Q & A Session

Q. Where are you?

A. Eugene, Oregon.

Q. Why are you in Eugene, Oregon?

A. I’m exploring the city in the expectation I’ll “hang up my keys,” sell the RV, and live here.

Q. Why Eugene?

A. It appears on the same lists as Berkeley and San Francisco, my two favorite places to live. Currently, however, the Bay Area is too expensive for me.

Eugene, OR

Q. How’s it going?

A. Slowly. I’m in an RV Park about 10 miles away from Eugene. Normally that would not be a problem, but without a car it’s challenging to get into Eugene and around in the city.

Q. What happened to your car?

A. I don’t want to talk about it. Suffice it to state that no one was hurt but the car is totaled and will take me a while to receive payment from the insurance company, what with having to first apply for a Duplicate Title

Q. Are you kidding me – did you really lose your Title? How does that even happen? I thought you were an organized person.

A. Nope, not kidding. Not sure how something so vital simply disappears. According to a woman at the insurance company, this occurs “more often than you’d expect.” And I AM organized. What I try to explain to people who aren’t is that as an organized person, when something is not where it should be, I’m out of ideas.

Q. So are you renting a car?

A. Can’t. I use Debit cards only. All rental car companies require a Credit card so if I drive off into the sunset they can charge my (nonexistent) Credit Card something along the lines of $20,000. Who knew?

Q. So how are you getting around?

A. Public transportation. Plus, I recently signed up for a Zip Car. The Zip Car key card should arrive any day now, enabling me to take a bus into Eugene and pick up a Zip Car near the University of Oregon campus. For now, I am entirely dependent on public transportation, which actually works well in Eugene, as long as you’re not in a hurry. That’s where the “slowly” part comes in. The price is terrific, though. Given my advanced age, I secured an Access Pass, permitting me to ride for free.

Q. What are you learning about the neighborhoods?

A. Which ones to avoid, a category that so far covers the campus and downtown areas. I also checked out a neighborhood, Whiteaker, that’s reputed to be gentrifying. Given that (A) I may as well as put a sign on my back that says, “Want to mug someone? Try me – I’m old.” and (B) I doubt I’ll live long enough to see the neighborhood returned to its former glory, I’m adding that area to my “Nope, Do Not Live Here” list. I saw some very nice units on a place called Goodpasture Island. The problem is that apart from multi-million-dollar homes and miles of apartment complexes, the area lacks amenities such as grocery stores, coffee shops and restaurants that make it feel like a neighborhood.

I plan to visit other apartment complexes soon, including senior housing.

Q. I thought you were going to avoid apartment complexes and senior facilities.

A. Yeah, well, so I was. I’m nothing if not flexible. Given the lay of the land, I’m broadening my search criteria.

Q. How’s the weather?

A. Hot and sunny during the day. Nice and cool at night. No rain. I’ve somehow convinced myself that I’ll enjoy the rain. Well, at least not mind the rain. Well, not mind the rain too much. I know I’m going to enjoy having a real autumn and should it snow, I know I’ll like that, too. It’s just the expectation of constant, dreary, unending rain that has me concerned.

Q. How are you feeling following your Mother’s death?

A. Turns out I miss her every single day. I had no idea how often I would make a mental note to tell my Mom something the next time we spoke. I know she was ready to go but had I realized it would be this difficult for me I’m not sure I would have been as supportive of her decision.

For starters, I lost my most sympathetic listener.

Per my Mom’s request, I plan to write more about the experience of being with her at the end.  Preview: In addition to ice cubes, her “starvation” diet consisted of mac and cheese and See’s Candies. She had a surplus 2-lb box of See’s, which she informed me was to be opened at her Celebration of Life. I crossed my fingers when I agreed to those terms.

Q. How’s your Dad doing?

A. Fine. Just fine. I think part of my Mom’s decision was based on seeing him pretty much forget everyone he ever knew. It was a kind of sick comedy when I’d remind him that Mom had passed away. Out of a sense of mercy I simply stopped saying anything, apart from the time he asked, “How’s Mom doing?” My reply, “Not so good, Dad. In fact, she’s doing about as not so good as possible.”

The one time I knew he understood my Mom had died is when he said, “Joan left me.” Now THAT’S my Dad. It’s always about him. Bless his heart.

