Believe it or not, a pleasant post office
by TRACEY BARNES PRIESTLEY
WHEN MY HUSBAND AND I FIRST MOVED into our neighborhood in 1976, we had a box number and rural route for an address. The post office was housed in a classic yellow Victorian. It was a one-window operation then, but the service was prompt and always friendly. With my roots in San Diego, I felt as though I had died and gone to heaven. Where were the lines, the burned-out postal employees, the bulletin boards full of wanted felons and missing children? Never had the simple act of buying a 10-cent stamp been so satisfying.
In time, things began to change. Admittedly, there was grumbling among the locals. (Have you noticed how we, "the public," can be a little inflexible when something messes with our routine?) Suddenly, we had a street address. (OK, technically it was only a "road" address.) But, worst of all, the post office moved a whole 100 yards to the east into a brand new building. Fear was in the air. Would "progress" ruin all that we cherished?
I'm happy to report that for the estimated 600 residents who have their mail delivered to their homes, or at least nearby, and the nearly 800 post office box holders, the pleasantness of our neighborhood post office is unchanged.
Just walking into this facility tells you you're in for a very different postal experience. Instead of government beige walls, you'll find monthly art exhibitions, featuring artists of all ages and levels of talent. As Tom Mangos, the postmaster since 1981, pointed out, "We don't critique what we put up. I just get the calendar and see what month is available." Of course, there is a small bulletin board with posters that everyone needs to be aware of. But in the event that you actually have to wait in line for a minute or two, you can happily take in everything from Bill Twibell's latest fish prints to a fine collection of watercolors done by the children of our neighborhood elementary school.
The artwork is only the beginning. Let me give you a sampling of what "service" means at this post office. It was about 1990 and our oldest daughter's cat, "Pancake" (don't ask), had been missing for a week. Our daughter was sorrowful. Living in the country, my husband and I feared the cat had been gobbled up by a forest critter, as she was either completely fearless or pretty darn stupid, we never could decide. Of course, that wasn't something we spelled out to a 9-year-old. Instead, up went the missing cat posters; out went the calls to neighbors; but still, no Pancake.
I happened to go into the post office at the end of that week. Imagine my surprise when I rounded the corner and there on the counter sat Pancake, happily grooming herself while a customer petted her. I was stunned.
"Pancake?" I exclaimed and she looked up, in that weird, "I'm queen of the Universe" cat way that said, "Yes. Now don't interrupt."
Our trusty postmaster glanced up from counting out change. Never missing a beat, he said, "Oh, she's your cat? She's been here about a week. We've been feeding her, figuring someone would eventually claim her."
Well, claim her I did. Tom wouldn't accept money for the cat food, saying she hadn't "eaten all that much." In fact, his attitude was really along the lines of "just another service of the United States Postal Office. "
More recently our water bill -- well, let me be exact, half of our water bill -- arrived in our mailbox. Stapled to it was a note from Linda, one of our postal clerks, who had taken the time to write a friendly little note explaining that the bill had arrived in the post office missing the other, obviously more important half.
I've seen all of these government employees -- (bear with me, it gets a little confusing here) Tom the postmaster; Tom the rural letter carrier; Tom the postal clerk; Linda; and relief carrier Andre -- bend over backwards to help customers. They throw extra tape around poorly wrapped packages and fill out forms for patrons who don't see the small print as well as they once did. Somehow, they manage to stay cheery during Christmas rush and the tax time crunch. I've watched them listen to stories about grandchildren, smile through the rantings of the politically impassioned, and hear details about a surgery that only a medical professional should have to endure.
So, what makes this little post office so special? Everybody I asked said pretty much the same thing. The employees all agreed it was their boss and the customers. Tom, the clerk, explained, "He sets the tone, a standard, where everybody's an important customer." But a customer being helped at the time piped up with her friendly twist, "Well, it's really a love fest here. We like them, they like us." Those behind the counter nodded in enthusiastic agreement. The postmaster seemed to think likewise, " It's both the people who work here and the really nice customers we have."
I suppose there's a lesson for all of us here and it's that good old-fashioned, "you get what you give." I for one know that I'll continue to try to be a "really nice customer" if it means I can pop in to my local post office and walk out feeling pretty darned good.
Editor's note: While interviewing people for this column, Tracey was repeatedly asked to not reveal the location of the post office; apparently there was a concern that it would spur an inordinate number of people to move to the surrounding neighborhood. While thinking people were being a bit "silly," as Tracey put it, she chose to honor their wishes.
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.