I have always been a big fan of the iconic United States Postal Service or USPS. As a child in New York City, I memorized the USPS motto about delivering the mail regardless of rain, hail, dark of night, or a host of other hazards. I have always admired the legendary Pony Express and the old Wells Fargo postal adventures, nor have I ever forgotten those brave early pilots who carried the first Air Mail all over the nation. I can watch that memorable Kevin Costner movie The Postman, about the adventures of an unwilling postal recruit in a post-apocalyptic America, over and over again.
But then, quite recently, I had the bad luck to encounter the United States Post Office in Forest Park, Illinois 60130. The pack of incompetents at that particular post office manage to make it The Worst Post Office in America, or at least by far the worst which I have ever encountered. Unfortunately, given the long-term ills of the USPS -- including its inadequate funding, obsolete technology, overworked and over-stressed employees, and the competition from various electronic message systems and new package services -- the Forest Park Post Office may be "the handwriting on the wall." And that is indeed the reason for this article: I have seen the likely future, and have seen that it does not work!
The situation started with a seemingly-routine postal matter: a first-class package sent from Rochelle, Illinois to my home in Georgia, with full tracking information and due to be delivered in only a few days. Matters began to go astray when the sender, who lived in an area which had had a tornado, omitted the last two digits of my USPS Zip Code. After tracking my package and noting that it was stuck in the Forest Park, Illinois post office for days on end, I tried to call the USPS Forest Park facility's main number -- but could not reach a live postal employee for some time. All of the options provided on their phone number merely gave a variety of messages, nearly all of which did not apply to me.
Yet there was hope, at least at that point. One message gave another phone number to be called for package tracking problems. I thought I had hit pay dirt -- until I got a recording from one Mahalia, hyphenated last name said too fast to record, that she would look into the package problem but could not be expected to call back "due to the high volume" of package problems. That message alone made me wonder what was going on at the USPS in Forest Park, Illinois: why on earth should there be such a large number of package problems?
After leaving a message explicitly outlining my problem -- the missing last two digits of the Zip Code on my package -- and providing the tracking number as well as my full address, phone number, and email address -- I waited, and waited, and waited, while my package did not move at all. There was no change in its location, it got no nearer to me in Georgia -- so I went back to ground zero and finally, after several tries and several different phone numbers, with long waits, holds, and an occasional disconnect, I actually reached a postal clerk in the Forest Park post office, who told me that they are only supposed to help local residents, and since I was calling from Georgia, I was not among the fortunate: no help for me. This postal clerk did, however, direct me to Forest Park USPS Consumer Affairs, with whom I was told to raise my issues.
Now, the good folks at Forest Park USPS Consumer Affairs give two phone numbers, one of which only claims to take call back messages -- but never actually calls back. So, after waiting once again, I tried the second Consumer Affairs number -- and actually got a live person, who actually offered to send an email to Ms. Mahalia in Forest Park USPS packages directing her to add those two missing Zip Code numbers and send me my package. Only problem: nothing at all happened, I could tell from the tracking information that my package was still stuck in Forest Park. So I then began to call Ms. Mahalia again, telling her to check her email, but always getting the same cheery and meaningless tape message. Ms. Mahalia never called me back, or emailed me, or did anything to move my package on its way to me. Finally, in desperation, I actually called the USPS in Washington, D.C., eventually reaching a live person in the package tracking section (after more delays, holds, and disconnects), and opening a case, #CA122707298 -- which however can only be pursued by my own local Georgia destination post office, who are always very helpful but are not in Forest Park, IL. They are doing their best, but have no "magic bullet" to solve a problem a thousand miles away.
Meanwhile, in a very few days we leave for Summer in Europe, and will not be able to take the contents of my belated package with us, since it remains stranded at The Worst Post Office in America, where nobody takes any responsibility. And all of that is a microcosm of the broader problems facing the United States Postal Service. The Postman film's Kevin Costner character would be ashamed, and so am I. It should surely not be this hard to add two digits to an incomplete ZIP code -- but, more than that, it should surely not be so hard to find someone in the Forest Park USPS facility who takes some responsibility for an easily-solved problem. If that is the future of the USPS, it does not work, either.
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Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)