We (my brother Gary and I) expect our Dad to live another 10 years. Dad’s health is so good that I’ve taken into account the financial consequences of my pre-deceasing him, while Gary is starting to line up our sons to take over Dad’s finances if something happens to him (Gary) while Dad is still alive. When Gary is in town, he’ll go down to San Diego monthly to make sure my Dad continues to be well looked after. I’ll take over during the months Gary is out of the country.

Q. How’s Missy.

A. She’s GREAT! She adored being at Michael’s, both for the room she had to run around and his particular type of attention to her (he rough-houses; I don’t). Missy also enjoyed seeing Cousin Suzi, who took care of her for the several weeks I was in San Diego. To be more specific, Missy was happy to see Suzi once she realized that no, she wasn’t going to be kidnapped. Again.

Q. What’s next?

A. How am I supposed to know? Stay tuned.

 

 

Welcome to Mississippi

Hello Friends and Family (as I’ve written before, these categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive:

As many/most of you know, I spent an enjoyable 5 months in Florida this past winter at an RV park unofficially affiliated with Loners On Wheels and currently am on a great road trip with my friend Barb. We are following the Mississippi Blues Trail, learning as we go.

I also have what is sure to be a good summer as a volunteer with the Tallac Historical Society (THS). THS is the organization responsible for tours and teas at the Pope and Baldwin estates in Emerald Bay (South Lake) and the annual Gatsby Festival. After Tahoe I have arrangements, comp’ed by my brother, Gary, and sister-in-law, Faith, to go to London for my nephew Seth’s wedding in September. Following my time in London I’ve been able to plan a 10-day walking trip (luggage delivered to the next inn), in the Cotswolds.

When I started this adventure I estimated I would be on the road from 3 to 5 years. This June will mark Year 4. My current plans are to sell my RV and rent an apartment starting in October, when I return from England. Although I didn’t get everywhere and see everything I wanted to fit in, I certainly saw and learned more than I had ever expected.

I looked seriously at small towns along the State of Mississippi’s Gulf of Mexico, where one-bedroom apartments close the the beach rent for $499/month (plus $2,000/month in air conditioning bills during the summer). This area, about 100 miles southeast of New Orleans and overshadowed by The Big Easy’s failing levees, was absolutely devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Several of its cities experienced record level storm surges. Mansions located directly across from the Gulf, typically owned by the wealthy from New Orleans, were washed away. Twelve years later, “for sale” signs dot the land adjacent to the white-sand beaches. It’s both a beautiful and an affordable area.

However, my time in Florida following the election made it apparent I need to be on the West Coast, preferably California, ideally (as in it ain’t gonna happen) in the Bay Area. My travels took me to other areas in Northern California, where I hope to find suitable accommodations. I also plan to scope out possibilities when I’m in Tahoe. A caretakers cottage, for example, would be perfect.

The Mississippi Delta

The Mississippi Delta looks much as it did in photos from 100 years ago. The only difference is that many of the dilapidated buildings are now empty. The Blues legacy is actually quite sad in that the music was born of abject poverty and systematic, institutionalized oppression. The book, “The Most Southern Place on Earth,” points out that the rich and extraordinaryly arrogant Delta plant rats were disliked by many in other parts of Mississippi, although the racism was more violent (think KKK) outside the Delta. The Delta planters knew they needed the “negroes” to plant and harvest their cotton and didn’t want them to leave. The poverty that continues to exist is eye-opening. I have no idea how the people in this region will survive with reduced or even curtailed public assistance. There simply are no jobs.

Barb, who is from Southern California, has long contended that there’s no reason that people can’t eat in a healthy manner. She has revised her opinion after traveling through Mississippi, where fresh fruits or vegetables are rarely available in local grocery stores.

Should you decide to follow the Blues Trail, we recommend you stay in the Delta, being sure to visit each and every site. Once you leave the Delta the topography and history of the Blues change. Gone are the rows of the corn and cotton fields, and some of the markers commemorate people who died recently (i.e., within the last 20 years! ). Of the many many new things I learned, the one I can’t get over is that “Love in Vain” was not written by The Rolling Stones. Perhaps I should have read the liner notes more carefully. The song was written by Robert Johnson, a seminal Blues figure who has no less than three markers claiming to be the site of his grave. A popular story is that Johnson sold his soul to the devil to learn to play his guitar. The exchange was said to have happened at midnight at The Crossroads — the same crossroads made famous by Cream/Eric Clapton, who adapted the song from Robert Johnson.

