The US Postal Service might be struggling, but don't forget how helpful it can be

features@beaufortgazette.comOctober 3, 2011 

The U.S. Postal Service has been in the news a lot lately. In fact, it's been in the news more than it has in the past 5 to 10 years, which is part of the problem.

The USPS -- like seemingly everything these days -- isn't making enough money to survive. The numbers are staggering: $15 billion, as in the amount of debt the agency will reach soon, and 3,650, as in the number of post offices that might be lost under a proposed restructuring by U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

Why? I don't know why. The left blames a bill the Republican-led Congress passed in 2006; the right blames unions and the financial burdens they put on the agency. It's politics as usual. We can't seem to escape it, even when waiting in line at the post office.

Excuses aside, most of us sort of already know why the Postal Service is struggling. When was the last time you bought a stamp? When was the last time you sent a post card? How many of us have paid a bill through the mail in the past three years? How many times during the week does something truly important arrive via your mailbox?

Donahoe said recently that first-class mail is dropping at a rate of 7.5 percent a year. Of course it is! And it probably won't get better, regardless of unions or Congressional burden.

It's a shame. There might come a day -- sooner than we think -- when the U.S. Postal Service ceases to exist. And while the "government-stinks" crowd will be happy, the rest of us will just feel kind of sad that another example of American exceptionalism has gone away.

And it is exceptional. Don't laugh. Somewhere the USPS became a punchline. We see the lines and the rising price of stamps and roll our cynical little eyes stuck in our cynical little heads.

It's the times we live in. We're in just too much of a hurry to appreciate the miraculous. I've passed on microwavable food because the box said it took five minutes to heat. Five minutes! For a complete meal? Who has that kind of time to wait?

Cellphones don't work fast enough -- never mind they are shooting magic voice beams into space and bouncing back into the mini-computer you have in your pocket. Ten years ago, an iPhone would've been a prop on "Star Trek," now we do the "impatient dance" when the apps won't load quicker.

And we're too busy laughing about how "inept" the USPS is to appreciate that with a 44 cent first class stamp you can put a letter in a mailbox in Waynesboro, Ga., and, a few days later, it will find its way to another mailbox in Tacoma, Wash.

As an experiment, park your car in Waynesboro, pick a random address in Tacoma, and drive until you find it. And no fair using GPS or Google maps.

Good luck. I'll bet you $15 billion it takes longer than four days.

There are 300 million people who live in the U.S., and the USPS delivers to most of them, six days a week, rain, sleet or snow. Why are we not more impressed by that? Let's not be so eager to declare the USPS a failure of bureaucracy without appreciating how much of a success it has been for the past 236 years.

I, for one, am tired of seeing things fail. I'm weary from living in such a cynical age. I'd like for something to succeed.

The next time I need to reach someone, I will stand in line, buy a stamp, send them a letter ... and appreciate the journey.

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