Perhaps my affinity for public employees is simply because I are one.
Or perhaps I’m just a little more observant, more cognizant that the basic services we rely upon are not delivered by a nameless bureaucracy or an inhuman machine called “government.” These services are provided by people, often good people who do their best to do their best.
Moving back to the old neighborhood is a lot of work, and not simply the manual labor required to tote all our stuff across town. One critical task was to get the mail rerouted to the correct address.
Since October, we’ve had a forwarding request directing mail sent to us at the house to be brought to our apartment in Riverbend. Now we have to reverse that flow.
I first visited the USPS online, where I was able to submit a mail forwarding request from the apartment to the house. But I also needed to cancel the forwarding request from the house to the apartment. Otherwise, my mail could be stuck in an endless “do loop.” I imagined my mail bouncing back and forth between the two until the volume of stick-on yellow address labels caused my mail to clog the automated sorting machines, resulting in a monumental pile-up that backed up the postal system like a hurricane evacuation traffic jam.
Unfortunately, the USPS web page does not allow one to cancel a forwarding order--that requires visiting the Post Office in person. I stopped in at the Post Office on Louisiana Avenue, and they recommended I go to my local Post Office to make sure the carrier received and understood the request.
“And where is that?” I asked, since my “local” post office had flooded in Hurricane Katrina and had not reopened.
They sent me to the carrier station on Florida Avenue, a facility that does not have a storefront because it was never intended to serve walk-in customers. Nevertheless, this is where many people now go to pick up mail if they are still unable to receive mail at a regular address.
(Before I go on, I hope we all take a moment to think about that: more than 10 months after the hurricane and normal mail delivery has not resumed to all areas.)
Anyway, signs around the building directed visitors to locate the door with their zip code for service, and I quickly found mine. I waited a few moments for help, and when the door opened I was greeted by a familiar face.
“Hello, Tim! How’s the family getting along?”
It was my old carrier from before the storm. Mr. Anthony, a tall, friendly man, used to walk the route on my street during what sometimes seems like another lifetime, yet was less than a year ago. Occasionally I would be out in the yard when he came by, and he would stop to talk about family, current events, money and the government.
I am still amazed that he remembered me. Here’s a man who must see a thousand names and addresses a day in the course of his work. How he could remember me, someone who has not been around for many months, someone he only knew by casual acquaintance?
I recalled that he owned several rental properties in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. “How’d you make out in the hurricane?”
“I lost five houses,” he said. “I’m living in Algiers Point right now. I was just lucky that I bought a house over there to renovate right before the storm.”
“Wow, so you have no spare time!” I said.
He laughed politely, and his close-cut beard looked like it may have turned more grey since the last time I saw him.
I told him we were coming back, and he was quick to tell me about others on the street who were coming back, too. He seemed to know everyone and their plans. I marveled again at his ability with names and addresses.
Near the end of our conversation, he said, “You just have to keep going. No matter what happens, the Lord gives you the strength to keep going.” The African timbre of his voice sounded both sad and defiant in the same moment.
It’s hard to imagine what some people have been through. I’m dealing with just one flooded house and all the insurance, government paperwork and contractors that I can handle on top of family and work. What must it be like to have all that for five houses?
And yet Mr. Anthony remains cheerful and hopeful. He takes pride in his work and clearly thinks of us as customers that deserve friendly, efficient service. Although the postal uniform is not widely considered one of honor (think Cliff on “Cheers” or Newman on “Seinfeld”), this man transcends that stereotype.
I remain hopeful that there are many more like Mr. Anthony in this city: people who will push a little harder when they meet resistance, people who will put forth the effort to do the job right, people who will smile even when every circumstance discourages it.