that. My father was a mailman. I should have a sort spot in my heart for postal workers.
My father didn't deliver the mail door to door. He was a railway mail clerk, sorting the mail on the Southern Pacific train, the Lark...
...between San Francisco and Los Angeles. He had 3 days on, 2 days off, and 3 days on again. He spent nights at the Figuroa Hotel in Los Angeles.
I don't know how many remember when the trains carried the mail. In this "everything goes by air" era, people don't really think about what happened between the end of the Pony Express and the advent of air mail.
Originally, mail was sorted in post offices and only delivered by train, but in the mid 1800s, they began experimenting with sorting the mail on the trains themselves and by 1869, all mail was actually sorted on the trains. By 1930 more than 10,000 trains carried the mail all across the country. (By 1965, with the decline of passenger train travel, only 190 trains carried mail and in 1971, the service was discontinued entirely.)
The mail would be canceled on the train, then sorted, according train station, into the sacks and then the sacks would be transferred from train to a pole at the train station, using a metal arm that held the bag and then swung out to hook onto the pole (see circled).
It required a knowledge of all the towns between the two cities that the train served, and I remember my father spending long nights downstairs "throwing his case," which was a box that had cubby holes in it. He had a large stack of cards that had to be put into the right cubby holes as fast as possible. He was tested on his knowledge (once a year?...it seemed like he was always "tossing" that damn case).
During high school, I was dating a guy who went to boarding school, the back of which bordered the field near the railroad tracks. He would, from time to time, go out in the field to wave at my father as the train passed by (always try to make points with the family!)
It was hard work and my father always returned from trips tired and cranky. We always hated to see December roll around because we kids wanted to be excited about Christmas, but my father hated Christmas because he had to work much harder. I look at the jolly mailmen around here in December and wonder if they go home at night and yell at their families or refuse to speak to them because they have to work harder delivering Christmas mail. I wonder if their kids feel guilty about being happy and excited in December.
I visited the train once or twice as a kid. I don't remember a lot about it, but remember that they had iced water in a dispenser and that you drank out of cups that had pointy bottoms on them.
My father worked on the train until they discontinued mail service and then worked at the main post office in San Francisco. The move was so traumatic for him, that he ultimately had a nervous breakdown.
So I do have a soft spot in my heart for people who deal with the mail, but would it have killed them to let one more customer in when I only missed the deadline by one minute?
PHOTO OF THE DAY
It was a surprise to discover that there is a railway mail car