Last Spring folks reacted very strongly to my description of the delivery of newly hatched chicks by the U.S. Postal Service. Many were surprised to hear that not only chicks but even considerably larger animals like horses were sent in the mail in the early days of parcel post. Most astonishing, of course, was the mailing of children to visit their grandparents, as some parents in those early days realized that parcel post rates were considerably cheaper than train fare. (“A Brief History of Children Sent Through the Mail,” Smithsonian Magazine, June 14, 2016). Who better than the employees of the U.S. Postal Service to entrust with timely delivery of this most precious cargo?
I thought back on that bulletin as I read this week in the Washington Post that U.S. Postmaster Louis DeJoy is proposing to restore financial health to the Postal Service by slowing down the delivery of local first class mail (from two days to three to five days) and raising prices. The previous week, on my last trip to the City a neighbor told me she had found a piece of mail, a government check addressed to my late partner, Peter, placed in the wrong mail box. Peter died in September, 2018, so it is not inconceivable that a refund for some recent tax year might still be in a pipeline somewhere. But it turned out the check was a Social Security monthly benefit with a scheduled delivery date of May 13, 2009. How much more slowly, I wondered, could Mr. DeJoy make delivery happen?
Just as I have had repeatedly in the last year had to ask clients to stop payments on checks they had mailed but which disappeared in the mail, and to replace them with credit card payments, it turned out that Peter had arranged for a replacement payment 12 years ago. My excitement at the thought that this one little paper parcel was preserved and ultimately delivered, even if a tad late, faded. The feeling was replaced by a sense of remorse that yet another venerable public institution, a once vital part of the infrastructure of national commerce, has been allowed to so deteriorate.
For this deterioration in service, I do not blame the devoted mail deliverers and sorters. Many of them are the same individuals who, in the months after 9/11, made sure the residents of my building in the City, displaced by the damage to our apartments from the collapse of the World Trade Center, got our mail. The old adage about delivery despite rain, snow or gloom of night rang true then.
And I recognize that in this last pandemic year, mail delivery, a task that inevitably involves face to face interaction with others, became a high risk job. Again, my last trip to the City illuminated that risk all too well for me. The purpose of my trip was to get my first COVID-19 vaccination. But since I would be stopping home that day, I arranged to resume egg delivery (which was weekly in pre-pandemic times) to my City neighbors.
Nearly a week after this excursion, I got a text from one neighbor advising me that she may have exposed me to COVID. Her husband had been taken to the hospital, and she had tested positive as well. That a trip to get vaccinated might result in COVID exposure was no small irony. I immediately arranged to get tested, as did my friend Eric, who was visiting me, and we were relieved to both test negative. Being masked, keeping distance, and keeping my visit to her apartment brief apparently paid off. But the episode drove home to me the dangers those engaged in home delivery inevitably face.
No, the problem with the postal service is not the dedication of its employees, though many may be demoralized now. The deterioration has more to do with other factors. As much business and personal correspondence has moved to email, powerful constituencies that demand reliable paper mail have diminished. At the same time, private competitors like FedEx have been permitted to cherry pick the lucrative urgent delivery business. On top of long term revenue losses, policy changes instituted by Mr. DeJoy himself, including such measures as on time departure of planes even if the mail they were supposed to carry had not arrived, slowed mail down. According to Forbes Magazine, before Mr. DeJoy’s arrival in June, 2020 93% of first class mail was delivered on time. As a result of his policy changes, that proportion quickly went down to 81% in early August. An election season and holiday season that were both heavily mail dependent because of the pandemic stressed the system further. The Washington Post article reports that by the end of 2020 only 38% of first class mail was delivered on time.
Of course, the worse service gets the more people abandon the use of the mail, until ultimately the Postal Service becomes unsustainable.
As someone who must decide whether to take a leap of faith this spring and get mail order chicks and turkey poults, who must be delivered in under 48 hours to survive, I would humbly suggest that the Biden Administration consider investment in the Postal Service and installation of new leadership there a high infrastructure priority. With vision and commitment to this public good, perhaps it can once again become the service we knew it to be.
Otherwise, I will have to consider less risky alternatives, such as getting eggs and incubating them to hatch on the farm. This frigid morning I arrived at the barn to hear the bleating of twin lambs newly delivered by a first time mother. Our annual lambing has begun. Already up and avidly nursing, ramling Pruneau and eweling Noiraude are a reminder of just how delightful home delivery can be.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Cheese pumpkins, $1/lb
EGGS: production has doubled, feel free to order, $5/doz
CHICKENS: They were quite uniform in size, all just around 6 lbs, a few under. We’ve already had one and the freedom rangers have been what you want them to be, deeply flavorful. They are now frozen. $6/lb. Separately, bags of chicken livers, also $6/lb.
Email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.