This morning I drove to go to the post office to mail a package. I knew it would be busy there because of the postal holiday yesterday, but wasn’t ready what greeted me. A long line of customers snaked all across the customer area, through double glass doors and into the lobby of the amply sized regional branch. Eleven people were ahead of me, most of whom were holding packages to mail. One person was propping open the door to provide continuity to the line. No one was interacting with anyone else, including the postal clerks.
When I arrived, two clerks were on duty. I felt grateful that there were two, that it wasn't break-time. I watched the line ahead of me shrink to ten, nine, eight people. Several customers came in, took a look around, and left with visible annoyance. But then one of the clerks put a “closed” sign on his window and left. Slower . . . slower the line moved . . . but I was finally inside the customer area. I looked back into the lobby and realized the line was adding people faster than the clerk was servicing them.
The clerk paced herself with great deliberation. Every package must be placed on a conveyor belt ten feet, or so, behind the clerks' workstations. That means that after each transaction, the clerk must walk over and set the package(s) on it. It seemed to me her walk back and forth was taking longer and longer.
“Will that be all today?," she asked everyone. "Stamps? Gift cards?” (My post office sells gift cards from Sears, JC Penney, Apple, Olive Garden, etc., as well as the standard packing materials.)
I found myself wondering who would intentionally shop at the post office. All the gift cards and greeting cards must be impulse items while one waits in line. And waits. And waits.
“This is why a monopoly is bad,” I muttered to the man behind me.
"At least it's not Christmas-time," he replied knowingly. Several people in line rolled their eyes as they heard his comment.By the time it was my turn, sixteen people were waiting behind me. Still only one clerk.
For a postal clerk, there is no need to hurry, no reason to make eye contact, or offer a friendly, “I’ll be with you shortly.” We put up with their poor service because we have to. The clerks do their work, almost like robots--at least, in Bothell they do.
As I drove away, I made this note to self: I'd better watch it so I don't become robotic, even if I do have the monopoly on my days. Just like a postal clerk, very little interaction with others is required of me as I go through my daily routine. But I'd better act as if there's competition down the street if I want to enjoy a social life, not to mention lure my grown children to town for more of their helpful and lively visits. A visit with a whiny old woman is probably less fun than a trip to the post office after a postal holiday.