Monday, September 26, 2005


Postal Service Feat

The postal service occasionally amazes me; it rarely disappoints me, but then again, I wouldn't necessarily know that I hadn't received a letter unless I was expecting it.

Once or twice a year, I receive someone else's mail: typically the same house number, but on another street in the neighborhood, or a letter for my next-door neighbors. What do others do in such a case? What ought I to do? Take it to the post office and turn it in? Wait for the factor to hand it back, so he or she would be aware of the error and not make it again? Carry it myself to the correct destination? The post office is much farther away, so that option is not very convenient. To wait for the postman/postwoman isn't very convenient, either, but I wouldn't want to just leave the letter or parcel on my mailbox because there is some foot traffic and a non-zero likelihood that someone else would collect the object first. By elimination, that means I do the redelivery myself (or discard the object).

Today, though, I had a more intriguing surprise. I am genuinely mystified.

I live in a smallish town, and have been here for two decades, mostly at the same address. Smallish, but -- nearly thirteen thousand households, plus businesses -- not so small that I would expect the post office to deliver me mail with just my name and an incorrect or missing street address. And yet, on more than one occasion, packages arriving from overseas with an incomplete address1. were delivered to us. I appreciate their taking the trouble to find me, rather than just returning to sender. But although I am pleasantly surprised by this quality of service, I can more or less guess how it is done...probably using a phone book or similar directory. Today's feat is in another league.

Today I received a piece of mail from California, addressed to me with my correct street address, town, and postal code but in another country! It arrived here! Is it possible and plausible to think that whenever a piece of mail arrives in a country that doesn't have a town and postal code that matches, they look in some kind of mega atlas/gazetteer to find a country that does have a town, postal code, or both that match the address? Then wouldn't they strikeout the wrong country name and write in the deduced country name? My mail is not like that, no strikeout: it reads Germany and was delivered in France!

If there is no apparent sign that this piece of mail bounced from Germany to France, then perhaps it came directly here. Maybe the checking whether the destination country has such town, or at least such a postal code, is done by the U.S. Postal Service before sending the mail anywhere2.; then it is the USPS that looks in a mega directory of all the towns and postal codes in the world and, if they find an unambiguous match, send it there. Incoming mail to a country then would be processed with no further attention to country names.

Sigh. And for a brief, paranoid, ego-tripping instant I wondered whether somebody (or some computer) ...somewhere between California and my mailbox... recognized my name then did whatever was necessary to get it to me. Not likely, right? Nobody really has files like that, and if they did they wouldn't use them so openly.

I think this may call for some experimention.

1. Street name "Farm Street" rather than "Parchman Farm Street", in a town with streets named for eight different farms. Maybe they randomize, and I receive only one eighth of the ambiguously addressed missives.
2. Does the USPS have a "get it right first time" approach, a quality process mentality?

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?