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Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Heat Nor Gloom of Night--But Maybe Gmail
August 19, 2009 9:57 AM   Subscribe

You'll have to pry this mailbox from our cold, dead hands. At a time when a disgruntled few are turning up at town hall meetings around the country with assault rifles to defend America from the potential threat of health care reform bringing "socialism" to our doorstep, at least one small town in Maine seems to be saying, "Free markets be damned! We want access to our favorite government service whether it makes economic sense or not."
posted by saulgoodman (48 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's only socialism when it's someone else who might benefit.
posted by grouse at 10:01 AM on August 19, 2009 [18 favorites]


At first I was going to defend the mailboxes, but then I read the articles. This is pretty dumb. They aren't talking about eliminating home delivery (that would be stupid), they are talking about removing public boxes nobody uses because they HAVE home delivery. (Presumably they are leaving the ones in areas where people do not have home delivery. If not, then I'm back on the "this is stupid" bandwagon.)
posted by DU at 10:04 AM on August 19, 2009


You know, in 5 years all the mailboxes will be gone but there will STILL be no way to send a random, free fax from a computer, which I had to send yesterday to my HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANY. It was that, or mail them a letter (which I knew would take me weeks, since I can never find a mailbox and I'm too lazy to go to the post office). My point is, these people have a point.

Why are we still using fax machines anyway? Last week I had to get a paper signed by 5 different parties (school form) in 4 different cities. The various registrars wanted signed, faxed documents. Basically all participants had to scan, print, sign, email and then scan again. Still looked better than the best fax by the time the sheet made all 5 rounds. I would have done it all by mail if I knew that the slowdown factor wouldn't have been at the point where people are looking for mailboxes.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:06 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


NGL, I hate the fact that a lot of the blue boxes are being taken away. If I put mail to go out in my condo mailbox, there's only a 50/50 chance that it will be taken out.

And I fucking hate having to go to the post office near me that I only found out about by word of mouth since there's no goddamn sign on the road.

(That said, I do love the Post Office in general. Whee, letters and packages for under $5!)
posted by sperose at 10:06 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


More than 188,000 boxes nationwide have been removed this decade...
Where did they go? A few slices with a cutting torch and you could have a very cool laundry hamper.
posted by Killick at 10:08 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]




If I put mail to go out in my condo mailbox, there's only a 50/50 chance that it will be taken out.

Exactly. They just assume that mail in the box is what they delivered yesterday and ignore it. People here end up sticking mail behind the edges of the mailbox trim. Which works for some things, but not exactly like you want to leave NetFlix movies there.

But here we still have the drive-up boxes at the post-office itself. Is the town in the story so small it doesn't have a post office??
posted by smackfu at 10:15 AM on August 19, 2009


Is the town in the story so small it doesn't have a post office??

Yep.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:16 AM on August 19, 2009


"In many cities the disappearance of the blue box from the kerbside has gone unnoticed but residents in some towns and villages have lobbied their local politicians, staged demonstrations and even picketed post offices."

Is that really how you guys spell it?
posted by brandman at 10:17 AM on August 19, 2009


Kerbside = absolutely correct in UK english. Their historic letter boxes are pretty cool, too.
posted by woodway at 10:20 AM on August 19, 2009


"Removal of underused blue collection boxes has become fairly routine, unfortunately, because it makes good sense," said Tom Rizzo, a postal spokesman in Maine.
He's not a very good spokesman to put "unfortunately" in that sentence.
posted by smackfu at 10:20 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Exactly. They just assume that mail in the box is what they delivered yesterday and ignore it.

Do you put up the little flag? Or is it one of those "big banks o' boxes"? The big banks I've used always had one built-in outgoing box. If there's no way to indicate outgoing vs incoming, that's just terrible design and lazy mail delivery people.
posted by DU at 10:23 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks woodway. (Those Royal Mail letter boxes are very cool, I agree.)
posted by brandman at 10:23 AM on August 19, 2009


They just assume that mail in the box is what they delivered yesterday and ignore it.

Isn't that exactly what the little flags on the mailbox are for? You put the flag up to let the postal worker know that there's a letter to be picked up, and then it's put down when the letter is picked up.
posted by explosion at 10:24 AM on August 19, 2009


It's a wall-inset bank of boxes at my complex. There is no outbox or flag.
posted by smackfu at 10:25 AM on August 19, 2009


I don't want to sound like I disbelieve you, because you are pretty likely to know better than me what your condo's mail area looks like.