Not to brag or anything, but Barbara and I now say things like, ” oh this is Son House singing this song.” Of course the fact that the same Son House song is on all the Blues compilation CDs I’ve purchased may have a little something to do with it.

Getting Out of Dodge

 

It’s easy to live a laid-back life here at Florilow Oaks RV Park in Bushnell, Florida, thereby making it  difficult to tear away from the place for trips elsewhere in the state.  On Monday there’s Mexican Train; Tuesday, hike; Wednesday, social meeting, often followed by lunch; Thursday, bike ride/hike; Friday, bridge; Saturday, movie; and Sunday, BBQ.  Last month, as I was planning to join a group called the Gulf LOWs (Loners on Wheels) for a few days, followed by a trip to Gainesville, I found myself whining about the distances I would have to drive: at least 100 miles. Then I caught myself and said (yes OF COURSE I talk to myself!), “That’s it. You’re going.”

Highlights of these trips include seeing Tampa Bay and visiting the University of Florida. Given that on campus I had difficulty figuring out (1) how to pay for parking and (2) where the cafeteria cutlery is kept, I came to the conclusion that I may be too old to learn all the prerequisites necessary for a return to school.  On campus I learned how to clap like a Gator fan (clap originates from elbows to hands held out in front of your body to imitate an alligator’s jaws). I also learned from my son that the campus, or more specifically the football team, is responsible for the development Gatorade. Some of the coaches realized the players were wilting in the heat because, well, it was hot and humid, and their sweating bodies were not replacing the electrolytes and carbohydrates lost to perspiration. Thus was born the concoction that came to be called Gatorade. BTW, Florida is really big on gators. Any body of water here can possibly contain an alligator. When I’m walking Missy near water, I just assume an alligator is lurking. I’ve now taught the poor dog to be afraid of snakes AND alligators.

On the subject of snakes, I finally saw a Florida black snake. Mention the black snake to anyone in Florida and they automatically say, “Oh they’re GOOD snakes.” That’s because they are not poisonous and help keep the rodent population under control. For some unfathomable reason, I assumed the black snake was about two feet long. Wrong. The one I saw was at least 6 feet long and as a wide as my upper arm.  Since Floridians are so fond of these slithering reptiles and do not kill them, I understand the size of the one I saw is typical. Now a story a Floridian told me about how his dog enjoys wresting with black snakes makes sense. The only part that remains a mystery is how the dog wins.

I also took a trip to Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando. Since admission was $115 (!),I took as many rollercoaster rides and saw as many shows with wait times under an hour as possible, thus bringing the cost down to “only” $23 per attraction. I also searched in vain for a Cinderella watch. I remember getting one when I was young and being absolutely enchanted by the glass (OK, plastic) slipper it came in, more so than the watch itself.

When I was in Orlando three years ago I visited Epcot (very disappointing – it seems as if nothing has been updated since it opened in 1982 so it no longer seems futuristic) and the Harry Potter exhibit at Universal, which I loved. One of the wonderful features of Diagon Alley is that children whose parents buy them a wand from Ollivanders (for about $50!), can perform magic tricks at water fountains and the like. Following my reductive logic, if a kid’s wand interacts with five attractions, it brings the cost down to “only” $10 per magic trick.

Also on the subject of kids, the most excitement we’ve had at the park recently was when the goat on the small farm adjacent to the us gave birth to two little baby goats. On the occasions when the owners let the kids out of their pen, word here would spread fast and we’d congregate along the fence separating the properties to ooh and ahh over them. The billy goat who fathered the kids finally has a legitimate reason to try to butt anyone who comes to the fence. Until now, he was just mean. Now he’s protective.

After Orlando I drove down to Vero Beach to see my friend Phyllis, who I know from San Diego. Vero Beach is beautiful and I learned that yes, indeed, it is possible to get a sunburn in March.

Backing up to the “getting out of Dodge” reference, I visited Tombstone, Arizona, on my way from California to Florida. How interesting that this set piece of famous Americana involves violence.  As near as I can tell, no one involved in the shootout at the OK Corral was what I consider an admirable person. Doc Holliday and brothers Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp, representing the “good” guys, had less than sterling reputations.

Also, on a tour of the town, we tourists were informed that under the leadership of Chief Cochise, Apache warriors used the Dragoon Mountains as their base for raids. These mountains afforded them a great vantage point for spotting the dust raised by soldiers coming for them. Having gone without capture for close to a dozen years, the town seems to only begrudgingly grant that Cochise may have been a decent strategist. Heck, without intending to offend patriotic sensibilities here, when was the last time an American White Man held off an enemy for 11+ years? Just sayin’.

