Nowadays, it seems nothing is going to come out of this economic crisis untouched. Even the United States Postal Service is having trouble making ends meet.
In a world where we communicate to each other through cell phones, text messages, instant messages and e-mail, the postal service always seemed a decade or so behind. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter — it might have been a thank you note to my aunt for my Christmas present this year. But a real letter? I haven’t written one since grade school. Why should I? Who would I write to? My parents? All I have to do is text them. I can even Skype them if I want to talk to them “face to face.” But write a letter? I don’t think I have any stamps in my house, anyway.
It seems to me the post office has been in a bit of trouble since the invention of e-mail. Its status has been reduced to “snail mail.” If the USPS was having problems before the economy plummeted, then they’re really in for it now. Late last month, Postmaster General John E. Potter made a proposal to Congress to lift a 1983 federal mandate that requires the United States Postal Service to deliver six days a week. If the post office continued to deliver six days a week, it could lose as much as $6 billion dollars this fiscal year.
In order to keep this from happening, Potter wants to temporarily cut deliveries to five days a week. There’s been no word yet which day would be dropped if Potter’s request is approved.
How often do we rely on the mailman or woman to come to our door Monday through Saturday? They bring our paychecks, our magazine subscriptions, our bills, our Christmas cards, our packages, our W2s — the list continues on. I bought my textbooks online this semester because I could not afford to pay $200 for each book I needed. Every day, I would eagerly wait for my anatomy or biology or chemistry book to come. But when they were delivered, it was UPS or DHL, not the USPS.
What I do avidly use the USPS for is to mail things I have sold on eBay. I remember many a day rushing to the post office in my hometown Saturday morning to mail a huge pile of packages because if I waited any longer, I would get a negative review. The post office was always there for me, the procrastinator. And what about us procrastinators who mail Christmas presents at the last possible minute? The thing about procrastinators is that no matter how hard we try to change our ways, there is no hope for us. We will always, always wait until the last minute to do things.
I remember once when the post office saved my procrastinating butt. It was my senior year of high school and I had made it into the Missouri All-State Band, fifth chair trombone. I needed to mail some permission form or proof that I was going to spend three very long and tiring days at Tan-Tar-A resort, or I would not be able to go. I had practiced those audition exercises so much my family had them memorized. And I almost threw it away because I never do anything on time.
But there was the post office, open on Saturday, ready to mail my permission form as fast as I was willing to pay for it. I was able to play in the All-State Band, and it was just as tiring and rewarding as it was the year before.
The post office also saved me when I waited until the last minute to pay off a ticket I got while driving through Chillicothe on my way to Kirksville. Thank you, USPS. I really do owe you one.
Maybe the lesson here isn’t that we cannot survive without the post office delivering our things on Saturdays. Maybe the lesson is that people like me who wait until the last minute need the post office to be closed when we really need it. Maybe we need to miss a credit card payment to learn our lessons. Maybe I need to get a few negative reviews on eBay before I change my ways.
Then, of course, there are the people who rely on the USPS who are not procrastinators. What about magazines? Newspapers? Ask any journalist or journalism student and they will tell you the profession has been hurting for a while. Can they really afford for their audiences to be available only five days a week instead of six? Let’s assume the postal service does cut Saturday deliveries. There are probably small newspapers and magazines that are going to go out of business. There are going to be audiences that are no longer reached and the advertisers are going to go to other media. But, isn’t this happening already? Is the postal service yet another industry that’s suffering from the rise of the Internet?
Perhaps, instead of eliminating Saturday delivery completely, the postal service could cut its hours. Stop delivery at 3 or 4 instead of 5 or 6. Or perhaps they could cut down on deliveries in areas without too much postal traffic. There are probably several possibilities that could be available to the post office instead of temporarily removing Saturday deliveries. I, for one, know the USPS will probably once again save my butt in some way, whether it’s a bill or rent or my anatomy textbook I so desperately need.
Lauren Titterington was a reporter for the Columbia Missourian on the Muse beat in the summer of 2008.