After a year in which the parcels I sent arrived on December 24th, I like to mail early, long before the December 10th deadline to Canada. And so, yesterday found me waiting in line at the main post office in downtown Portland. It was a longish line and they were understaffed. A clerk from another building had been called in to help out. The line was grumpy and the clerks were doing their best.
I knew the clerk I wanted: an African-American woman with hair extensions and fancy nails. We always laugh when I check out with her. She was working yesterday, but she was at the end of the counter where they take care of passports and business mailings. It might be possible to get her, but they only called people from the regular line when they weren’t busy. And that wasn’t today.
A young woman on a cell phone entered the line behind me with a bag carrying a couple of packages. She had clearly never been before because she was asking the person on the other end of the phone what she was supposed to do with the boxes. She seemed doubtful, so asked a passing USPS employee who told her she didn’t have to wait in line if they were relabeled. She still seemed unsure so caught the same employee on the way back who took her and showed her where to drop her prepaid packages.
I stepped to the side in line as the tall, elderly gentleman behind me breathed heavily on my head. Eww! Fortunately, he needed to write on his package so, once he’d found his pen, he leaned left to write on the counter showcasing stamps through the ages. I leaned right to avoid his breath.
The people in front of me had a couple of packages. She was lean, wore a cute crocheted hat and carried a small box. Her companion was also thin and had a long red beard. He was flitting about, holding a larger box. Their packages were labeled with an herbal medicine return address. Interesting. They looked sort of earthy.
A man stepped towards the counter and wanted to know would they cash his money order. He joined the line once he was told yes.
The line slowly edged forward and I saw a number of people in the passport line. Vacation travels? I wondered.
Finally it was my turn at the counter. I got the clerk who had snapped at me last time. Damn. She had chastised me for not leaving enough space for the customs form and had been rather grumpy. Today, she was all smiles. It was as though the busier the post office got, the more serene the clerks became.
I had three packages, so I had a bit of a wait at the counter. And that is when things got really interesting. The heavy breathing gentleman went to the clerk to my left. He had mail he was forwarding to his daughter. Apparently the post office doesn’t forward pre-sorted mail (formally known as junk mail) unless you pay to ship it. As he stepped aside to address the envelope he would use to ship all his daughter’s mail, Mr. Money Order took his place.
He was a loud talker so we all knew the money order was for $50.00. His clerk was the one substituting from another building and she was unsure of some of the rules at this PO. She asked my clerk several questions. As my clerk was peppered with questions she apologized to me. Maybe she wasn’t as grumpy as I thought. Mr. Money Order was a little disgruntled that they had to call and verify it, but waited somewhat patiently. He was talking to the clerk and I, complaining a little about the wait. I offered him this bit of advice I learned from my mother: if you want an immediate answer, it is no, so be patient and you might just get what you want. When the clerk return from verifying, he got his $50.00.
Meanwhile, to my right, a curious incident was under way. A nicely dressed woman was arguing with my favorite clerk about her unsigned credit card. The post office has multiple signs saying they will not accept unsigned credit cards. This woman claimed her husband was a banker who had told her not to sign her credit card, and that it would be accepted, unsigned, with appropriate ID. Not at the USPS apparently, and she was angry, claiming she’d used it this way at this very post office before. My clerk asked me some questions and when I looked back at the woman, she was gone.
Thirty minutes after entering the post office, I left. Although I don’t know how all of these people’s stories ended, my heart was filled with happiness, knowing the packages were on the way.