On a less cynical note, for me the highlight of Tombstone was the museum of The Tombstone Epitaph, a newspaper that has been publishing since 1880. The museum features an old hand press, which pre-dates my time in journalism, and type cases used for “hot” type, which was in use when I first entered the field in the early 1970s. The newspaper continues publication today as a monthly journal covering the West. Moved by an emotion I barely recognized — I believe it’s known as sentimentality — I became a subscriber.

PHOTOS: I cannot locate photos I took at the following locations: The Tombstone Epitaph Museum, Tombstone, Boot Hill, and Disney World Magic Kingdom with the castle in the background. Arghhh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow – What A Guy

They neglected to warn me about “Charming Chet.” So when I pulled into the Florida RV park for the group’s campout, I was unprepared for the rude greeting I received.

By way of background, RV parks typically have a place to park your rig near the office while you check in. When I arrived, I pulled up behind another rig. Since there was plenty of space and I wasn’t blocking traffic, I was perplexed why a man, who turned out to be the aptly if ironically named “Charming Chet,” was scowling and gesturing at me to go around the rig.  When I came up even with him, he continued to scowl at me (actually he had never stopped) and gestured that I should lower the window to better hear him yell at me.

“Back in there,” he said gruffly, pointing to a horrible space next to the garbage bins being buzzed by bees, “and leave room for HER,” he added, referring to the rig that had been in front of me.

I explained that I was with Loners on Wheels (LoWs) and wanted to register.

“I KNOW,” he shouted.  I’m still not sure how he could tell, although the fact that I was driving alone with a small dog most likely tipped him off.

Cliff helpfully guided me back into the space. His instructions consisted mostly of hand gestures and bellows of “turn the wheel the OTHER way,” just before I was about to do so. Given that I had just had $1,000 worth of work done on the rear passenger side of my RV the day before to repair damage inflicted by a tree that came out of nowhere and jumped behind me while I was backing up (and to think I doubted my mother when she claimed similar secret moving objects when she drove), I took no offense at his unusual early-warning system.

When I got out of my RV to see if I was level (I wasn’t), Chet helpfully inquired, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I want to level out,” I explained.

“You don’t need to level out. You won’t fall out of bed,” he said curtly before turning around to yell at the next person he was guiding into what appeared to be my single space. Wrong. We would be “sharing” and Charming Chet would be getting double the money.

Once the woman in front of me was parked, she asked for the location of the electrical box and water outlet.

“There and there,” Chet said, pointing to what I considered MY water and an outlet that provided only 20 amps. Most RVs are either 30 amps or 50 amps, although we almost all carry a device to reduce the amperage.

“But I need 30 amps,” my (very) nearby neighbor said.

“Then run only one air conditioner,” Chet helpfully replied.”

“I only have one air conditioner,” my neighbor said.

“Then what are you complaining about?” Chet responded.

She and I exchanged a meaningful glance.

“How will she hook up to water?” I asked on her behalf.

“Are you telling me you travel without a T-splitter?” he scolded.

“I have one,” I assured him.

“Then use it,” he said. He left the “What are you complaining about” implied.

My neighbor noted that her RV was new and she hadn’t transferred all her equipment from her old rig. That happened to include a long hose. By scrounging around, we were able to hook three hoses together (one was my extra) to her half of the water T-splitter. We let each other know our showering schedules so we could generate sufficient water pressure to rinse soap off.

When I followed Chet to the office to pay him for his hospitality, he pointed at Missy and asked, “What do you think you’re doing with her?”

“Isn’t she allowed in the office?” I asked innocently just to piss him off.

“Of course not.”

“I’ll just tie her up outside.”

“Then do it.”

I tied Missy up as slowly as I could, to piss him off even more.

It’s almost funny how quickly I respond in kind to rudeness. Well, sort of in kind. Actually, not “in kind” at all. I consider myself the Princess of Passive-Aggressive Gestures.

When I joined the group for Happy Hour, I learned that LoWs had been coming to this RV park for at least 15 years. Not surprisingly, it’s exceedingly difficult to find an RV park in Florida during January that will accommodate groups of 15-20 rigs. It was well worth putting up with Chet’s rudeness year after year to have a place to stay. Plus after you knew what to expect, it wasn’t so bad.

