City Paper is not for tourists
A 10-part series in which Justin Moyer, part-time musician, part-time journalist, and full-time USPS enthusiast visits a bunch of post offices in our nation’s capital so you don’t have to.
Location: 416 Florida Ave. NW Date: 4/8/09 Time: 3:35 p.m.
On the bleak polygon formed by the intersection of S Street NW and Florida, Rhode Island, and New Jersey Avenues lies LeDroit Station, as lonely a post office as one could imagine. King of its own curious, concrete island, 20001 stands alone at the center of a vortex of constant traffic and auto exhaust. What P.O. lies in this foreboding USPS no-man’s land, and does it have customs forms?
1. Automated Postal Center (APC) The designers of this miniature building left no room for advanced APC technology. Besides, the machine would block 20001’s army-recruitment poster.
2. Safety Glass Since this P.O. is staffed by an intimidating, nametagless clerk, I was happy (for once) to see safety glass. Also: What a convenient place to hang a picture of a local man wanted for armed robbery!
3. Prompt Service Only one clerk at this bathroom-sized location, but she keeps the line moving.
4. Parking 20001 is equipped with a parking lot, but figuring out how to drive into it is sort of like stoichiometry—-there’s a lot of combinations, and you won’t get it right the first time. You might be able to make a right into the parking lot when traveling east on Florida. Then again, you might have to take Florida to Rhode Island, make a right, and then another immediate right. Then again, if you took Florida to New Jersey, you might have to take a left on Rhode Island, then make an illegal U-turn, and then sneak into the parking lot. (Be on the lookout for Rhode Island Avenue’s ubiquitous red-light cameras.)
5. Service with a Smile Question: “Do I have to fill out a customs form to mail this CD to Germany?” New favorite answer: “If I don’t know you, you have to fill it out!” Further discussion of this response below.
6. Triflin’ Factor USPS rules clearly state that: “A customs form is not required on…non-dutiable First Class Mail International items that weigh less than 16 ounces.” Thus, I must conclude that a clerk who makes me fill out a form for a package that clearly doesn’t require one because she “doesn’t know me” is triflin’. But, in a broader sense, doesn’t this clerk’s trust in her community (i.e., the people she knows) and willingness to spend time exploring that community (i.e., getting to know more people) imply a respect for the USPS’s position in the community that, by definition, isn’t triflin’?
7. Customer Comments “This place is excellent,” says Mary Johnson, a middle-aged, blonde-extensioned woman who lives nearby. Reflecting 20001’s core values, Johnson enjoys her trips to the post office because she “pretty much knows everybody.” “But different people will look at this place differently,” she adds. “Like someone from Pittsburgh.” (If you guessed that this woman’s real name isn’t “Mary Johnson,” you guessed right. This woman, in fact, refused to give me her name, so I’ve accepted her invitation to “make one up”.)
Final Grade: I don’t know any of these people! D+.