That was the last word from the post office.
I knew it wasn’t an empty threat, they knew who I was now and they would watch every item I mailed.
This is how it began:
I’m a collector. Been one all my life.
Sometimes I find items for my collection in online auctions, sometimes from friends, sometimes I find things in stores if I’m lucky. What I collect doesn’t matter, could be stamps, could be shrunken heads. What does matter, for purposes of this writing, is that a LOT of stuff comes and goes through the United States Post Office. I get and send more mail than most people I know. I usually have a lot of boxes around, especially when I’ve been on the receiving end more than doing the sending. I do run out, however, and you can find me at the grocery store early in the morning, when they stock the shelves, armed with my tape measure, hunting for the “right” boxes. Doesn’t have to be the grocery store, could be walmart, could be any retailer, as long as I see boxes.
A lot of us will send the same boxes back and forth, especially my friends in the hobby, those I’ve been trading with for a couple of decades. I don’t know who started it, but we began to re-use the boxes you can get at the post office. Not the brand new boxes, but ones that had been sent priority mail and had the canceled postage on them. Better than throwing them away, right? Isn’t that the point behind recycling? When I used to sell on ebay, I would announce in my listing that I used recycled material whenever possible, but would use new materials if there was some real reason for it, like someone was sending a birthday present and didn’t want their significant other to get a box with the name of some stranger on it. I was very understanding about that.
But, what’s a little recycling between friends, right?
Disclaimer: before I go any further, I want to say I get along very well with the folks at the post office, where I have a PO Box, I have a great relationship with the letter carrier who delivers to my home, tip him well every Christmas, and I have many friends who worked for, and retired from, the USPS. So, I have no scores to settle before this. However...
In the last year it has become apparent that certain “humans” working at the USPS take it VERY personally if they detect that you have reused a priority box. It doesn’t matter that you took the time to wrap it neatly in brown paper. Seems it’s a slap in their faces, at least some of them.
Apparently, someone gets paid to sit there and measure each package that comes through just in case it’s a recycled priority box, a really good use of time and money, wouldn’t you say?
I was contacted by an auction buyer once, to let me know that the item he bought had arrived damaged. Now, I take pride in my packing, sometimes taking extreme measures to pack a delicate item so it won’t break if dropped. I asked him to describe the damages and was told that someone had stomped on the package, that there was a heel print right on the paper it was wrapped in.
Now, I knew I hadn’t mailed it that way, and he had paid a pretty penny for what was a fairly rare item, so he definitely didn’t do it. When I last saw the package was when I handed it over and paid the shipping at the post office. It was in the custody of the post office for the entire journey across the country, so three blind mice could figure out what happened to it. Some easily disgruntled postal employee not only took exception to my choice of box, but wanted to send a clear message, and also show that there was something off in his little brain. That person could have easily place the package under something, put it in a bag, say, then stomped it, but no, they wanted that heel print to be there, nice and obvious.
Luckily, it was insured, so the buyer got his money back, and the post office had to pay for the damage their special little snowflake had inflicted on an innocent package.
Since that incident, when faced with choosing a used USPS box for mailing an item, and they are a pretty good size for some of the items I trade in, I have taken to writing a message on the brown wrapping paper: This is a RECYCLED postal box. PLEASE do not stomp on it.”
This has worked well, for the most part, nothing has been damaged again, and I’ve stopped selling in online auctions. However, I still trade, buy and sell, to add to my collection.
Recently, I sent a package across the country, from New York to California, and I used an old priority box that I knew, personally, had been back and forth the USA at least a dozen times. Out of habit, I added my little proclamation of its recycled nature, and the minions at the good ol’ USPS decided they wouldn’t stand for this blatant recycling. I mean, how DARE I, keep some cardboard out of the landfills!!
They decided that a little ransom was in order, and gave my buddy a friendly little notice telling him he had a package at the PO, but there was almost $3 additional postage due.
He contacted me, on May 1st, to find out if it was the one I had sent. I looked through my receipts and let him know my package had left on the 16th, that if he hadn’t already received it, it was possible, but that I had paid in full and had the receipt.
Disclaimer #2: this isn’t about the small amount of cash he had to lay out, it’s the principle.
