Just this fall, the British government sold most of its postal service to private investors.
In the Netherlands, there’s no such thing as a government-run post office. Instead, the Dutch turn to the private sector, whether it’s the nearest grocery store, bookstore or the tobacco shop to send their letters and parcels.
“And if you think the lines are long here, you should try over there,” said Gabrielle Samols, who a few years ago had a hard time finding a post office in the town of Rotterdam but who had no problem finding the U.S. post office in the Summerlin neighborhood of Las Vegas on Thursday.
And it was from there that she sent a jigsaw puzzle to family friends in Bellingham, Wash., without a hitch.
It was just one of 160 million pieces of mail expected to be sent between Thanksgiving and Christmas from the 20 post offices in the Las Vegas Valley. They handle roughly 5.9 million pieces of mail per day.
And Samols, a New Zealand native, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love the U.S. post office,” said Samols, 75, a Las Vegas resident. “It’s the last of the dinosaurs, if you think about it.”
And so this Tyrannosaurus rex, this government agency that some in Washington, D.C., would like to privatize, has been going full bore these past few days, with lines of people spilling onto the sidewalks.
Christmas is less than a week away, so those who want to send something by 2- to 3-day priority mail face a Saturday cutoff date if they want to get it there by Christmas Eve.
And those who are procrastinators and plan to do their shopping this weekend have until Monday to use overnight delivery for gifts that would arrive Christmas Eve.
But be forewarned. It’ll cost $19.95 for any flat-rate envelopes that are sent priority mail express. Parcels, or flat-rate boxes, run $39.95.
“It’s guaranteed if you make it by the 1 p.m. deadline, but it’s got to be to a place that we can reach in one day. It’s got to be a major hub, like Phoenix, or Chicago or Los Angeles or New York,” said Ralph Langevain, a spokesman for the downtown Las Vegas post office. “It can’t be up in Montana or along the Canadian border in a place that’s hard to reach.”
It’s crunch time for the post office. The final hours are dwindling as the long lines grow, and there’s a connection between the two.
Think of it as tax day, only the deadline is Dec. 25, not April 15.
And yet, of the two dozen people interviewed at several post offices throughout the valley this week, nobody “went postal” on the U.S. Postal Service. Nary an anti-government complaint was leveled at the agency. There was no talk of privatization in the long lines.
The only complaint heard was about the lines themselves, an indication that Americans are hard to please and have long grown accustomed to an “undervalued” and “underestimated” service, Las Vegas resident Greg Bush said.
“I think it’s one of the best services we’re ever going to get,” said Bush, 66, a retired eighth-grade teacher. “And I learned back in kindergarten that everybody must wait their turn in line.”
For Bush, the post office has come through in the clutch. These past two days, he has relied on it to deliver Christmas gifts and Christmas cards. He said he would hate to see mail service privatized, noting that it would mean “suffering the consequences of the capitalistic society in which we live.”
“Before you know it, it will become a profit-making system,” said Bush, a Chicago native. “And that’s the last thing we want. The prices would go way up.”
Yes, it’s true that the value of the basic stamp has gone from 22 cents to 46 cents in the past two decades. But that’s just inflation, said Langevain, 56, who also can recall when stamps were a nickel and gasoline was only 21 cents a gallon.
“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “You can send an envelope from Guam to Maine for 46 cents. That’s an excellent deal, but we do have to cope with the same cost of living as everybody else.”
And you can’t beat the flat-rate parcels, or as the commercial goes, “As long as it fits, it ships,” Langevain noted.
People have been stuffing the parcels like they were stockings, among them 40-year-old Janie Foggia who has 13 nieces and nephews to please, from Arizona to North Carolina to Texas.
She has sent movies, candy, baked cookies, fudge, you name it.
“I try to find the smallest stuff that makes the most impact,” she said.
Marie Kocka, a mother of triplets, found the time to send a plastic wagon to her 1-year-old niece, Katelyn, in Woodland Hills, Calif.
But she used her own box. The wagon was simply too big for a flat-rate box, so she brought out a bigger box of her own.
“The employees are so friendly here,” she said.
“The one in the middle, she took the time to talk to me and put extra tape on it so it wouldn’t bust open.”
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.
LAST-MINUTE POSTAL DEADLINES
(to get it there by Christmas)*
Type of mail Mail-by date
Cards and letters Dec. 20
Priority mail packages Dec. 21
Priority express mail Dec. 23
Source: U.S. Postal Service