But aren't there federal guidelines for how to set up a mail delivery/pickup point? The condo complex near my house has a special little PO "house" that I've always thought of as actual federal property. Like a Post Office Consulate. (No idea if that's really true, but it seems like there *must* be some rules that state there has to be either an outbox or a flag.)
posted by DU at 10:38 AM on August 19, 2009


If you have a wall-mounted mailbox and are on a dismounted postal route (one where the carrier walks around from house to house), you are technically not supposed to put outgoing mail in the box. Most carriers, in my experience, do take outgoing mail if you make it obvious in some way that it's meant to go out, but they're not obliged to in the same way that they're obliged to take outgoing mail in a street-side box with the flag up.

The way dismounted routes are supposed to work is: incoming mail goes into the box on your house, outgoing mail goes into the collection box on your block.

My understanding is that this is because, back in the day, carriers would often not return to the Post Office at the end of their dismounted route. They'd deliver all their mail, and then head home. The outgoing mail would get picked up from the collection box by someone else, in a vehicle. (The idea being that a dismounted carrier didn't need to have a vehicle or even know how to drive; they would pick up their mail in the morning from a relay box.) This whole system was designed when motor vehicles were fairly rare, and efficient use needed to be made of them. So you used the vehicles to drop off mail to the relay boxes in the morning, and pick it up from collection boxes in the afternoon, while dismounted carriers actually delivered it to people's houses, generally in their own neighborhoods.

By eliminating collection boxes, the USPS is sort of screwing up what's left of the system. Lots of people still have house-mounted collection boxes (they are, in USPS parlance, "door delivery authorized"—this is a legacy condition; new houses generally aren't) with no obvious method of indicating outgoing mail; without collection boxes on their block, they're stuck driving to the Post Office to drop it off. Since they're now going to see sending mail as a PITA, they'll probably use it less often and regard the USPS as a less convenient service overall.

Sad, although I can understand why the USPS is doing it. The 'old system' described above was envisioned in a time when labor was cheap, cars were expensive, and a typical customer could be expected to walk down their block past a collection box a few times per day. Today, cars are cheap, labor and personnel are expensive, and a lot of customers probably drive to the Post Office rather than walking a few hundred feet to a collection box even if it's there. (The boxes are, I believe, removed on the basis of low mail volume, not just arbitrarily.) I'm sure the boxes are targets for vandalism and theft of all sorts as well.

I can't really say I'd do anything different if I was in their shoes; I guess the one change I'd make would be attempting to formalize some way of accepting outgoing mail from house-mounted boxes, so that customers who made use of the street-corner collection boxes would have some way of sending mail without going to the local PO or having their carrier guess at their intent. (Easy solution: authorize and sell, via a partnership with a manufacturer, replacement house-mounted boxes that have an outgoing mail compartment or indicator flag, like mounted-route curbside boxes do.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:39 AM on August 19, 2009 [18 favorites]


I imagine there is probably some idiotic right-winger somewhere saying 'Keep the government out of my post!'
posted by kldickson at 10:40 AM on August 19, 2009


I will have to investigate our condo mail box thing. There's nothing obvious that says 'outgoing mail here' or anything.
posted by sperose at 10:42 AM on August 19, 2009


Lots of people still have house-mounted collection boxes (they are, in USPS parlance, "door delivery authorized"—this is a legacy condition; new houses generally aren't) with no obvious method of indicating outgoing mail;

Like mail slots? Do those have a flag or something? (I've never lived in a house with a mail slot, just suburbs and condos.)
posted by smackfu at 10:44 AM on August 19, 2009


"I'm sure the boxes are targets for vandalism and theft of all sorts as well."

Yes, apparently by people looking for free laundry hampers...
posted by Naberius at 10:44 AM on August 19, 2009


It's a wall-inset bank of boxes at my complex. There is no outbox or flag.

Boo. That sucks. My apartment complex has the big wall-inset bank of boxes, but the locks on about a third of the boxes don't work at all. Of the remaining two-thirds, about half of those are so stuffed with mail that they just randomly pop open and spill flyers and inserts and other junk mail all over the place.

We have an outgoing mail box, but the lock on it hasn't worked for at least a couple of months. As a result, all of our outgoing mail (the vast majority of which is Netflix movies, but there are occasionally bills and letters) needs to go through a public mailbox somewhere. And there really just aren't that many around. If I didn't spend a lot of time on my college campus, which seems to have a much higher concentration of mailboxes than any other part of this city, we'd probably have to make special trips to the post office just to drop off mail.

