USPS

Postcards from Pitlochry

Pitlochry Post Office and Convenience Store

The current Post Office is located in the Pitlochry Convenience Store at 63 Atholl Road. Courtesy of Bob Richardson on Flickr.

In two of our previous posts we chronicled some of our most unusual (yet, when we think back on them, also probably quite “typical”) interactions with the sprawling, labyrinthine bureaucracy that is the United States Postal Service.

There was the time Joan’s order for a stuffed animal was delivered to the wrong address but eventually—no thanks to our local post office—found its way into her arms via the graces of a kind and conscientious neighbor (See “Lil Bub Goes Postal”). https://sixtysixtyblog.wordpress.com/tag/kent-ohio/

And then there’s the tale of “Theo Theokitos, Valued Feline Postal Service Customer,” that provided evidence the USPS can bestow upon us a kind of bureaucratic immortality, an extended paper afterlife that requires no faith in God nor even an abundance of earthly good works. https://sixtysixtyblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/theo-theokitos-valued-feline-postal-service-customer/

But now our postal adventures go traveling abroad. Our little story today indicates, perhaps, that there is some universal property accruing to postal services everywhere—a capacity for misdirection and mysterious misrouting. Our new tale involves Scotland, the land of lochs, rugged cliffs, ancient castles, and lonely highland landscapes. It involves a small village Post Office and an unexpected journey around the world.

Back in May of this year we undertook a tour of Scotland and Ireland with our dear friends Brenda and Dave. Our itinerary, beginning in Glasgow, took the four of us to Loch Lomond and Inverary, up along the “Road to the Isles” to the Isle of Skye, and then back over to Loch Ness, with stops at Nairn and Pitlochry before leaving the Highlands and ending our Scottish itinerary with visits to St. Andrews and Edinburgh.

It is in Pitlochry, the largest town in Highland Perthshire, that our postal adventure begins. We were fortunate enough to spend two nights at the nearby Atholl Palace Hotel, built in 1878 as the Athole Hydropathic, a place for the tourists to take the waters and see the Highlands. Except for a couple of wartime incarnations as a school for girls (World War I) and boys (World War II), the Atholl Palace (as it was renamed in 1913) has been in almost continuous use as a hotel for nearly 140 years.

Atholl Palace Hotel

The Atholl Palace Hotel outside of Pitlochry, Perthshire, in Scotland. Picture courtesy of TripAdvisor.

During our pleasant and altogether satisfying two-night visit at the Palace, tucked in between sightseeing, shopping, whiskey tasting, and haggis-eating, Joan decided to take care of some correspondence. Over the course of two nights, Joan diligently wrote and addressed ten specially selected Scottish-themed postcards (with matching highland-themed stamps) to friends and family back home in the United States.

Notice how the stamps were selected to match the theme of the postcard! This is postcard curation at its finest!

She, trusting the superlative hotel staff to get this correspondence into the UK postal system, left them downstairs with reception before we departed on our final morning. We departed the grand environs of this Scottish baronial landmark, optimistic that our postcards would possibly outpace us and arrive at their respective destinations well before we would, some ten days later on the first of June.

Our trip continued. Crossing the body of Scotland again, we went through Ayrshire to the ferry dock at Cairnryan and left Scotland, floating across the Irish Sea, for the second Irish leg of our tour.

Let us skip ahead a month. It is now June 21st. Not a single one of Joan‘s ten correspondents had mentioned receiving a hand-written, specially curated postcard from Scotland. Joan asked our children if they had received any postcards. No, they said, nothing had arrived from Scotland, although postcards sent later from Ireland were happily received and much appreciated!

Our friend and travel companion Dave in the Atholl Palace lobby reading “The Scotsman.”

A month seemed like a reasonable amount of time for a few postcards to reach their American destinations, so Greg decided to send an email to the Atholl Palace Hotel, just in case the postcards hadn’t been taken to the Pitlochry Post Office for dispatch and were perhaps sitting on a shelf somewhere in the hotel’s grand reception lobby:

Message: Hello, we were guests in May (22-24). When at the hotel we left 10 postcards with international stamps at the reception to be mailed to the USA. They haven't arrived, and it has been a month. Could you check and seeif they are sitting at the desk somewhere? Thank you!

