March 4, 2013

March 4, 2013

Stamps of Approval


Every so often, I have a good encounter with a public servant. Not often, mind you. Believe me, the inept employees far outnumber the, um, ept ones at places like the DMV and post office. But once in a while, you find one so competent that it frankly amazes you.

And since I’d certainly write in excruciating detail about a bad post office experience, allow me to recount a good one.

It was the Saturday before Inauguration. Not the ideal time to make a post office run. For one thing, it was a Saturday. For another, it was the very beginning of tax season. For a third, it was the one weekend when the entire DC area is overrun by people wandering in search of “the Smithsonian.” Meanwhile, I needed to mail a package and get stamps, tra la la!

Side note: I’m always amused by the sheer variety of services people need at the post office.* You have the guy who needs one stamp. ONE SINGLE FREAKING STAMP. The couple mailing 200 wedding invitations. The person with at least one small child who insists on running around the waiting area. The person filling out a change of address form even though the entire process can be done online. Delightful people, all.

So anyway, I arrived a little before noon (they were open until 2) and got in a line of about a dozen people. I watched single-stamp buyer, engaged couple, and parent-of-excited-child for a bit. Then it was my turn to be helped. I got the middle aged Indian**gentleman at window 2. I explained that I needed to mail a package and get some stamps. (I find that stating my entire purpose up front usually helps in situations like this. “What do you mean you also need stamps? You didn’t tell me that! Get back in line!”)

The package was one of those flat rate boxes, so it was wham-bam-thank you ma’am. The clerk asked whether I had anything liquid, fragile, or perishable. For once, I did: a coffee mug and a glass. After I told him that, the clerk dutifully stamped “fragile” all over that box. It was great. Except for the fact that the stamp was barely legible, but DETAILS SCHMETAILS.

So then. The stamps. To be honest, I had very little hope here. I usually get my stamps from the post office in the headquarters of Cabinet-Department-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named*** and the selection is lackluster. That is, when it exists at all. For much of holiday season 2011, it was out of forever stamps ENTIRELY. Yep. THE POST OFFICE WAS OUT OF STAMPS. Suffice to say I have seriously considered ordering my stamps online and paying extra for shipping to ensure I actually get postage.

Imagine my utter shock, then, when the clerk brought me a binder of women forever stamps and told me to choose which ones I wanted. An entire binder, you guys. At least a dozen kinds of stamps. I wasn’t ready for this. I was hoping for two books of the boring bell stamp or whatever. But they had the cherry blossom stamps and I was all “Give me every book you have, good sir!” (Actually, I just bought two books of stamps.)


Fabulous. If only a tenth of my encounters with government went as well.

* The DMV still wins for people watching, because DANG.
** From India Indian, not Native American Indian. Not that that’s important to the story. I just want you to have the correct mental image as you replay this story in your head.
*** Oooooooooooo, right?

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