This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

Posts about Government spends your money

Post Offices, pt. 2: palaces and embassies

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 4, 2009 - 12:53 PM

 I suppose the way you feel about Post Offices has to do with your own experience. Spend enough time shuffling in the line, only to be dealt the standard stony indifference when you burden the clerk with a request, and you’ll shed no tears when they’re all replaced by private enterprises. Leaving aside the difference between a large enterprise run by government and one run by business - a discussion, after all, that has absolutely no relevance to current events (cough) - there’s something about the neighborhood post office that can’t be replaced by a Mailboxes R Us.


It’s an intangible thing, perhaps. When I was a kid I’d go to the Post Office with my dad to get the mail from his box. It was a somber marble building, built in the Classical style, as vast as the Baths of Caracalla. I was fascinated by the rows and rows of boxes, each with the number written in gold leaf on pebbled glass. All that mail. The Post Office was part of the civic landscape in which adults moved with ease and confidence, like the bank. They were hushed places, full of purpose, with the faint blue tang of cigarettes. You behaved. 


Fargo got a new post office in the 70s, a ghastly structure which swapped the columned majesty of its predecessor for the charm of a modern office lobby. Pity we didn’t get one in the 30s. Minneapolis’ main post office is a masterpiece of Depression Moderne, and a man feels like he’s entered Midas’ storehouse when he enters.



The smaller post offices lack these characteristics, of course, but they’re still connected to the Solemn Trust of Mail. At least if you’re middle-aged. I don’t look forward to the mail anymore; nothing good ever comes of it. If my daughter sent away for anything, she asks if Amazon came today, not the mail. (She grew up with overnight delivery; the idea of waiting six to eight weeks for something is absurd. Should have been absurd for me too - took less time to get to the moon - but we’d been trained to accept that as the length of time it took to get a cereal premium, just as we accepted “handling” as a legitimate additional cost.) But if the local post office closed, it would be as if a road out of town had been torn up and blocked off. 


Absurd, I know. This isn’t some small dying hamlet that’s lost its bank and store and bar, where the revocation of a postmark is like the government stamping DO NOT REVIVE on your patient chart.


Well, sodden nostalgia, all of this. You can be happy about the post office losing business to nimbler competitors, but no one wishes they hadn’t built the grand structures around the country. They were embassies for the World Beyond, and a place feels smaller when they’re gone. That’s all. 



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