Joel Riggs teaches Aikido, plays piano, enjoyed California for 22 years ('86 - '08), now enjoys Georgia, and reads voraciously.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Going Postal

I did not want to write this story, but the spirit moves me. So buckle your seatbelts.

I have decided to sign up for a post office box here in my new town of Decatur, GA. It is Monday between Christmas and New Year's at the end of 2008. The two holidays fell on Thursday this year, so after making my decision on Christmas eve, I waited a few days before going to the town Post Office.

Several weeks before the day this story takes place, I had stopped in the PO to inquire about boxes, and I found that they require extensive proof of identification, way beyond what I needed in Fairfax, CA five years ago when I last got a box. They wanted not just a GA driver's license (which I have) but also two other forms of ID, including either a passport (which I do not have), vehicle registration, birth certificate, mortgage statement, vehicle insurance statment... you get the idea.

So, I have collected my birth certificate, a mortgage bill, my driver's license and headed to the PO to sign up. First of all, the line was nearly 20 deep, instead of the two or three I had seen the last time. Probably because of Christmas, everyone put off going to the PO a day, I thought. I resigned myself to a 20-minute wait, which turned out to be about right.

Everyone in line seemed pretty calm, if unhappy about the wait. But one person already at the counter looked to be having a bad day. There are three stations at the desk, but only two of them were staffed, and one of these was dealing with a rather difficult customer, it appeared.

With all of us watching and listening, the woman customer at the desk talked very loudly about wanting to rent a PO Box. When presented with the list of required and acceptable forms of ID, she protested loudly that she did not have a driver's license or a passport. No problem, the clerk told her; your auto insurance or mortgage statment will do. I am not giving you any of my personal information, the customer screamed. And back and forth they argued.

Slowly our line waiting for service got shorter. Now I was about fifth in line.

Periodically the customer would step away from the desk to read a regulation or to fill out the application, but finally everything that could stall the inevitable had been done. She returned to the desk and demanded to see the manager. He very graciously explained the rules again, even highlighting on her form the list of acceptable items of ID. Now, totally irate and practically abusive, she yelled I do not have to give you any of my personal information. The manager smiled and said And I do not have to rent you a box; it is as simple as that. Several of us in line cheered.

First in line, I was glad to see that this woman customer had finally given up. The clerk and her manager behind the counter seemed to sigh visibly in relief as she walked away. She has just made our line take twice as long as it otherwise would have, and now the line was closer to 30 deep rather than the original 20. The customer stormed out of the building and I stepped up to the counter.

Hi, I said, I would like to rent a PO Box.

Oh, no, the clerk said.

Actually, I do, I replied, but I will be nice about it. I smiled at her.

Louis, she said to the clerk at the next station, do you have another one of those applications for a PO Box?

You mean you did not make a copy of that one? That was my last one, he said.

Uh oh.

Let me check, she told me. She looked all around her station, and around Louis's, and then disappeared into the back of the building. Five minutes later she came out and told me, we are completely out of applications, and you will have to come back tomorrow. I am sorry about that.

I am pleased to report that I left the Post Office without shooting anybody, but I now completely understand the urge.

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