The Hotel, as expected, was cordial and quick to reply to Greg’s query…

Good Evening,

Thank you for your email. I am sorry to hear that you have not received your postcards yet.

I have searched the desks and reception area but unfortunately have not come across any postcards at all. The reception team usually post any postcards or letters as soon as we receive them so I am quite surprised to hear that they have yet to arrive.

At this moment it is just myself on shift and am unable to contact the rest of the team to check if there might have been a delay in sending them or if perhaps they have been put away but I will make sure to speak to the rest of the staff as soon as possible to see if there might be an explanation as to why they have not arrived.

I hope this information helps and in the meantime if you do have any further question please do not hesitate to contact the hotel.

Kind Regards

Given the very high level of service from the staff, we were not surprised that the postcards had been properly dispatched. But alas, we still had no simple explanation for the missing postcards.

There was little else we could do but wait, and wait, and wait, and all the while hope that the postcards might still somehow reach their destinations. Another month passed, however, and our children assured us, again, that no hand-written and specially curated postcards had arrived.

By August we were pretty much resigned to the fact that the postcards were, as the saying goes, “lost in the mail.” Then another postal mishap occurred. For some inexplicable reason Joan had an anniversary card and letter that she had mailed to our son and daughter-in-law in Oregon returned, slapped with the irksome yellow “RETURN TO SENDER” label. We double-checked, and the card had indeed been addressed correctly. What was going on?

Joan was convinced that the world’s postal systems, both domestic and foreign, had it in for her. This latest failure to deliver was simply a sign confirming some preternatural postal conspiracy to disappear her correspondence.

But then, something quite unexpected! Around the middle of August, the ten lost and quite possibly lonely, Scottish postcards started arriving. They trickled in, one by one, from wherever they had gone and been. First, we heard from friends on the East coast that one had arrived. A few days later, family members in the Midwest received a second and a third. And, then, a week or so later, several postcards sent to the West coast materialized out of the ether. And then, suddenly, they were all accounted for.

The question was—where in the world had they been for three months: in postcard purgatory, in letter limbo, in the land of the lost? Well, the answer is almost as unexpected: the Philippines. Yes, the Philippines!

For some reason—a reason we are quite sure we will never discover—all the postcards had been sent from Pitlochry to the Philippines and then forwarded, perhaps via circuitous postal pathways, to their various destinations in the United States. The postmarks, graciously provided by their recipients, document the strange journey of these wayward cards:

Every single postcard arrived via the Clark Freeport Zone Post Office in the Philippines.

On what long exotic voyage did these ten little missives embark? Did they travel to the Philippines via other countries and cities—rerouted through Berlin, transferred via Bucharest, and forwarded from Calcutta? Did they travel by air transport, mail truck, or boat? Still, when all is said and done, they made it to their intended destinations, and our faith in the world’s postal services has certainly been restored!

There is something satisfying in the midst of this world’s generally increasing dysfunction to realize that in some nameless office in the Clark Freeport Zone northwest of Manila, some equally nameless official of the PHLPOST (the Philippine Postal Corporation) was diligent in his/her duties. How easy and tempting it could have been for some busy and bothered postal worker along the wandering way these post cards took to toss them in the trash. Instead they took the time, made the effort, to reroute them where they needed to go.

A small step for stability and surety in a world that increasingly has too little of either. Maybe there is at least one thing we can depend on.

Ever the curious one, and wanting to know if there were some explanations for their three month disappearance, Joan checked to see if she could email the Pitlochry Post Office. But she couldn’t locate an email address with an online search. So, in September, she crafted a little letter which she then snail mailed to the Pitlochry Post Office. This was not to complain mind you, but to ask politely and a bit humorously if perhaps the Postmaster or Postmistress might have some rational explanation about how such misdirection could have come about. Did Pitlochry postcards routinely travel to America via the Philippines? Or was it purely an accident, a singular someone- threw-the-mail-bag-on-the-wrong-plane kind of circumstance?

As of this moment, we have received no reply from the Pitlochry Post Office. Mayhap the Office is understaffed and too busy to answer. Or maybe the lost postcards of transient lowland tourists are of extremely low priority. But, then again, perhaps Joan’s friendly and inquisitive little postal query is on its own strange journey and will arrive in Pitlochry, via the Philippines, any day now.

A postcard that made it!

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Lil Bub Goes Postal

Lil Bub in the mail!

Lil Bub going postal!

We have posted about the vagaries of the US Postal Service before (see Theo Theokitos, Valued Feline Postal Service Customer http://wp.me/p4uyM6-I and Mr. Gregory Shreve, Official Starfleet Officer http://wp.me/p4uyM6-F ). In this post we return to the topic of the USPS, an organization that can, apparently, engender a multitude of amazing stories for us to recount. We come to you now with a new fable, an absurd adventure of misdirected packages, wandering mail carriers, disinterested postal supervisors, gracious neighbors, and a vanished internet feline.

The story begins with Joan. As you read in our last post, we are currently without a (real, live) cat. This has led to some adjustment problems on our part (including the disconcerting habit of seeing apparitions of dearly departed felines around the house out of the corners of our eyes). One particularly difficult adjustment for Joan (which we can label “cat on the bed syndrome”) has been going to sleep at night without a cat lying nearby or, preferably, snuggled close.

While it is, of course, obvious that no home should be without a cat or two or more, we have decided, for the time being, that bringing a cat into our household would be difficult. Now that we are both retired, we are traveling frequently. Just in the last four months we have traveled to Eastern Europe, South Carolina, Oregon, and the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. At this point in our lives, we would find ourselves leaving our cats alone for long periods of time.

With no real cat to comfort her at night anymore, Joan began sleeping with a large stuffed tiger by her side who goes by the name of Jade, a gift from our children years ago. However, Jade, a giant among its kind, is at least three feet in length and threatened to dispossess the bed of its other long-time occupant, Greg. When she would awake in the middle of the night, Joan would find, much to her annoyance, that Jade had mysteriously been removed from her side and placed at the bottom of the bed. A smaller bed companion apparently had to be found.

There were requirements for this new companion: portability, suitability for cuddling, softness and general, all-around, cuteness.  These are requirements that Greg, in all honesty, does not fulfill (although he claims other compensating virtues).

While trying to locate a birthday gift for our middle daughter, a felinologist at Oregon State University, we ran across a plush toy imitation of internet sensation “Lil Bub” at http://lilbub.com/ and purchased one from the site’s online store.  After holding our daughter’s plush avatar of Lil Bub, Joan decided that having one was the best possible cure for her syndrome.

We ordered a Lil Bub for her on December 28, 2014. Response to the order from the folks at the Lil Bub website was fast and efficient. Lil Bub shipped on December 30 and was expected to arrive around January 2nd. We should have known, however, that something would go wrong when we read the following message in our Lil Bub shipping confirmation:

Your Lil Bub order has shipped via United States Postal Service!

Track your package!

But, we were confident. The United States Postal Service, respected branch of our federal government, had custody of our little cat. They would take care of her, surely. Our fears were more than allayed when we read from the tracking application that Lil Bub had been delivered securely right to our front door on Friday, January 2nd as promised! Exactly at 2:43 pm! We went outside to gather her in and tuck her into bed with Joan. Except, except—she was nowhere to be found. Not on the front porch, not on the side porch, not laying in the yard, or on the back stoop. She was gone, vanished.

Delivered! (or not?)

Delivered! (Or not?)

Thinking she might appear miraculously over the weekend when our mail carrier discovered her fallen behind a bag in his truck or neighbors discovered her mislaid on their front steps, we waited. And then we waited some more. Finally on Tuesday, January 6th Greg drove hopefully to the Kent, Ohio Post Office to inquire about our wayward feline.   Once there he waited some more.

Here Greg must digress and indulge in a small rant. The Kent Post Office is like the anteroom to Hell. Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. There is almost always a wait to buy stamps, ask a question, or procure meaningful postal service of any kind. The wait is engendered by some sort of local policy that prevents the Postmaster from staffing all three of the postal service counters at the same time. One is always closed, even when the line of customers reaches back to the doors. But, as said, this is a digression. We return to the main narrative.