I asked him to have them weigh it when he went to pay the “ransom,” and to check the labels, to save everything involved, including the postage due notice. He emailed me back saying, and I quote, “Mystery solved.The counter clerk weighed the package and found that you had paid the proper postage from NY to CA. She couldn’t see why there was postage due, so she went in the back room to talk with someone else. She was told that somewhere along the line “they” had determined that this was a USPS flat-rate box; if you use it, even wrapped in paper, you have to pay the flat-rate. She said what you should have done was get one of the plain brown boxes and then you could send it any way you wished.”
He was told this was “Policy.”
He goes on to say, “I’m guessing that your note on the wrapper is what gave it away...I asked how long this had been a policy as I too have been wrapping up USPS boxes in brown paper; she couldn’t give me an exact date.”
Several things come to mind, not the least of which is the fact that this was a USED box, a RECYCLED box, but, getting to their excuse, it was NOT a Flat Rate box! It was an OLD priority box. So old, in fact, that they don’t even USE THEM ANYMORE! It’s a different size then the box that replaced them some time ago, so someone with more time than common sense, must have opened it to see what it was.
Next, Flat Rate Priority is a “service” one pays for to get said package to its destination in 2, sometimes 3 days. THIS PACKAGE HAD TAKEN 14 DAYS!
So, not only did they act like total assholes and hold a package hostage for their piddling $3, the “service” they decided to charge for WAS NEVER RENDERED!
Now, I know there’s a lot of talk about how short the USPS is on meeting their pension obligations, THIS is NOT the way to make up that shortfall.
But, it gets even better, or worse, I guess.
I called my local postal orifice, the one from which the package had been sent. I explained, in detail, what I was asking so there would be NO doubt. This postal employee laughed a little and told me, No, of course they don’t have a policy like that. As long as the box is wrapped so that none of it shows through the wrapping, and that it had legible TO & FROM addresses, it would be no problem. As I suspected.
The next day, I went down to the post office to speak to someone in person, and the fireworks began, well, the soft veiled threat type of fireworks. I was directed to a side office where I began to calmly ask why this had happened, why the post office was against recycling, why my friend was quoted “policy” that couldn’t be produced in writing, and what was going to be done about refunding the ransom that had been paid (of course, I didn’t call it ransom to his face.), and what should I do if it ever happens again.
Another postal organism overheard and came over to inject his loud, unasked for, opinion. He “didn’t care” how many times the box had been back and forth, he “didn’t care” that the policy wasn’t available in writing. He began spinning tales of “people who had done this and that” with post office boxes (someone summon the strawmen!), and that if it was a USPS box, then the proper charges MUST be charged, “to the sender or the recipient, whichever post office CATCHES YOU.”
I finally let my calm demeanor slip to one side and told him this was crap, that this was a shoddy way to extort money from people while holding their mail hostage. (This time I did say it.) I said if it wasn’t “policy” than it shouldn’t be subject to tacked on fees. He insisted that the PO was NOT against recycling, but, his parting words, as I walked away in disgust:
Still not over, hang in for another paragraph or two.
I was really pissed when I got home, so I dialed up the USPS website on my web service and filed a formal complaint, saying just what I have laid out here. Knowing, not thinking maybe, but KNOWING there will be retribution, I used my old zip code and didn’t give my phone number, because it wasn’t required. It’s just a matter of time before they figure out it’s me, but what are they going to do? I already get my neighbor’s mail, my own mail already gets “lost” along the way, and by now, I do most of my business online. So, I miss a few coupons, I can deal...
Yesterday, I received an email from the United States Postal Service, the subject line informing me that my feedback is requested. I was actually a little surprised that anyone bothered to get back to me, and sort of expected some half ass explanation about different managerial styles at the various post offices.
Nope, nope nope...
It was a survey asking me to rate the ease or difficulty of actually using their email system to file my complaint!
Questions like rate the difficulty in filing, rate the response time from the USPS, rate the performance of the postal employee who replied, rate how I felt about their solution, and on and on.
To this day, that was the ONLY response I’ve received.
NO ONE “reached out” to me!
NO ONE offered any solution!
NO ONE even acknowledged I had ever contacted them at all!
And, I’m positive, NO ONE will read or give a shit about my response to that “survey.”
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
But, a recycled box brings it all to a grinding halt!