Appreciating Our Postal Service

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

The decision process for choosing the subject for a weekly column can be quite circuitous, and sometimes yields surprising results. I set out to document the growth of the federal work force under the current administration, but in the process I was struck that all accounts of the federal work force excluded the U.S. Postal Service. Unlike AMTRAK, the USPS is structured as a separate, self-sustaining business model. And indeed, for the past few years it has appeared to “self-sustain” within a couple of decimal points.

And one can’t help but notice in our once drab post offices the brighter upscale merchandising of USPS products and services lately. If you haven’t, please pay attention. And why not? The competition is FedEx, UPS, email! So, in my Google search for answers, I was reminded of the more human side of our too often maligned USPS.

For starters, the inscription at the beginning of this column is found over the imposing columned entrance (the world’s longest Corinthian colonnade) to the James B. Farley Post Office in New York City, the nation’s “No. 1 Post Office”, ZIP Code 10001. Farley was the nations 53rd postmaster general. The building covers two city blocks and is on the National Historic Register.

Although the USPS has no official creed or motto, the “neither snow, nor rain” quote is the one most often associated with the guy or gal we know as our mailman, or to be strictly PC, postal carrier.

The quote was actually derived from Herodotus’ Histories: “It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each man and horse at the interval of a day’s journey, and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.” Herodotus is referring to the impeccable courier service of the ancient Persian empire, but it sounds kinda like the Pony Express to me. In either case, I’d bet neither your letter carrier nor mine had any idea their proud lineage went back that far … to the Persian empire!

In the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attack and the subsequent anthrax mailings, the USPS came out with a TV piece featuring Carly Simon’s song, Let the River Run: “We are the mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever!”

And I’m happy to say that fits our mailman to a T. He’s a father, a son and especially a friend. I always toot to him when going down the hill and he’s coming up. When we happen to be at the mailbox at the same time, we exchange snippets on family and politics. And his cohorts at the Aiea post office are equally professional, cheerful and helpful.

Maybe it’s time to look at our too frequently taken for granted postal professionals in a different, more appreciative light. And when you have an opportunity to share a kind word, say it in Persian/Farsi!