By Marc J. Elzenbeck
Whether by trying to conduct business at the speed of thought or due to plain old self-sabotage, institutions and traditions are stressed out and stretched thin. Such could also be said for the Postal Service ever since Ben Franklin took it over from King George in 1775. If only Ben had foreseen porch bandits becoming a national theme, he could have invented security taser-cams and booby-trapped mail (search for ‘Glitter Bomb 4.0’).
Now, millions of packages are stolen every year, and even if a big moat cushions us from mayhem, crime’s raft is firmly ashore. While trying to continue to function in 2022, our chronically understaffed local P.O. has resorted to leaving packages out in plain view. On top of, beneath, and around roadside boxes. They almost seem to have a “Steal Me” sticker on top. And who amongst us wants to wake up and wonder, “Will my new InstantPot delivery stay safe to make sous vide tonight?”
I’m as fond of complaining as anyone when things don’t work…or OK, maybe fonder. And yet, on reflection and some research, our provincial old service has held up remarkably well against steep odds. There’s an entry for “Vashon Post Office” in my Rolodex of Minor Miracles. Remember when public health experts told us to hose down cardboard boxes with 120-proof alcohol because, in a lab, COVID-19 could persist for 5 days on surfaces? The mail kept right on coming, junk included. There were some pandemic-induced hiccups, true, and it halted altogether when the Great Resignation Christmas Blizzard hit in 2021. But the unplowed and subsequently glare-iced roads undid almost everyone else, too, even a few Subaru drivers. Then somehow, the P.O. clawed its way back during a partial thaw and worked off what must have been a truly depressing two-week backlog of Amazonian proportions. These people have persevered through every abuse, and to scant admiration at that. Thank you! Sincerely.
Even so, these troubles may have progressed to a more serious, structural stage: Wanton piracy, lawlessness, a Venezuela vs. Argentina situation. Stealing mail has long been a major federal and local no-no, ranking up there with horse thievery. But now, it seems to send legal authorities into tics and spasms of curious silence. Odds of punishment are effectively nil. Whereas our local USPS staffers say they get at least one lost package complaint every day, usually more than five. Their math works.
Look up crime data on your friendly mobile Library of Alexandria, and you will find our haven scoring lower than the bad side of average: Vashon is only safer than 41% of US cities, with 14.56 reported crimes per 1,000 residents per year. This being largely due to property crimes, solidly in line with national long-term trends, with the violent rate steadily falling and the non-violent ascending.
Another way of putting it: if you live here for about 70 person-years, odds are you’ll have something stolen or wrecked to the point that you’re upset enough to call the cops. So, this is not yet the Bronx and dealers aren’t openly slinging meth in the Thriftway parking lot, but neither does it fit the self-image of a sleepy and secure bedroom community where you can always leave the keys near, if not in, the ignition of your unlocked vehicle.
It is what it is, and as my ex-carnival barker father figure would say, “Games and rules always change, people never do.” It would be good to figure this game out, so what’s the voodoo that we can do? A few thoughts from asking around:
1. If lost for any reason, Amazon and UPS policy is to refund the package cost (I have not researched FedEx). Go to Amazon, look up delivered packages and you’ll see a “Get Product Support” option. Click on that and you’ll be proffered chat and call-back options. Refunds are said to take 1-3 weeks.
2. The Country Store has a drop-off desk: $1.99 service fee for pre-labeled UPS and FedEx packages, and it’s best to drop off before 2:30 for same-day pickup. It’s also possible to do the packaging and labeling there for higher fees depending on size, weight, and materials. They don’t take QR codes (as they’re not an actual UPS/FedEx store), but a measly two bucks beats cramming your package into or on top of a graffiti-laced metal box across from the post office (see picture).
3. Work at the post office for pay. They need help! When last there to pick up our 7 individual items, the solitary staffer on-site, responsible for 13,000 summer residents’ mail, was cheerful as ever. When asked how to help, the USPS had this to say: “We need sorters, handlers, drivers…and managers. We’re hiring anybody.” Happily enough for some of us, they’ll hire felons.