I'm considering just writing letters more often, because they're neat and I love getting mail, but the whole mailbox situation here is incredibly annoying.
posted by malthas at 10:49 AM on August 19, 2009


When we moved into our current house, there was a mailbox on the corner of the block, which was awesome because it reminded me of the one on my corner during childhood. Then the people whose lawn it was on decided to tear up their lawn, and the box was removed (and never brought back.) So I shed a tear, then kept right on leaving mail in our mailbox to be picked up by the mailman, just like I did when the box was there.
posted by davejay at 10:51 AM on August 19, 2009


Like mail slots? Do those have a flag or something? (I've never lived in a house with a mail slot, just suburbs and condos.)

No; there's no real way to send outgoing mail if you just have a slot. I have heard of people who leave outgoing mail stuck half-out of the slot, but this seems like a bad idea (it forces the slot open, letting bugs and hot/cold air in).

If you have a house with a box mounted on the wall near the door, you can technically have a slot if you want—the USPS regards mail slots and wall-mounted boxes near the front door as the same thing for the purposes of delivery. You might need to notify the local Postmaster to get the requirements for dimensions and height of the slot, but I'm pretty sure you can get one.

What you can't do is switch from curbside (used to be called 'rural route,' the box on a post with a flag) or cluster (common in new townhouse developments) delivery to door delivery. This is because the curbside/rural boxes are delivered to from a vehicle, and switching to a mailslot or house-mounted box would require the carrier to get out of the vehicle. The cluster boxes generally require the carrier to get out, but they're so much more efficient that they're preferred.

I've heard of the USPS actually paying for apartment complexes and neighborhoods to install cluster boxes and move away from door delivery. Personally I'd fight tooth and nail against this (I used to live in a complex with cluster boxes and it suuuuucked), but some people apparently don't mind, and I'm sure it lets a carrier serve many more addresses per route.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:54 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the 5 years I've lived here (in the USA) I have just realised that I've not seen one. At all.
In the movies and on telly yes, but still not one in real life.
posted by Webbster at 10:58 AM on August 19, 2009


I've lived in a house with a mail slot, and currently live in one with a box attached to the house. When we had a slot, we'd put outgoing mail sticking through the slot, and the letter carrier always took it. Now, we have a clothespin that attaches outgoing mail to the outside of the box. I guess you have to trust your neighbors in order for this to work.
posted by desjardins at 11:11 AM on August 19, 2009


there's a ghost of a moon in the afternoon
bullet holes in the mailbox
bullet holes in the mailbox
key holes in my mind
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:14 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess you have to trust your neighbors in order for this to work.

It's "In God We Trust," not "In our Neighbors We Trust," pinko! Somebody put this guy on a watch list.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:15 AM on August 19, 2009


Judy Hall, who uses the Otisfield mailbox a couple of times a week, said she and other residents don't feel safe putting their mail into home mailboxes along the town's winding country roads, where they often fall victim to snowplows or baseball bat-wielding vandals.

the baseball bat wielding vandals are a problem everywhere - putting a lead or iron pipe on either side of your mailbox is very effective against them - the vandals hit that with a baseball bat going 25 mph and they're going to feel it
posted by pyramid termite at 11:16 AM on August 19, 2009


I live in a complex with a cluster box that has outgoing slots, but the slots are too small for Netflix DVDs.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:17 AM on August 19, 2009


I'm reminded of the Peter Pinguid Society in Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. It was a right-wing society that traced the international Communist conspiracy to the invention of the Post Office.
posted by jonp72 at 11:22 AM on August 19, 2009


I guess you have to trust your neighbors in order for this to work.

It also take a bit of chutzpah to take stuff out of letter slot at a neighbor's house, vs. someone grabbing it in a common hallway.
posted by smackfu at 11:44 AM on August 19, 2009


What Kadin said. I understand why it's happening, but I've never had mail successfully picked up from my current home.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:48 AM on August 19, 2009


Yeah, I live in a house with a mailslot instead of a mailbox (growing up I had the curbside mailbox with flag setup). We send all our outgoing mail through the blue box just like in the story.

It wouldn't be a huge problem for me if they removed it, but that's because the actual Post Office is at the end of the street and I pass it every day on the way to work. I'm sure others in my city wouldn't find it as convenient.

