ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — So many things make people mad these days.
We hate airline fees and sagging pants and the food pyramid and that pizza-shaped thing that’s replacing the food pyramid, and now we might even have to hate Lance Armstrong after we loved him – we should know soon.
For members of Congress, threatening Medicare or tweeting a photo of your happy pants will certainly get a rise out of the vox populi.
|Proposed post office closures
â– La Loma
â– St. Vrain
â– Fort Stanton
And if you’re the United States Postal Service, well, get in line and we’ll call your number when we’re ready to tell you how you’ve let us down this time.
Anger is bubbling up at the good old Postal Service’s plan to shutter a couple of thousand post offices across the country. The post offices on the chopping block tend to be the ones that serve rural communities with small populations. In New Mexico, they’re spread mostly across the north.
The changes are designed to help save hundreds of millions of dollars by closing postal outposts with little traffic.
Critics have called the plan a death knell for rural America and evidence of further diminution of the Postal Service as it struggles in the Internet Age. The two postmasters unions have combined to appeal the plan, which they allege “promotes a discriminatory level of postal services, particularly to rural areas and small towns.”
Patrick R. Donahoe, the postmaster general, has been defending the plan as a reasonable response to changing demographics and annual losses in the billions for an agency that is supposed to be self-supporting.
“We have post offices out there that we have two customers, or three customers come in in an entire day,” Donahoe told The Washington Post. “Remember the Maytag repairman? He used to have the loneliest job in the world. We probably have about 5,000 postmasters that have the loneliest job in the world.”
Rural New Mexico post offices can be lonely outposts. I pass a lot of them in my travels and more often than not see an empty parking lot, save for the postmistress’s car parked under a tree.
And small-town postal politics can make the Arab Spring look like a petty difference of opinion.
I know a guy who got so irked at the postmaster in the town where he lives that he moved his P.O. box to the post office in the neighboring town and drives there every day to get his mail. This grudge has gone on for more than 10 years – enabled by the fact that the alternate post office is only a little more than a mile away.
Is it a good business model to have a post office selling stamps and renting boxes and weighing packages in Little Town A and one doing exactly the same thing in Little Town B a mile away? It would be hard to find anyone who could argue it is.
But people who live in a small town don’t think of their post office as a business. Most of us can email our friends; we no longer need to send letters. We can buy stamps online or at the grocery store. But in a small, rural town, the post office is the link to the outside world. It’s sometimes the only gathering spot for miles. It’s where the bookmobile parks and where community notices are posted. It’s where you run into your neighbor and get the gossip along with your Netflix envelope and your bills.
So it’s no surprise the Postal Service has a fight on its hands.
Over in the Mora County village of Holman, the Postal Service has slated the local post office for closure in July, citing an average of only about 50 customers a day at the counter and another post office three miles away in the village of Cleveland.
A petition to the regional postmaster asking for a reprieve was signed by 167 people and described its importance: “Holman is not a bedroom community, nor a retirement community, but a thriving local community, and OUR Post Office is an important center of community communications and contact.”
Barbara Wood, the Postal Service spokeswoman in Albuquerque, said the targeted list in New Mexico includes Aragon, Capulin, Cuervo, Coyote, Encino, Gladstone, Holman, La Loma, St. Vrain, Trementina, Mills and Fort Stanton. A few of those P.O.s have already had service suspended but have not been permanently closed.
There is not a major metropolis on that list, and that is the point. When you’re stretching a dollar, lots of little post offices look like a luxury, not a right.
Wood says postal customers in towns where the decision is made to close the post office will receive their mail in the same location, but instead of having their locked box inside the building, they’ll find it in a cluster unit outside. They will have the choice of buying stamps or mailing packages at neighboring post offices or by catching the mail deliverer at the boxes or leaving a note in their boxes.
The Postal Service has been moving the mail since 1775. In 1970, when Congress revamped the agency into a self-supporting quasi-federal agency with a protected monopoly, its mandate was clear: “It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.”
So many things to make people mad these days. Especially if you live in Coyote, Holman, Trementina or any of the other dozen or so New Mexico communities on the list to get the Postal Service ax.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal