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Wholesale Observations: Postal issues part 2: Win some, lose some
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

One of the side benefits to my “new” job of picking up our daily mail at the Main Post Office on Bay Street in Savannah was that I got to meet and get to know a handful of really nice people, who did the same thing for their companies. One of them was a long-time insurance agent, Henry Goldberg, whom I later discovered knew my late father. 

Henry later wound up selling me a pair of life insurance policies, which I later traded in for a bigger, better, less expensive one; and a long-term disability policy, which I still have to this day. He also handled group insurance, I found out, which came in extremely helpful to me when I moved to my current position, many years ago, and found our current policy extremely lacking.

Henry not only got us a better policy with a better company, he saved us so much money in premiums we were able to obtain additional coverage, and we still saved a ton of money! I will forever be very grateful to him for his help on that. We only gave up that policy, 20 or so years later, when that company decided to exit the group medical market due to a slew of new governmental requirements, which also led to two other major providers doing the same thing.

As the volume of mail run through the postal system each day continued to skyrocket over time, the postal system had to find ways to automate the handling process simply in order to handle the ever-increasing volumes.

Thus was born the mighty zip code, initially a five-digit number, that would allow automated sorting equipment to package items going to the same general location, without people having to hand-read the address on each envelope. (More on that later.)

This also lessened the problems caused by incomplete or incorrect addresses, and poor hand-writing. The zip code proved so successful that it was later expanded to a 9-digit numeric code, which allowed even closer definitions for delivery.

Zip codes were not without their problems, however. An incorrect zip code would send an envelope to the wrong location, even if the rest of the address on the envelope was correct. I will never forget the time one of our office clerks inadvertently superimposed both a “0” and a “9” for the middle digit on the typed envelope used to mail a monthly commission check to our salesman in Tallahassee, FL.

It was eventually returned to us, about three weeks later, with a big red stamp that said, “Undeliverable as Addressed, Return to Sender.” I immediately put that check in a new envelope and remailed it. Then I sent the original envelope to the Tallahassee Postmaster, complaining that a) they did not deliver it, even though the rest of the address was correct; and b) it took them three weeks to send it back.

The letter I got back a week or so later apologized for the delay, but offered two separate explanations. 1) There are three similar street names in town, and “we don’t have time or personnel to check and correct every single mis-addressed envelope, given the volume we get every day.” And 2) “That address area is serviced by 17 carriers on 42 routes, not counting the part-time weekend guy; they don’t have time to figure out every error.”

He did allow as how it should not have taken three weeks for that item to be returned to us.

I was only somewhat mollified, but it did help to know some of the complicating issues on their end.

On the other hand, one of our retail customers in Charleston, S.C., mailed us an envelope with his payment in it, and all he put on the envelope was our company name and street address; he forgot the city, state and zip code altogether! But, somehow, it got to us anyway.

I figured that whoever was sorting the initial bag of mail in Charleston saw our company name and recognized us, so put it in the “Savannah” bag, and once that got here, the local folks knew who we were, so got it to our box!

Another time, our salesman in Daytona Beach used our pre-addressed manila envelope with the pre-printed notation, “Salesmen’s Orders – Please Rush,” to mail us a small order.

Attached to it was that customer’s check for his last order. It was late getting to us because the glue on the stamp wasn’t very good, and the stamp fell off somewhere in transit.

But instead of sending it on to us marked “Postage Due,” that envelope was redirected to the “Dead Letter Office.” When they opened it to see if there was “anything of value” inside, and found the customer’s check, THEN they sent it on to us, marked “Postage Due.”

I gave the local office an earful on that one, since the envelope was clearly marked “Salesmen’s Orders, Please Rush,” but he quoted me chapter and verse on Postal Regulations, which made no sense to me whatsoever.

Oh, well. “Win some, lose some,” I guess.

More in the next installment.

Rafe Semmes is a Savannah High and UGA grad. He lives in Midway with his wife and cats.

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