Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Most Patient Person in the World

I do believe I met her on Monday. She smiled. She greeted me with “Happy New Year.”  She asked politely how she could be of service.

She was the sole postal clerk in a post office with 14 patrons queued up when I arrived, and three times that number when I left. This is a branch post office, Yale Station to be exact. 

New Haven has no post office downtown. It did have one — on the ground floor of the Robert N. Giaimo Federal Building, one block from the New Haven Green. After Oklahoma City, the main entrance was made the only entrance, and scanners were installed. Traffic for the post office caused a security overload on a building which also housed Social Security, the IRS and the FBI (until their new building was completed). The post office was closed. As a “temporary” measure a vacated space on lower Chapel Street, former home to an adult bookstore, was converted to house the rental boxes, and stamp machines were put in place. The stamp machines are now permanently out of service, the boxes are accessible for limited hours, and if there are plans for a new downtown post office, they are a deep, dark, secret. 

I had chosen to walk, not drive, to the post office on Monday. The weather was nice, and I was mailing an envelope, not a package. I had plenty of stamps, but the envelope had to be certified with proof of delivery. I had a choice of two locations—Brewery Street (1.1 miles) or Yale Station (.7). Yale Station is a much nicer walk. The line being serviced by one clerk was a bummer really, but I decided to wait. Surely there would be help on the way. There were glimmers of hope. A woman made a brief appearance but failed to open up her line before she disappeared. A second woman came out long enough to supply some smaller bills (from her own purse) as change. One patron gave up. By now there were only six ahead of me. So I waited. 

It was cold outside but getting very toasty in here. The room was beginning to smell. The line now snaked to the door. But just then patrons’ requests began to be less complex. The line began to move in a perceptible manner. My turn arrived! 

The friendly clerk asked the requisite questions about the perishability or potential hazards of the contents of my flat number 10 envelope. After my transaction she asked whether I needed stamps or supplies. I told her that was all, thanked her and said I hoped she would have help soon. She calmly replied that she was the only clerk on duty. She added that she knew although it was not fair to the customers she was required to ask a number of questions, and that occasionally there would be people in line posing as customers to verify that she was asking the questions. I expressed my disbelief, thanked her again, and made my way to the door past a few dozen customers, mostly students catching up on vacation news and discussing shopping for classes.

All was calm on this pleasant afternoon. But do a quick search for this post office on yelp and you will find a one star rating and very low customer satisfaction. A sign at the Chapel Street location directs customers here or to Brewery Street (also prone to lines). Not everyone in New Haven has a car. Not everyone is perpetually calm. At some time or another most everyone has something to mail.

Is the current situation really the best plan for a service struggling to stay in business? The most patient person in the world is doing all she can to keep the customers satisfied. She could really use some assistance. And the postal patrons in downtown New Haven could really use a post office of their own.

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