"For I'm going to run till she leaves the rail -
Or make it on time with the southbound mail."
- Monument to famed engineer Casey Jones
Most of the time, six days a week, the familiar, boxy U.S. mail truck stops at my mailbox with hour-before-noon precision. Mail arrives and, without a trip to the post office, my outgoing mail starts on its merry cross-town or cross-country way.
Mail time: one of life's little luxuries and, despite Monday's rise to 42 cents for a first-class stamp, still one of America's economic bargains.
But, as I learned when I left town for a few weeks and arranged to have my mail forwarded temporarily, that precision doesn't always apply to delivery times between points A, B, and sometimes C, D, and E.
Though I was only 150 miles away, the first mail came about week three, some traveled through an assortment of intervening destinations, and some never arrived at all. It cost me a lot more than 41 cents an ounce in late fees for bills that either arrived late or are circulating the pipeline to this day. (Thank you, Comcast and Georgia Natural Gas, for understanding my plight and refunding your rightful overdue fees.)
So, based on that experience, plus the three-week delivery time for my son's birthday card to travel from my temporary home back here to Martinez - and a Christmas card that arrived from Wisconsin nearly three months late - I wouldn't believe the story I'm about to tell you if it hadn't happened to me.
No, I'm not going to rail against this country or offer more than gentle criticism of the usually reliable U.S. Postal Service, but when it comes to the mail, Canada just may be miles - or weeks - ahead of us in speed. Here's what happened:
The Tuesday morning before Palm Sunday, five days before our church's Easter cantata was scheduled, a crucial part on our organ stopped working. Since I'm the organist, I went into frantic (hysterical) mode, and calculated our chances that repairs on the Canadian-made instrument could be made in time were slim to none.
I called Keith Shafer, the organist at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Augusta, who has tuned our organ and made minor repairs before. He came, he saw, but he couldn't fix the problem. But the St. Paul's organ was also made in Canada, and Keith knew how to contact the company.
"Bonjour!" Oh, and he also speaks enough French to communicate with the Quebec technician who knows very little English. The conversation was brief; Keith was smiling when he hung up the phone.
"They're putting a new part in the mail today and you should have it by Friday."
Should! What guarantee was that? Three days for mail to travel 1,400 miles? Even overnight mail with stops at key American cities (airports) couldn't guarantee that.
Exactly 24 hours after the call to Canada the day before, our church secretary called.
"Barbara, you have a package here from Canada. It says, 'organ parts'"
Maybe the Canadian and U.S. Postal Service had help from angel wings in rushing that little package over an international border and across state lines for a cause monumental to us, if miniscule in the scheme of things musical or divine.
Then again, maybe the real moral of this story is that those who serve the public good, including large corporations from gas and cable companies to organ builders and the U.S. Postal Service, deserve public credit for the myriad of things they do well.
The organ company considered our failed organ part a design flaw and replaced it without charge. They even paid the postage. And considering all the ways we now have to communicate besides regular mail, paying a few cents more for postage might not be such a bad bargain after all.
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
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