Friday, June 22, 2012

Rocking and Rolling

People sometimes wonder aloud at the way Postal Rates are increasing in this country. I’ve had some people ask me what we’re doing with the money, what we need it for. They ask me like I’m ‘in the know’, or that I have some special knowledge that they lack simply because I work for the company they’re wondering about.

That’s not how it works.

They don’t come to me with ideas or information. Not the big guys in Washington, nor the little guys who (at least in theory) run my office. As a matter of fact, if I were to go about asking questions I’d not get as far as you, John Q. Public, would get making similar inquiries for the simple reason that they can tell me to go away, ignore me or just walk away themselves, etc. You, on the other hand, could insist on an answer. You might not get one, but you’d probably get further up the chain of command than I would…

I’ll explain how they handle things when I’m the one coming to them for help, with my ‘in the know’, working for the company. One day, a couple of weeks ago, the door to my mail truck broke. The door handle, as you can see, consists of a shaft that runs straight through the door with a handle on each side of the door allowing you to twist that shaft and operate the door latch. The handle on the outside points upward from the shaft, and on the inside it points down. The handles are held to the shaft by means of small metal pins that run through either side of the handle and into a hole running through the shaft itself. If you look closely, you can see the end of the pin sticking out of the handle in the picture.

Now, the reason I know about the pins sticking through the handle and the hole drilled though the shaft is that my inner door handle fell off. Not broke off, or snapped off, but simply fell off while I was driving, landing deep down in the door well next to my seat. I pulled over and stared at the protruding shaft, just a small square steel peg poking out of my door, and wondered how I was going to get out. Rather than wrestling with the little thing, trying to get a bare-handed grip on it and maybe hurting myself in the process, I just cranked down the window and opened the door from the outside. There was my inner door handle, lying in the door well.


So I brought the handle into the Post Office and wrote up a vehicle repair tag. Under the ‘Complaint’ section, I checked off the boxes saying something was ‘broken’ and ‘missing’— I figured that covered it no matter how you looked at it. In the larger box where they ask for further explanation of the required repairs, I wrote “See attached”, scotch taped the tag to the handle and left it on my supervisor’s desk.

I know the custodian was working on the door for a while, on the same evening I had turned in the broken handle in fact. Then, in the morning they gave me a different vehicle. I had the new truck for two days… then I got my old one back.

The inner door handle was there, but loose. I could hear it jiggling in place as I drove down the road, wiggling itself loosely on the square shaft. I nodded, said It figures to myself, and got on with my day.
Well, most of my day. Almost half. Half-way through my route was when the handle fell off again. I sighed, pulled over and cranked the window down so I could reach out, open the damn door and fish the handle out of the door well again. That was when I really noticed the rock.

Now I’d seen the rock as I’d been using the truck, but taken no real notice of it. Half the size of a brick, sort of squarish, the rock had been tucked into the back corner of the door well all day. It was too big and flat to roll around, and since the door well is padded at the bottom it wasn’t like it was going to slide. I’d seen it down there, sort of unconsciously come to the conclusion that whomever had been using the truck for the past two days must have put it in there for some reason, and left it alone. If they wanted it, they’d come back for it, right? Besides, it wasn’t like it was in my way or anything.

But as I leaned down to retrieve my door handle, the rock caught my eye once more. I looked at the rock. I looked at the handle in my hand, and the one lonely pin, sticking so far out of the side, the pin that had been worked further and further out of its seated position by the wiggling and jiggling of the handle during the day. I slid the handle onto the shaft, lined up the remaining pin with the hole through the shaft, scooped up the rock… and hammered the pin home with it.

Ah… now I understood.

I’m no maintenance man, I’m just a home-owner who’s had to be a little ‘creative’ when making repairs on occasion, but even I wouldn’t have through of a rock!

What I might have thought of:

  • Running to the hardware store for a long, thin bolt with a matching nut. I know they have them.
  • Running to the hardware store for a stiff wire to run through the handle - or failing that, snipping off a short length of wire clothes hanger - to use as a replacement pin
  • Running to the hardware store for a cotter pin.
  • Actually going through the proper channels to get a hold of actual door handle pins to replace the worn ones.

Sorry… this is all off the top of my head. But did you notice that not once in that quick list did I mention a rock? You see that? That’s why I’m staying at the bottom of the food chain in this company. That's why I require watching, and guidance. My inability to think outside the rock.

Box. I meant box, sorry.

So, when my customers ask me why the price of stamps is going up, and they question certain expenses the P.O. Makes, I have my answer.

If they want to know who the hell is paying the team of people who occasionally just spend the week walking behind me while I’m under inspection, or why we have the added expense of scanable bar codes being posted at certain points along our routes so we can ‘check in’ like old-fashioned night watchmen (do they really think if we weren’t making our rounds no one would notice?), or did they really need to pay to outfit so many of the mail trucks with GPS units so they can track our movements throughout the day (yeah, I have one of those…) or why the USPS is spending millions of dollars each year renting buildings we don’t even use (See here)…

…well, I can hold my head up with pride, and say:

“Don’t look at me, I’m doing my part! I’m saving them the cost of a bolt! That’s got to be… what… six whole cents?” 

And I can hold up my rock with pride.

Talk to you later!

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