I asked the group if they thought his rudeness came naturally or if he worked at it.

No one had an answer.

I suspect his discourtesy comes naturally and he’s become more adept at his facial expressions, gestures and rejoinders with practice over the years.

In keeping with Chet’s bad attitude, he has hung signs, including some that are nothing short of rude, all over the RV park. There’s nary a single space on the walls of the restroom or laundry area to hang another admonishment.

One night, upon leaving the Recreation Building for the night, we couldn’t find instructions on how to close up the room. Typically there’ll be a sign near the door with instructions to close all windows and doors and turn off lights. These signs also include words such as “please and “thank you.”

Apparently, given all the signs Chet hung up about not using the sink to wash dishes, not letting animals in the building, not smoking in the building, and other prohibitions, he doesn’t know how to write instructions without the word, “not” in it.  I may suggest he post a sign that asks, “You did not leave the lights on, did you?” or “You did not leave the windows open, did you?”

My absolute favorite sign is the one that greets visitors.charming-chet

I was sorely tempted to write under it:

”Not [insert curse] likely HERE.”

 

 

 

Need Your Suggestions

 

After 3-1/2 years on the road, I am confident the following observation is a real (as opposed to imagined) occurrence. I’ve also discussed this with other RV’ers and they confirm my findings. All I lack is a term to describe this phenomenon.

Here is a description of the regularly occurring event:

two-lane-roadImagine I’ve been driving for at least a half-hour on a two-lane back road. I have not seen a single car coming towards me from the opposite direction or behind me. Just as I see an oncoming vehicle, I am certain to spot one behind me. (As an aside, there seems to be an unwritten rule of the road that any vehicle behind an RV must pass it. The relative speed of the vehicles is not a factor. The compulsion to pass an RV — the absolute necessity to not be behind a Winnebago — is imperative.) As to the two-lane road,  it does not matter which state I’m, nor does distance from an urban or suburban center affect the outcome. You with me so far? OK, now imagine I spot a lone bicyclist ahead pedaling in the same direction as I’m traveling. Lo and behold, sure as the sun rises in the East, I am virtually assured to also see a vehicle coming towards me. Then, sure as the sun sets in the West, just as I’m passing the bicyclist, the oncoming vehicle and my RV will pass each other at the very same time.

I’ve also discovered that this event is not necessarily restricted to RVs and bicycles. For example, when I’m walking my dog, Missy, along a paved path in nearby Floral City, FL, I can go for about a half-hour or so before spotting an oncoming bicyclist. When I turn around to glance behind me, I’ll spot a bicyclist approaching from behind. And when do the two bicyclists pass me? At the exact same time, of course. At least when I’m on foot, I can (and do) step off the path to get out of the way. Bike riders being passed by vehicles don’t typically have the option of getting off the road. Under the “share the road” model, they probably wouldn’t if even they could.

In addition to other RV’ers, The Dame can collaborate this singularity. While traveling with me through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, she witnessed this event several times. I seem to recall that by brainstorming, we came up with a suitable alliterative label for this event. Truth be told, I can’t remember what it is.

This is where you guys come in.

I need your help coming up with a catchy phrase to describe this recurring experience. Any suggestions? Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Payback’s a Bitch

I wrote the following earlier this month and placed it on an “Embargo,” a print newspaper tradition from an earlier, gentler and more honorable time. An Embargo means the content is not publically released until after certain events occur, such as the delivery of a Presidential speech. In this case, I was waiting until my Mother could update my brother, who is in Australia (New Zealand? Bali?), during their next phone call.

In a stunning development, my mother opted for hospice for my father. I cannot state emphatically enough how unexpected this is. Not one member of my family, and I’m including more than a dozen relatives (my mom, my son, my brother and sister-in-law and their two sons, my cousins and their husbands and children — a group that includes a large number of long-term strategic thinkers) ever considered that my mom would outlive my dad.

The silver lining of this unanticipated event is blinding. For starters, my Mom — not me, nor my brother nor my sister-in-law — is making The Big Decision.   My Dad’s medical challenge is his inability to swallow food. My Mom’s choices were to insert a feeding tube or contact Hospice.

Before my Dad was placed in the so-called Memory Care Center (currently my favorite oxymoron) a while back, he occasionally spent a sleepless night mulling over how he could possibly live without my Mom. My Mom’s response always was, “Vic, there’s no sense worrying about it before it happens since we both know it will.”

