A Funny Thing Happened at the Post Office

Last night I finally finished the last piece of the puzzle for family care packages. I put the boxes together and addressed them so they’d be ready to pack today. We even finalized the annual update so I could include it in the packages.

After work today, I moved quickly and steadily to stuff as many items as I could in the boxes, with hope and faith the little boxes are tough enough to withstand the mail without being crushed. Right now, sending anything through the mail is a leap of faith it will arrive, unlike the old days.

Boxes packed and sealed, loaded in a bag to be able to carry them all, I jumped in the car and whisked myself off to the closest post office with a self-serve station.

It was after closing hours, so I figured it would be far less busy and crowded than it was when I picked up the flat rate boxes. When I arrived, the self-serve station was up and running—thank goodness. Lucky me, there was only one person in line, and someone on the machine.

Of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, the person on the machine was slower than molasses in February. I don’t know how many times she had to go back on the screen, look at the address on her package, move her package on the scale, look at the address again, and so on. Granted the machine does ask a lot of questions, it still took her an inordinately long time to finish. The person ahead of me had been through the drill before though. She was on and off that machine in nothing flat. Then it was my turn.

When I started the process, there were two people behind me. I did apologize and forewarn them I had several packages, 13 to be exact, so please be patient with me.

I started the process. Acknowledge I don’t have any hazardous materials. Choose what I’m sending—boxes. Choose what type of box—flat rate. Choose size of flat rate box—small. Enter zip code. Address or PO Box—used both. Enter address number. Enter street name—chose the address when pops up based on partial entry. Will the huge label fit on the box—No. Will this postage bar code and postage stamp fit—Yes. Continue shopping or checkout—Continue shopping. Then repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Then error. Won’t recognize address. Uh oh!

As I try to hurriedly figure out what is going on, I see the line has gone much longer than when I started. A moment of panic that I’m holding up the line. Try to fix. Still doesn’t work. Abandon entering this package. Do I stop here and get back in line to finish out of courtesy. Wait, I followed proper protocols. It is my time on the machine. How many more? Ugh, only half finished. Self-consciously I continue, feeling all eyes searing into my back.

I am moving faster since the routine is the same. Except the PO Boxes. I keep having to go back because I’ve got the pace of choosing address (maybe that is why the lady took so long when I had arrived?). Now screen isn’t recognizing when I choose street name. Definitely more self-conscious now; I can hear everyone thinking and yelling, “How much longer is this yahoo going to be?!”

Finally, last address and time to pay. Waiting for approval, waiting for approval, waiting for approval. Please remove card. Begins printing the label and postage. One. at. a. time. Screen says to put label on box after it prints. Don’t really catch that little tidbit, just trying to hurry so I say next. Next label prints, hit okay. Then next one, and next one. Then I realize there are no markings on the labels to I’ll know which label goes on which box. Well crap as I just put the boxes back in the bag so I can put label on at the counter so people can use the machine. Oh well, in for a dollar, in for a dime. Print, continue, print, continue, print, continue. I try to keep labels in order as they print excruciatingly slowly. Finally, the last label prints.

How do I want my receipt? Print, print and e-mail. E-mail. Print please. The receipt prints out and thank goodness, the addresses print out in the order I put them in (now if only I’ve also kept the labels in order).

Over to the counter. Lay the receipt out. First address, grab box, flip labels/postage over so last printed is on bottom (I hope). I examine the labels and postage very closely to double-check there are no distinguishing marks or receipt numbers. Nope, of course not.

Now what?! The labels are still too big. They will cover up parts of the addresses no matter where I try to place them on the address side. Did the picture on the machine say the labels had to be on the same side as the address? No idea. Going to take the chance the secret code lines include the address. Labels placed on the other side of the box. Read the receipt, find the next box. Put the label and postage on. Do several more boxes.

Now I’m laughing at myself, and upset with post office. Laughing because if the label does have the address, and the address on the front doesn’t match, someone may get a box with someone else’s name on it (as long as this doesn’t confuse the post office machines and employees). Wondering if all of these boxes are going to end up in my mailbox due to unable to send. Upset with the post office because there aren’t any unique human readable identifiers to ensure accuracy.

Finally finish and put them in the chute to put into the postal system. Fingers-crossed things will actually arrive in one piece, and to the right person.

One last thing, just in case you weren’t aware of this change in how time works in 2020. Flat rate boxes are supposed to be two-day priority mail. In 2020 terms, that actually means they will hopefully arrive at their destination in four days, if arrive on time.

If you have to make a trip to the self-serve station at the post office, be forewarned. Bring your self-confidence, especially if you are mailing more than ten boxes.

Good luck!

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