I set out on this sunny afternoon to buy a stamp. Well, actually several. Canada Post has just increased postage for a single stamp to $1, but if you buy a bunch it’s only 85¢. I had bought thirty 63¢ stamps designed for the Chinese Year of the Horse in January. Now I need twenty 20¢ stamps and 2¢ stamps to top those up and two 10¢ stamps to top up my U.S. postage from $1.10 to $1.20.
I have to mail the yearly doctor’s note, prescribing physiotherapy to the insurance company. On-going maintenance becomes necessary in advancing years. The doctor never refuses to give me one. The insurance company never refuses to accept it, but every year, I have to trot off to the doctor and then resort to snail mail. So I started out with bureaucracy on my mind.
Canada Post is in trouble. We haven’t had Saturday delivery for twenty years or more. In a year or so, none of us will get home delivery. They’ve closed all but a few actual post offices and franchised out postal outlets. Then they told all these convenience or gift shops that they had to upgrade to better computers costing tens of thousands of dollars. Mom and pop gave up their franchises, which were bought by large corporations, chiefly Shoppers Drug Mart here in Toronto.
Now I can’t walk to a post office and the Shoppers mall parking lot is so badly engineered that it was probably designed by Canada Post. If I park as far south as possible, I stand a better chance of getting out, but I have a longer walk. Then in one of those brilliant marketing moves, I have to go in through the cosmetics department at the northeast end of the huge store. I never buy perfume or makeup. Doesn’t matter. I get funneled through there. Then I make a left turn. The post office is in the southwest corner. There is a hurrying person trying to pass me in the narrow toothbrush and mouthwash aisle. Then I have to swing through the lineups at the pharmacy counter and the boxes of stock still looking for a home. At last, I arrive at the Canada Post outlet.
A young woman there is turning away a business woman with a stack of thick, large brown envelopes. She is telling her where the next post office is, several miles west. Clearly, the clerk is in the middle of a phone call. “No computer,” she says. She doesn’t say, “I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t help you.” The stamps are there. I can see them. My money is in my hot little hand, but we can’t just do an exchange. That would be too old school. Once I nearly starved in a restaurant because the computers went down, although clearly food had been cooked and wait staff stood idly by. Whereas the clerk had been quite cordial to the previous customer, she responds to me by saying, “I can’t do anything about it.” Okay, I frowned, I admit it. She doesn’t care, she is back on the phone with tech support, just a little flirty.
My unspoken curse is really not all that bad. But she may have trouble getting more than the minimum wage for a while.
I manage to worm my way out first of the store, then out of the lot up to the four way light, where I try to figure out what to do while I wait and wait for a left-turn green.
No wait, wait. First, before I get in the car, I spot a store front advertising shipping. And it has a red post box outside. That’s a very good sign. Apart from the post box deep in the heart of the old drug mart, there isn’t another for ten blocks. Relief. I dash in.
“I need stamps,” I announce.
“We don’t sell stamps,” the clerk says. “We can ship your letter Express, only $10.”
“We’re not allowed to sell stamps,” says another. “We can only ship parcels or fast mail.”
“I was just on the phone with Canada Post in Ottawa about that,” says the boss. “They told me it could take 6 to 12….. years.”
We all fall about laughing bitterly.
I decide to drive up to the Kingsway on Bloor St. There’s another Shoppers and presumably another postal outlet. Once there, I’m in paid parking territory. The machine says it takes nickles but evidently not mine. I manage to piece together enough change for 10 minutes. I go in the out door, thus circumventing the cosmetic department. I ask a woman in the checkout line where the post office is. On the second floor! How convenient. The elevator may not be the slowest I have seen, but it’s in the running.
I am #3 in the queue at the counter. I step up and order the stamps (see above).
“We don’t have any 22¢ stamps.”
“That’s okay. I’ll take 10’s and 2’s.”
“We don’t have those either.”
I won’t bore you further with a play by play. Imagine disbelief on my part. Imagine grim fatalism on hers.
“They were supposed to come yesterday. They didn’t. They were supposed to come today. They haven’t but we’re open til 9. We warned people a month ago that the price was going up and still they bought hundreds of the 65¢ stamps.”
“Well, leaving aside that it would have been possible to anticipate this need,” I reply, “nobody warned me three months ago.”
“But,” she continues, sympathetically, “you can just stick that letter in the box. They’re still accepting the old stamp.”
Here is a fellow human being, just as fed up with inefficient bureaucracy as I am. She is not doomed to minimum wage.
It takes a large ginger cookie and a tall soy chai to cool me down.
One thing for sure, I’ll be there with bells on when they hold the wake for Canada Post.