April 15 is nothing, baby. With Christmas closing in, yesterday was the busiest day of the year for the U.S. Postal Service, with an estimated 250 million cards and letters sent nationally -- 6 million in Baltimore alone.
You should have seen the long lines, felt the tension, heard the screaming and complaining. Shame on all those snippy postal workers! And oh, the cutting in line! The rabid customers were nothing more than caged animals, licking and slobbering all over their stamps. Oh, the uncivilized madness!
That was the rumor anyway.
In fact, something remarkable occurred yesterday at the main Post Office on East Fayette Street in downtown Baltimore, where workers handled three times their usual work load. Lines were moving, people were satisfied, the postal workers wore Santy hats and were cheerful.
Lines moved so fast in the morning that people didn't have time enough to do other chores in line -- such as paying bills. Customers left the office describing the service as "excellent" and "personable."
What's the world coming to that we all can't get together and be at each other's throats for the holidays?
"This was such a pleasant experience," said Donald Turnbaugh, 54, of Baltimore. He was taking his sweet time mailing 30 Christmas cards. Pleasant?
In Mr. Turnbaugh's case, the lines at the post office were too fast for him. He didn't have enough time to pay his bills. So, he retired to one of those service islands by the counters. "That lady with the Santa hat was great. She had a really good personality," he added.
The lady in red was Sheila Lynch, a 21-year veteran of the Postal Service. She was working behind the counter along with her partner in personality, Acquanetta Walker, another 21-year vet. Both wore Santa hats. Both were walking and talking Christmas cards.
"We mowed that line down, didn't we?" Ms. Lynch said. "Listen, I like what I'm doing. I like working with people. That's why I'm having so much fun."
"Fun" is not a word that crops up a lot when describing the inner workings at post offices. After all, the largest federal civilian agency often makes the news. Stories in the past year alone mention everything from letter bombs in New Jersey and the cancellation of the atomic bomb stamp to the agency having a "dysfunctional organization culture." And as of 12:01 a.m., Jan. 1, the price of a stamp will be 32 cents.
But hey, it's Christmas. Letter carriers Bud Gaegley and Peggy Johnson yesterday played Santa and Jingles the Elf, respectively. Her phony ears would put Spock to shame. But in mid-morning at the main post office, there were no kids and hardly any adults. So, Santa and Jingles kind of just hung out.
"It starts over there, well . . . there is no line, really," postal employee Patricia Mank told a customer. We'll be busy tonight when people get off work, she told us, almost apologizing.
"Between 3 and 6 p.m. it rolls. That's when we really get busy," said mail handler Karen Yingling.
For a change, we visited a little post office -- compared to the big office, where 2,500 employees worked yesterday and handled 3.2 million pieces of mail.
In Roland Park, the one-story, brick post office might as well have a sign that reads: "Norman Rockwell Mailed Letters Here." Four people work here. By all accounts, they filled both their trucks with mail yesterday.
Debbie Scheffenacker left her Labrador in her car because she knew she wouldn't be long. She mailed 20 Christmas cards and waited five minutes. It can take longer to find a parking space in this neighborhood than it does standing in line at the post office.
"It's the little things," Mrs. Scheffenacker said.
Such as sponges. The postal workers put out little sponges so customers could give their tongues a rest from licking stamps. The sponges were wet yesterday. "Sometimes they are not," she said, whispering.
Peculiar, troubling things were reported at this post office. It was alleged that a customer gave another customer a dime to help with the parking meter. It was also alleged that customers gave up their place in line to help others with more pressing mailing needs.
"I did that," admitted Effie Gereny of Mount Washington. To repeat, she gave up a spot in line. This meant one thing, of course: She had to go the end of the line again.
And again, what is this world coming to? These public displays of manners, patience and charity are shocking. What's gotten into us?
"It's called civility!" Ms. Gereny said.
And, as she walked out of the post office, witnesses swear they heard her say, "Happy Holidays."