Well, apparently, it won’t. That’s my Mom after 70 years of marriage to my Dad. Considerate to the end.

From a phone conversation with my Mom a week after I wrote the above:

 ME: Hi Mom. Have you heard from Gary yet?

MOM, cheerfully: Oh yes, days ago. I had time to re-evaluate what was going on and recover from my conversation with the doctor. (Note that she called ME immediately after hanging up with the doctor.)

ME: What’s ‘going on?’

MOM, still cheerfully: Oh Dad is so much better. I’ve been getting reports from the Memory Care Center that he’s been able to swallow liquefied food with his nutritional supplement. And now when I visit him, instead of finding him napping in his chair in his room, he’s out participating in activities. This man is not dying anytime soon. He’ll outlive me yet.

Some background information: My Mom’s Golden Rule is to never, ever interrupt my brother’s travels with bad news. More than once I’ve been reminded of an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry David’s mother passes away and he misses the funeral because his mother’s last words to his father were, “Don’t bother Larry. He’s working.”

Well, my brother is pretty much traveling all­ the time. My mother shows no such reluctance to disturb ME during my travels. Nor, apparently, does she seem inclined to update me when the crisis passes. I suppose this could be interpreted as Payback or Karma is a Bitch.

Payback for what? Well, calls from college with me on the verge of hysteria over some incident or other. It seems I may have overlooked updating my parents when the situation improved. I vividly recall fielding a call from my son during his freshman year of college, trying to convince him that surely there were other options between flunking calculus and killing himself. He soon after opted to drop calculus and take advanced Spanish; however, he neglected to inform me of his solution. When I told this story to my mom, I received absolutely no sympathy. Instead she said, “There IS a God.”

So I’m curious as to just how man y times my Mom intends to demonstrate to me her belief in this Supreme Being. Come on, Mom, are you really entitled to double payback? I’m actually jealous since I’m unlikely to experience the time-honored tradition of assuring one’s child, upon watching the defiant behavior of one’s grandchild, “Oh you were EXACTLY the same.” I’ve always imagined this statement would be followed by a hidden, satisfied smile. But since my son has no intention of having children, I’ll never know.

My concern over my Mom’s behavior — forgetting to update me — stems from the fact that I’ve recently been assured by both my oldest nephew and my son that she and I are either very similar (my nephew) or exactly the same (my son). I distinctly recall hearing the word “clone” used. Not necessarily in a good way.

I staunchly contend there are worse people than my Mom to turn into. At 92, she’s a testament to healthy living and a positive attitude. Growing up in Chicago, I remember her serving fresh vegetable and fruit salads. My parents always played tennis, golfed or sailed. Using her walker, my Mom continues to take daily strolls and only recently purchased a scooter. Although I recall once seeing a copy of The Carpetbaggers, my Mom was far more likely to read books such as The Cancer Ward (by Solzhenitsyn) or Rabbit, Run.  She continues to play bridge twice a week — but only with the top bridge players in her building.

mom-in-grocery-storeIt’s all the more remarkable that my Mom has reached her 90s given her many and varied health challenges. Not that she complains to anyone outside of the immediate family, but her litany of medical issues includes a bad heart and, as is quite apparent, acute scoliosis. Plus her poor bent over body makes breathing difficult. Genetics and healthy living have contributed to my Mom’s longevity, but surely not beyond her mid-80s. The rest is purely attitude.

As I’ve said and written before, my Mom is remarkable. Really my only complaints are that she likely will predecease my Dad and plays a mean game of Payback.

You Have Mail. Maybe.

Those of us of a certain age may recall backpacking in Europe and receiving mail at a local American Express office. This was long before cell phones, email and internet cafes with faulty keyboards. I mention this “old school” delivery system because the modern post office provides a similar service. Yes, General Delivery still exists.

Theoretically.

Before I go on to trash the USPS, I want first want write about the important contributions of this once noble institution.

For starters, the postal service was considered vital to democracy, so much so that it’s written into the U.S. Constitution: Article 1, Section 8, known as The Postal Clause, empowers Congress “To establish Post Offices and post roads.”

