How I came upon this story of long lines at post offices and a greater love of friendship occurred quicker than even overnight delivery.
I dashed into the Niagara Station Post Office, at the foot of West Genesee Street, near South Elmwood Avenue, and jerked to a halt at the end of a long line.
The line soon came to a complete standstill when two customers way ahead of me presented a passport application. Some of the paperwork was out of order and further delayed an already lengthy process.
Being that I enjoy eavesdropping, I took note of the grumbling and gripes in the customer line, though I felt bad for the clerk. He's a congenial gentleman who makes the trip to the post office a memorable experience. I actually feel bad when John is not on duty.
But this day he was and he was working alone. Another clerk came out from the backroom briefly and saw the long line. She then again disappeared.
I later learned from the clerks' union president that the clerks are sometimes pulled from the service windows to process mail in the backroom to keep delivery operation on time.
I'd like to think that was what was happening, rather than someone taking a lunch break. People do need to eat and I wouldn't want a clerk eating at the counter and getting greasy peanut butter or mayonnaise stains on my letters, not that I'm a neatnik.
Frank Resetarits, the union head, described the practice of moving folks from the counter to the backroom as "robbing Peter to pay Paul."
If it is true that time is money, then is the post office picking the pockets of customers forced to wait?
I personally did not feel robbed. During my lengthy wait, a friend walked in and we got to catch up. He confided in me that if we hadn't had the company of each other, he would have gotten "hot" over the inconvenience and eggs could have been fried on his "bald" head. Thank goodness for friendship.
In my reporting for this story, I also learned of a practice that once again highlights the cost of being poor. You may remember that award-winning series in The Buffalo News, where those in poverty-stricken neighborhoods do
not have easy access to supermarkets and banks, among other services, and pay
high prices on check cashing and groceries.
Postal clerks are required to "up sell" products, including more expensive services such as Express and Priority Mail delivery. They do not mention the cheaper service of parcel post delivery.
For years, Resetarits said, clerks asked customers if they wanted the cheapest or the quickest way to get a letter or package to a destination.
The cheapest, as I said, is parcel post.
Clerks at post offices in poor neighborhoods continued to mention parcel post, realizing their customers might not be able to afford the more expensive options.
Resetarits said they were warned to stop mentioning parcel post during the up-sell sales spiel.
This might cause some folks to fume and fry a few eggs.
-- Lou Michel
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