Before this, I lived in a condo with the wallboxes and it had a large, separate wallbox for outgoing mail. Initially, this was a locked box with a slot kind of like a mini-bluebox. However, eventually the lock broke, and after that I noticed a lot of my mail mysteriously not getting to its destination, so I started using the official curbside boxes (in particular, Netflix seemed to not be getting all my DVDs... seems like an obvious target for mail theft).
posted by wildcrdj at 12:03 PM on August 19, 2009


Wow. I live relatively within walking distance of two post offices (each one is about a mile to a mile-and-a-half away), and I can walk a block away to a mailbox, or about two and a half blocks if I feel like getting some exercise. This is kind of foreign to me, and makes me glad I live in a city. I'll be extra thankful for all this the next time I have to send off a Netflix movie.
posted by hifiparasol at 12:38 PM on August 19, 2009


All three of my siblings to this day have rural mailboxes (with a flag to indicate outgoing mail). Cool. Mail delivered by right-hand-drive jeep.

The house I grew up in did too, and for what it's worth, the mail was delivered in a nifty little 8-hp three-wheeled Cushman Mailster. Imagine allowing posties to drive deathtraps like that now.
posted by Herodios at 1:21 PM on August 19, 2009


Wen I lived in an apartment, I hated those group mailbox condo things.
They always seem to be placed for the mailman's convenience not the apartment dwellers.
Always people double-parking next to them, junk mail that people didn't want strewn about, package boxes that didn't work.

Now that I have a mailbox at the end of my driveway, life is as it should be. Otherwise, where would I put my mailbox flag?
posted by madajb at 1:40 PM on August 19, 2009


I live in an apartment complex that was built in stages over a few years, roughly 1996-2000 I think. We have the big banks o' boxes, but the boxes in the newer areas have outgoing mail slots, and those in the older areas (where my building is) don't. So we also have one of the large blue boxes near the entrance to the complex.

Also, the boxes in the newer parts are shallow but broad, so that magazines and large envelopes can lie flat, while in my area we have small squarish slots so they get rolled or folded up to fit. Not that I'm bitter about that or anything.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:46 PM on August 19, 2009


In the US you can send outgoing mail through your home box? I never even imagined such a thing was possible.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:00 PM on August 19, 2009


My dad used to say:

The government has only two functions in America, to deliver the mail and to fight the wars, and they do a bad job at both of them!

It seems that they cannot even pickup the mail now...
posted by mfoight at 2:17 PM on August 19, 2009


"In the 5 y "putting a lead or iron pipe on either side of your mailbox is very effective against them - the vandals hit that with a baseball bat going 25 mph and they're going to feel it"

Booby traps are illegal so you're going to want to work on your plausible deny abilty on that.

posted by Mitheral at 5:38 PM on August 19, 2009


I had never given this any thought before, but I always had my mail delivered to the door by a walking mailman in California (and my mom still does) and now in NC even though I live in town-- one block off of Main Street in fact-- I have rural delivery. My husband has owned this house for nearly 20 years and at some point before I moved in they switched over and put the mailboxes on the street. This house still has a mailbox stuck on the wall next to the front door which comes in handy some times because when we get a big package the mailman walks up to the porch, leaves the package, and sticks the rest of the mail into the old mailbox. I'm surprised they haven't been forcing more suburban areas into the rural delivery method-- I am sure it must take a great deal more time for the mailman to walk up to each door than it would to drive by and stop at each mailbox.

The ongoing problem is how to handle the drop in mail volume while retaining basic services AND keeping the Postal Workers Union happy, all without running a deficit. Impossible, of course, but the old post office keeps trying. Unfortunately congress makes everything more difficult by forcing the post office to follow some unprofitable regulations practices (such as charging the same price for a letter delivered anywhere in the US including Hawaii and Alaska) but without receiving any government funding.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:18 PM on August 19, 2009


Booby traps are illegal so you're going to want to work on your plausible deny abilty on that.

it's not a "booby trap" - it's right out in plain sight - if someone's dumb enough to hit it with a baseball bat without checking out what they're swinging at, that's hardly my fault, is it? - (and yes, people are that dumb, and yes i've known people who've arranged their mailboxes like this)

i've seen other people encase theirs in cement or bricks - and then there's the plastic ones that are too hard to bust

all are effective and legal
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 PM on August 19, 2009


It would take a little under ten thousand postcards per year, at a cost of a little over $2500, to keep a mailbox if you use postcards. Which, given the population of the town, looks to be under two dollars per person.