From a review of How the Post Office Created America: A History,  written by Winifred Gallagher and published in 2016:

“The founders established the post office before they had even signed the Declaration of Independence, and for a very long time, it was . . . the central nervous system of the new body politic, designed to bind thirteen quarrelsome colonies into the United States by deliverying news about public affairs to every citizen — a radical idea that appalled Europe’s great powers. America’s uniquely democratic post powerfuly shaped its liverly, argumentative culture of uncensored ideas and opinions and made it the world’s information and communications superpower with astonishing speed.”

The role the Post Office played in establishing roads cannot be overstated. Transportation routes in the orignial colonies were primarily along bodies of water on the Eastern Seaboard. The Post Office was responsible for building roads, often at a rapid pace, that connected much of the country. In 1790, about 2,400 miles of post roads linked 75 post offices; by 1820, 72,500 miles of postal roads linked 4,500 post offices. Expansion was not limited to roads and post offices but to employment, too. By 1831, nearly 30,000 postal employees accounted for 76% of the civilian federal workforce. As January 2016, the postal service had close to 31,600 post offices; 500,000 career employees and 132,000 non-career employees (often part-time employees hired at lower hourly wages with limited benefits).

Unfortunately, few of these 632,000 employees care about customer service. I know because I have experienced the following:

  • Been turned away in Arizona from collecting my General Delivery package because I was there in the afternoon. At this particular post office, General Delivery can be collected mornings only.
  • Failed to receive a critical part for my RV that had been mailed for overnight delivery from the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego. Tracking showed it was on its way. After five days, tracking continued to show it was on its way. The postmistress explained mail is not considered “lost” until after its gone missing for at least 30 days. Naturally, the package appeared a week after I repurchased the missing RV part.
  • Saw a handwritten sign in a Los Angeles area post office notifying Passport applicants that due to a lack of film, no Passport photos would be taken that week, nor would passport applications be accepted. So here’s my question: Didn’t the person responsible for taking photos notice the dwindling film supply? I won’t even bother to ask why digital cameras aren’t used.
  • A particular decorative stamp was not available due to its popularity. It had sold out almost immediately. Can you think of any other business that wouldn’t order more of a fast-selling item? Me neither.
  • A package marked “Hold for Delivery” was returned to the post office because I had not provided a site number for the RV Park I planned to be at. Could the package have been left at the park office? Yes. Was it? No. Interestingly, the post card I received letting me know why the package couldn’t be delivered used the same address, i.e., no site number. This piece of mail WAS delivered to the park office. Go figure.
  • The website for a local post office in Texas indicated it provided General Delivery services. Turns out this means it will SEND General Delivery, not actually ACCEPT it. Why didn’t I call first? Because the post office does not answer its phones. Must be because the career and part-time employees are too busy serving customers by not taking passport photos and not selling popular stamps.
  • The postmaster of this particular Texas post office that didn’t accept General Delivery had the option of forwarding my letter, which contained a new debit card to replace the one that had been compromised, to the one post office that actually ACCEPTED General Delivery. Instead, he chose the “Return to Sender” option. It was returned to the sender. Eventually. Call me paranoid, but I sensed some hostility in this transaction.
  • My favorite hostile encounter occurred in Quartzsite, AZ, site of an annual January pilgrimage by thousands of RV’ers, some of whom want to receive their mail. I knew I was in trouble when I pulled into an empty post office parking lot on Monday. It was Martin Luther King’s birthday. I returned the next morning to the following scene: A post office employee (career? part-time? who cares?) opened the extraordinarily loud, screeching gate to the counter without a nod or greeting or apology to acknowledge those of us in line with our hands covering our ears to help
    post-office-outside

    It looks so welcoming. 

    block out the almost unbearably annoying sound.  When it was my turn at the counter, he informed me I would have fill out a form to continue receiving General Delivery mail. When I said I didn’t understand why this would be necessary, he recorded my name and in large, bold handwriting added an expiration date 3 days hence. He explained his branch would have to return any mail more than a week old, starting from Friday, the day the mail had arrived. No matter that the post office’s official delivery date was listed as Monday, not Friday, and that the post office was closed on Monday. Anything received after the coming Friday would be returned. By this time I realized he thought I would be in Quartzsite for the winter, not just a few days. He’s probably still wondering why I left the counter not angry, but chuckling.

Charming as it is to use old-fashioned General Delivery, I now use UPS or FedEx when I can. By the way, were you aware the Postal Service lost $5+ billion in 2015, 2014 and 2013, an improvement, nonetheless, from its nearly $16 billion loss in 2012.

Gosh, I wonder why.