Monday May 28, 2012

RICHMOND

A national sigh of relief, at least in the nation's boonies, was heard when word came that rural post offices would not be closed. It was hard to imagine, providing that Stockbridge with all its sophistication qualifies as rural, that the post office in that town would be closed. They have to go there -- they have no mailboxes cluttering up their roadsides, no home delivery.

In Richmond, some people get mail delivered by the local post office, which now has a real mail truck instead of a car with a sign and blinking lights. For others, the mail is delivered by Pittsfield, through some agreement reached years back when the town was probably a whole lot more rural than it is now.

The divided system of addresses causes problems all the time, but even Silvio O. Conte could not solve them. Unity is apparently out of the question, and to ensure that we'd get all our mail, we opted for divisiveness. We have a box at the house and one at the post office.

That solves the problem of letters that either come late or not at all because they were addressed by people who logically assumed that we lived in Richmond, which we do. Bills find us no matter what. Grapefruit explains how good both mail services are: Our Pittsfield mailman more than once brought the heavy box of fruit to the door instead of leaving it by the road, and our town post office called to say grapefruit had arrived and maybe we didn't want it to sit there over the weekend.

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It's hard to imagine what would happen if our post office closed. For one thing, we'd have a much harder time keeping up on things -- post office runs almost always include bumping into someone and having a chat about what's new. And how many Massachusetts residents discover that the governor is putting a key into a post office box just six feet away?

The biggest reason to worry about the post office closing, however, is not the gossip factor. It's looking through the antique window and seeing all the mail back there -- piles of packages and letters coming and going, despite the fact that fewer than 2,000 people live here. It's a facility that's used.

Cutting hours may solve some budget problems temporarily, and perhaps we could all adjust to that after a bit, except that it's tough to cut hours if you need to be open for the early morning traffic and the after-work traffic.

But the contents of our post office box indicate that other loopholes could be closed. It is often jammed with catalogues and solicitations from nonprofit organizations we've never heard of -- nor supported. It would seem quite logical that the postal rates for commercial enterprises and non-profits could be raised sharply. Ours often are. If volume is any indication, a few pennies per mailing would reap millions.

And why does it cost me so much more to mail things than it costs them? The retail and nonprofit postage question doesn't even take into account the money spent, especially this year, on political pleas for money. One a day is the minimum, and all they do is make the bucket of recycled papers harder to lug to the roadside.

Retail online stores, nonprofits and politicians need to pay their fair share. They will all buck like wild horses if increases are proposed, but they can solve their problem by mailing fewer pieces and save a lot of trees at the same time. They will sell me the same number of towels per year with one catalogue as they would with seven, and the same goes for donations, charitable or political.

Way back when, mail -- personal letters -- was delivered by a walking mailman twice a day. Now we email and Skype and the postal service suffers the losses.

Ruth Bass, a former Sunday editor of The Eagle, still writes letters.