R.F.D. R. I. P.

 I think the heat-drunk garter snake living in our mail box is an omen. As I lower the battered cover and reach gingerly inside to get our mail, I wonder if the battered mailbox itself isn’t an artifact of a bygone era.

The iconic US Postal system is bankrupt. Its valiant history calls up the pony express, postmen and women bearing parcels trudging through knee-deep Christmas snows, country stores with mailboxes on the wall. Could this all be history? Should it be?

It makes little sense for thousands of postal workers to drive cars or vans, or push handcarts to every doorstep in America six days a week to deliver a handful of catalogs, magazines, credit card offers, sale flyers and donation requests.

In a good week, my wife and I get one or two 1st class letters of any substance. In a similar week, we get a thousand emails, many of which bring news from family, friends and loved ones.

Let’s be honest. Email has supplanted 1st class mail as a means of staying in touch. It’s free and immediate even though it lacks the beauty and significance of a well-penned letter that can be held, read, and treasured. Old fashion letters often expressed sentiment in the sender’s choice of stationary, an expressive stamp or, in even earlier days, the sender’s favorite scent.

Today we need to limit delivery to local post offices and charge for home delivery. Private contractors might manage these deliveries as they do with newspaper and parcel services. Home delivery six days a week is an unnecessary luxury. Those who still depend on it should be treated as a special class. Those of us who don’t should let it go. In truth, very little of the mail I remove from the mailbox even makes it to the house. I toss it in recycling on the way in.

Raise the price of 1st class to reflect its actual value, cost and rarity. Businesses get preferential rates for many of their mailings even though most business transactions like marketing, purchasing and billing have moved to the Web. Print catalogs are still mailed as they enable consumer browsing which remains difficult online.

Sadly, we must curtail non-essential federal services except to those for whom they remain essential. Maintaining traditional postal services and standards for those of us who no longer need them is a waste of money that could be better invested elsewhere in the social contract. I’d be happy to either pick up my mail as I pass through town or pay extra for three day a week delivery.

I’ll miss our dented mailbox and its somnolent resident. I’ll miss resetting the post every spring after the snowplow finishes the wreckage of the night-riding vandals. We do need our postal system but must rescale it for today’s needs. We can’t afford to maintain a revered tradition with diminishing utility.

One Response to “R.F.D. R. I. P.”

When government becomes too big to cope with the accelerating pace of change in technology, we spend more than necessary to accommodate a legacy service.

I agree that it’s beyond time for the postal service to reinvent itself. Will the unions and rural America listen?