There was a red, white and blue mailbox on nearly every corner of town. Junk mail was delivered twice a day to your doorstep and you didn't need to be a registered postal worker to carry a hand-gun (I'm going somewhere with this, trust me).
Boxes were lighter, parcel post more efficient, the weather more clement, the stamps more collectable, and the postman always rang twice. Dead letters were cared for, dog bites common and the "Zip-Code" was only five digits long.
But that was back in the day -- a kindler, gentler day. Today, The U.S. Postal Service -- a government-approved monopoly that habitually bleeds tax money -- has declared that they are broke and that they will officially close all its doors on March 1st, 2004. Postal executives say the giant agency as the world knows it, will disband and cease to operate by about 2044.
"It was the e-mail and UPS that did us in," said U.S. Postmaster-General Billy (William) Mitchell. "Well that, and the Anthrax attacks and the operation of 58,955 postal facilities across the nation -- one in every town and village. It just got to be too big and expensive, these weren't franchises you see. The postal service has been losing money since we started buying oats for the Pony Express. Do you have any idea how many 50c stamps it takes to pay a postal worker's disability insurance and pension?"
Experts say the Postal Service today employs and plans to or has already begun to layoff about 860,000 individuals in the shutdown, many will receive early retirement benefits, some will be allowed to keep their hats. At least half of that group have suffered foot, neck, shoulder, toe, finger and knee troubles as a result of their service on the mail delivery front. Some are just slow. Most of the remainder of those have been accosted or attacked by rabid dogs, de-clawed cats, or irate Social Security recipients at one time or another.
Some have even gone so far as to be shot dead or seriously injured by their fellow letter-carriers while on the job, or in a nearby bar, just after work. And, a recent independent study shows that better than 40% of the workforce are glum and depressed because most times no one is ever home except the dog when they deliver the mail.
"Personnel was always our major priority and challenge -- you're just not going to get the job done if you don't have the right people on the ground delivering the mail," said U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Ms. Mary Ann Mance. "It's been that way since the beginning. But, a lot of our people started moving over to Fed Ex, Airborne Express, Pea-Pod or Domino. The money is better and the work can be more interesting -- In some cases there are even above-board tips."
"Some of these laid-off employees, some of the older ones, have already started up their own mail service out of their garages or basements, or condo-units," said Ms. Mance. "And they walk around in their neighborhoods going door to door, trying to sell their stamps or Ez-Mailers. It's sad. these are the hardliners, they're addicted, they'll never be able to give it up. But most are looking for something better."
"So," said Ms. Mance "You factor in the rain, and sleet, and snow, appointed rounds and any-time-of-day stuff and it's really a no-brainer -- they'll go to the private sector. Let someone else wave the flag."
Historians say the U.S. Postal service was first established by Ben Franklin in 1775. Franklin served as the first Postmaster General under the Continental Congress and was the first postal employee in the U.S. to accept gratuities at Christmas, wear shorts and knee-socks in the summer, carry a large leather mail bag and to treat customers poorly.
Historians say that Franklin, was also the first to receive a government pension and that he set the benchmark for those millions of clerks, mail carriers, distribution clerks, and mail processors that would follow in his delivery footprints and retire in Arizona and Central Florida.
Over the years most mail carriers have covered their routes on foot, by motor vehicle, or a combination of both, the historians tell us. On foot, they carry a weighty consignment of mail in their shoulder bag or push it on a cart. In most urban and rural areas, workers use a car, bicycle, pogo-stick or small truck to deliver.
The postal service estimates that there are over
three-million mail-delivery vehicles in the Government-owned and operated vehicle service -- more than half of which were delivered to the agency with the steering wheel on the wrong side!
"Yes, regrettably we're going to have some difficulty selling those vehicles off in the shutdown," said spokesperson, Ms. Mance. "Only time will tell, perhaps our market is going to be better overseas, where people drive on the wrong side of the road all the time and they still have mail. I guess I just don't know what they were thinking when they ordered those vehicles."