Less for more?

I went to the post office today to mail an international package, and Brian was working.  When I was in a few days ago to mail a domestic package, Connie had been working and she had mentioned that the Rockaway Beach office had a fancy-schmancy “new system.”  I didn’t really process that information fully; I was just in and out with a full list of errands, and although it did seem to take quite a bit longer for their computer to do its thing, the only thing that really stood out to me was that the swipe screen looked different, and it had a much longer than usual list of the things I didn’t want or need.

Such a list has always appeared, although I can’t figure out why.  For example, if I’m mailing a book by media mail and I’ve already applied the necessary $2.72 in stamps and the only reason I even took it to the post office was that it weighed over 13 ounces, then the swipe screen will ask me if I’m mailing anything illegal – DUH!  Do people really press “yes” if they are?!? – and give me a total of something like $37.65 and a detailed price list of about six services that I don’t want or need.  Rather than be alarmed by the list, I have learned to ignore it and just. . . wait.  Eventually, the list goes away, the swipe screen says I owe $2.72, and Brian (or Connie, when Brian’s off) confirms that the package already boasts $2.72 in stamps, scans and affixes three different bar codes, hands me a receipt with a $0.00 balance, tosses my package in the bin near the fireplace, and cheerfully sends me on my way.

So on Monday, as I mentioned, the process was slower than usual and the list was longer than usual.

But today, I was in there for an extended visit, due to the time required to fill out a customs form, and with the new system, Brian was required to ask me a series of questions I hadn’t heard before.  (Usually, I just check the “gift” box, and where I’m asked to list contents, I put “personal effects.”  I never like to put details on a customs form, because how much fun is it to receive a package from home that tells you on the outside everything that’s inside?!?)  So before I even got to the point of filling out the form – which I would have done at home to save time, but this being a padded flat rate mailer instead of the usual “small flat rate box” (which we have proven always takes the small green form) and not knowing which customs form it would require and deeply resenting having to fill out the the big black one after having already filled out the small green one, I decided to wait and just complete at the counter whichever one was required – we had this conversation.

Brian:  Are you shipping anything illegal?

Me:  No.  And I probably wouldn’t tell you if I were!

Brian: Does your package contain any duty-able items?

(I’ve never been asked this before.)

Me:  Ah. . . [trying to figure out if the contents would or wouldn’t be duty-able, why or why not, and how much my daughter might have to pay to receive this very small package, which would cost about two and-a-half times the value of the contents in shipping, any duty fees aside]

Brian:  [noting my hesitation and then quoting his official script] Duty-able items would include items of value, biohazardous liquids, or anything other than correspondence.

Me:  Well. . . hmm. . . [really not wanting to say this] I guess I could just tell you everything that’s in there. . .

Brian:  [with a grin on his face and hands raised in a defensive posture]  I don’t know!

Me:  [understanding that this was his version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and grinning too]  I don’t think there’s anything duty-able in that package.

Subsequently, an enormously long list appeared on the swipe screen, each item with its pertinent dollar amount.  A few of the items were over $100, some were in the $50+ range, and lots of them were less.  This, even though I already knew that a padded flat rate envelope would travel overseas (max weight 4 lbs.) for something like $25.

We waited.

I looked at the list and amounts changing on the swipe screen.

We waited.

We waited.

And while we waited, Brian explained the situation.  He told me that the postal service was putting in a new system (that was slower and more expensive) and that it was being tried out first in a select few post offices.  Now, the only reason I could imagine for Rockaway Beach, MO being one of the first places to implement the new system was that maybe they wanted to try it in tiny post offices first.  Actually no.  According to Brian, the much larger Forsyth post office was also slated to get it, but that didn’t happen, because in the meantime, there had been so many bugs and glitches in the system that its nationwide implementation had now been put on hold till February 2016.  But I guess the offices that got it still have it, and so tiny Rockaway Beach has one more thing it doesn’t want and doesn’t need.

The whole time Brian was telling me this story, we were waiting for the system to get to the point that I could swipe my credit card, something I could have done with the old system in about seven seconds, max.

I did finally swipe and sign, and Brian triumphantly and more than a bit sarcastically showed me the receipt.  “Look!  There’s your signature!!!”  Um. . . was I supposed to be impressed?  “Not only can we can print your signature, we can do your whole transaction more slowly than ever before!  THAT’S what we paid $68 million for!”

We laughed together, and I walked out to my car wondering if being able to print my signature while tripling both the customer’s and the postal employee’s wait time really was our government’s best possible use of $68 million.  I am pretty sure that I if I gave it some serious consideration, I could come up with several other ways to spend that kind of money.  Actually, it wouldn’t even require too many brain cycles.


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