Seems easier than chaining yourself to a mailbox.
posted by prak at 11:56 PM on August 19, 2009


The government has only two functions in America, to deliver the mail and to fight the wars, and they do a bad job at both of them

You know, what ticks me off about this kind of sentiment and how pervasive it's become, is just how glaringly unpatriotic and disloyal it is, and yet, it's always the self-appointed true patriots and real Americans who run around spouting off such nonsense.

When political movements in other countries go around actively berating their governments for no constructive purpose, it's reported in the US news in terms like "militants campaigning to undermine Country X's state authority." The same kind of thing happens in casual conversation among Americans who consider themselves to be bedrock patriots each and every day.

Just what the fuck do people who say the US government sucks, but America's the greatests country in the world, or the equivalent, think that actually means? A country is defined by its government. Sure, a country isn't just it's government--there's also the people, the land, etc.--but the government is what makes all those parts cohere into a nation. You take away the government, and America is just a plot of beautiful (if increasingly polluted) land with a bunch of confused assholes living on it.

On NPR recently I heard the observation that during the New Deal and all the way up until the Watergate Scandal, polls consistently showed that more than 70% of the US population reported feeling positive about the US federal government, at a time when the role the US government played in people's lives was the largest it's ever been. Now that we've worked relentlessly over the last few decades to dismantle the federal government in the aftermath of the Reagan-era, the number of people with a positive view of Uncle Sam is somewhere between 20--30%.

Why might that be? Could it be that when you undermine and actively work counter to the government at every opportunity, its performance tends to suffer?

It's one thing to criticize or take issue with a very specific, concrete failure on the part of the government. In those cases, democracy in fact depends on us getting off our lazy asses and pushing the issue. But bashing "government" as an abstract in the kind of casual, lazy way so many of us now do may not be treason, but it's definitely disloyal, and it doesn't help a damn thing.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:22 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Regarding the metal-post-near-mailbox thing, the issue worth checking into is whether there are regulations or ordinances in your town against putting immovable objects or posts near the edge of a roadway. In many places they don't allow this because it's a hazard to vehicles that veer off the road. (New roadway signs, at least in some states, even have to be 'breakaway' so they don't tear a car in half.)

I had a neighbor once who buried a steel pole next to their box (actually an old piece of railroad rail; they must have used a crane to get it in place) to stop the plows from hitting it, before finding out that you weren't allowed to put things like that in the town right-of-way—which extends 18' from the center of the road, well onto what most people consider "their property"—and having to torch-cut it down to 6" or 8" above ground level. But there was an exception to the rules for 'ornamental' rocks and trees, so he just used a Bobcat to roll a small boulder next to the box instead. I think he was still arguing with the highway department over it when I left.

I'm all for breaking the arms of assholes who get amusement by batting mailboxes, but there's a line where you start creating general hazards that you should be careful not to cross.

Personally, my plan has always been (if I ever have a curbside mailbox; currently I have one on the house) to get an extremely heavy but USPS legal box, and mount it to the sturdiest post that's legally acceptable. Even if it has to go on a "crashworthy" mount that's designed to shear when hit by a car, a 29-pound box is going to have so much mass that it'll be seriously unpleasant to hit with a bat. (Particularly because, at least the one time I've seen it, the louts who go after mailboxes seem to use aluminum bats.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:59 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Isn't that exactly what the little flags on the mailbox are for? You put the flag up to let the postal worker know that there's a letter to be picked up, and then it's put down when the letter is picked up

A friend of mine recently retired from the post office after being a rural route carrier for a long time. She once angered a patron by enforcing a rule that he had to maintain access to his mailbox; problems with his drive were damaging her car. He refused to fix it; she finally told him that, in accordance with postal regulations, she was going to stop delivering his mail if he didn't fix it.

He did. But he also put a new "outgoing mail" flag on his box, in the shape of a hand with its middle finger extended.
posted by not that girl at 4:07 PM on August 20, 2009


I have an on-the-house box, which is nice since it's right outside my door, but my carrier is hit and miss about picking up my outgoing mail. While the box is visible from the sidewalk, the carrier would have to turn around to look and see if there were any mail waiting to go out, so if I'm not getting any that day, he/she (there are a few different carriers who do the route) doesn't take any. I don't blame them, it would take some effort to see the box while walking the route.

So I went online and looked up the location of the nearest blue box. Turns out it's only a couple of blocks over at the bank..easily walkable. Then I thought to look at the last collection time. 1:15. Argh. I guess I should count myself lucky that the post office is only a mile away.
posted by wierdo at 1:04 PM on August 26, 2009


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