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Wholesale Observations: Postal issues part 3: The introduction of the ‘Star box’ system
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

One of the changes the U.S. Postal System made to their collection and delivery systems, back in the 1980s, was the introduction of their “Star box” system. This was intended to offer an after-hours pickup option, once the individual post offices had closed for the day.

A big blue box with big stars on the side was installed outside participating locations, and mail deposited there before the late-afternoon collection time (6:30 p.m. or so) would get picked up by the “Star-route” truck heading to Savannah, where that mail would get processed the same day.

This was very useful to some of our territory salesmen, who could deposit orders finished late in the day and know we would have them in our mailbox the next morning. Our salesman in Statesboro, however, made it a practice to sit in his car and wait until he saw the “Star-route” truck come by and collect that mail. That way he knew it would be in Savannah that night, and we should have his envelope of orders the next day. And then he would call me to make sure we did. Once in a while, that bag of mail from Statesboro would be processed late the next morning, and I’d have to go back to the Post Office later to go get it, after Andy called to let me know it should be there. One time, it wasn’t, and he told me to go tell them he knew it was there, and we had to have it. I wound up going to the postmaster that day, as we’d begun to have that problem several times recently. So he took me on a tour of the building, showing me where the bags of incoming mail were normally put, before being sorted and put in the boxes. All the places he showed me were empty.

Except for this one lonesome bag, sitting in a corner by itself. When I asked what that bag was, he shook his head, and said, “I don’t know, but it’s not supposed to be there.”

Sure enough, that was the missing bag from Statesboro, and Andy’s orders were in it!

Systems only work when people follow all the steps, is the moral of that story!

That salesman eventually came up with another method to ensure we got his orders in time to work them up and ship them out the day they needed to be delivered: he used Greyhound Package Service.

For $3, he could take his order envelope to the Greyhound station in downtown Statesboro in the morning, before the bus left for Savannah, and we would get it before noon the same day. I just had to make an extra run to the Greyhound station in Savannah to pick it up. Which was a few blocks away, so not a big deal. We split the $3 cost with him.

One day I happened to mention this to a postal clerk at the main post office where we got our mail, to let them know their failure to deliver our mail timely was causing us real problems. I then got an unexpected lecture on how this violated the postal monopoly on first class mail, and was thus illegal! I was so surprised, I almost couldn’t speak. I told him it was none of their business if we used this package service of Greyhound’s, and he informed me that any thing that “incited action,” such as salesmen’s orders, was thus “first class mail,” and had to go by U.S. Mail. I don’t remember my exact response (“Horsefeathers!”), but I basically just turned and left; and never mentioned it again.

But, like I said before, I am generally a big fan of the Postal Service; on the whole, they do a great job handling a huge volume of mail each day.

Rafe Semmes is a Savannah native and UGA alumnus. An accountant by trade, he regularly drives through Richmond Hill on his way home.

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