Friday, February 13, 2009

Puhleeze, Mr. Postman!

In the interest of full disclosure; one of my uncles was, for many years, employed by the U S Post Office, the government-run mail-delivery service superseded in recent years by, among other things, the U S Postal Service, private delivery services, cheaper phone rates, the Internet, ...well, you get the idea. The point is, the Postal Service has fallen on hard times [I imagine a similar crisis ran through the whale-oil industry, once electricity became commonplace in American homes]. Still, I can't come up with a sane explanation for the story I'm about to tell [a true one, by all accounts. You can't make this stuff up, and frankly, given the state of Earth just now, why bother?]

The U S Postal Service has a noble heritage; born as the Post Office, in the earliest days of the Republic, it strives to live up to the words of ancient Greek historian and traveller Herodotus: "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds". This matter refers to that first impediment - snow. I have spent every one of my 51 winters in a snowy climate; most of them spent here in Western New York state. I point this out to demonstrate that, based on experience, I know snow [despite having a reasonably successful pro hockey team, an active basketball scene, skiing, snowboarding, tubing, as well as the defending champions of the National Lacrosse League, the true winter sport in Western New York is "trying to live as normal a life as possible despite all this snow, wind, and cold". And baby, we are the champions!].

Anyway, as winters go, the current one has been a little on the harsh side: very cold, lots of ice on the sidewalks and streets, and a good deal of snow. In areas where snow falls, usually property owners are responsible for clearing the hazard from sidewalks, either themselves, or by hire. Lawns, as you'd probably guess, are not required to be cleared. What, then, to make of the case of a U S Postal Service postman, who received a written reprimand from his superiors for using shovelled sidewalks during his route, instead of cutting across unshovelled [and snow-laden] lawns?

It's not that the unnamed postal employee [somehow, I suspect there's a statue somewhere with that name] was failing to deliver mail, or excluding homes that hadn't shovelled their walks. Apparently, the Postal Service wants its delivery persons to do their routes as quickly as possible, so that one person can do the work, say, of one-and-a-half, at the same rate. A supervisor watched our mailman in secret, then issued the rebuke.

The union that has jurisdiction over postal carriers is, well, disgruntled, claiming that the whole thing is nothing more than pressure tactics by management. Residents in the area this mailman serves [suburban Buffalo] think he's done nothing wrong, noting that they would do the same in his position. Indeed, given the eight-to-nine-inch tall snow drifts covering many lawns in the neighborhood, what else could he do?

Yes, I know the Postal Service is scrambling for every buck it can find. But when common sense gets thrown down the mail chute, into the bottom of the mail sack, you kind of wonder what the point of saving a small amount comes down to. No wonder these people "go postal"! (By the way, does that kind of thing happen in other countries? I can think of a few examples of it happening here, but not elsewhere. If anyone knows of a "postal employee going postal" story from outside the US, please let us known in the "Comments" section) I'd like to think that my uncle, who worked his way up the ladder from mail sorter to postal inspector, wouldn't get himself involved in such a mess...
-Mike Riley