After an unnecessarily long wait (45 minutes according to the time stamps from text communications between Joan and Greg), a postal clerk shunted Greg to a supervisor with the words “you’ll have to talk to a supervisor about that.” The supervisor (who shall remain nameless, and deservedly so) deigned to appear after another unnecessarily long wait. He took the tracking information, disappeared again for a while and then returned to indicate that “according to scans” (apparently mail carriers have to check in during their rounds and indicate where on their route they are at a particular time) the mail carrier had not been on North Prospect Street where we reside at the time in question, 2:43 pm. He had been on our street some two hours earlier. This begged the important question: where was Lil Bub actually delivered? The supervisor had no answer, offered to quiz the mail carrier as to Bub’s whereabouts, and said that if she didn’t appear in a few days to submit a postal claim. Greg left with little hope of any resolution.  The postal claim might (or might not) produce a refund but would most likely not produce the missing cat!

The next day, while blowing snow off the sidewalk, Greg happened to see the mail carrier and raised the issue of the missing package. The mail carrier claimed no specific knowledge and said that the supervisor had not spoken to him about the misdelivered package—but did say, vaguely, that he “might have seen a note about it.”  The carrier did say that at 2:43 pm he was most likely on Park Avenue, the next street over. Greg asked him to look for the package but noted a distinct lack of commitment for resolving the problem in the carrier’s response.

Then Joan, the one with the memory in our family, brought it to our attention that several times in the past mail had been misdelivered to a house with the same number as ours, but on another street, Chestnut. Maybe the package was there? With hope in our hearts we went to that house and knocked on the door. No packages visible. No answer to our knock.  We were stymied again.

Another several days passed. Finally, about a week after the supposed delivery, we decided that Lil Bub had gone postal and disappeared forever. Greg ordered a replacement Lil Bub, this time from Amazon since The Bub Store online was temporarily closed for revamping. Our plush would appear, as scheduled, two days later on our doorstep (United Parcel Service) with no problem. The saga of Lil Bub was over.

Or so we thought.  On Sunday January 11, about nine days from the botched delivery, we decided to go grocery shopping. We turned out of our driveway and proceeded to the intersection of Prospect and West Main. We turned right. A car following us turned right. We went down to the next street, Chestnut, turned right and decided to take another quick look for our missing package. The car following us turned right with us. We passed the house where we suspected our package might be, slowed down, looked, but saw no one at home. We then proceeded to turn right on Bryce. The car behind us turned right on Bryce. Quick on the uptake, we realized were being tailed! Several worst case scenarios flashed through our minds.

Greg asked, “What is that car doing?”

Joan replied, “He’s pulling alongside, let him pass!”

Greg stopped the car, suspicious and wary. The car behind us pulled alongside and then stopped in the middle of the street. For a brief moment puzzled glances were exchanged with the stranger. The stranger then rolled down his window and asked:

“Do you live at 167 North Prospect?”

Still puzzled, we nodded in the affirmative.

“I think I have something of yours.”

He exited his car and handed a package containing one plush Lil Bub in through the window and into Joan’s waiting arms. She had indeed been delivered to the house that Joan had suspected all along, but to the rear of the house and not the front. We had knocked on the wrong door earlier. Lil Bub’s savior had thought the package was his daughter’s and had put it aside until she came home after the New Year. Mystery solved (although why this never occurred to our mail carrier is beyond us).

Lil Bub came home with Joan. That evening her twin, the replacement Lil Bub, also appeared. We now had a surfeit of Lil Bubs. Interestingly, this overabundance of Bubs seemed not to bother Joan at all. Quite the opposite.

Both now reside in and on our bed and have been renamed Lille (Norwegian for “Little”) and Katt (Norwegian for “Cat” in honor of Holly Golightly’s feline friend). All is right with the world. What was lost is now found, thanks to a gracious neighbor and good fortune. No thanks to the United States Postal Service and our local Post Office who had, quite obviously, been content to let Lil Bub go postal.

We encourage you to visit Lil Bub at http://lilbub.com/ to read about this real-life precious cat. A portion of all purchases at The Bub Store goes to a fund for special needs pets. It is a site worth supporting.

Theo Theokitos, Valued Feline Postal Service Customer

Theo Theokitos

Theo Theokitos reading his junk mail. Courtesy of The Seattle Times, November 11, 2009.

There aren’t really any proven ways to achieve immortality. Various religions propose myriad means for achieving some kind of life after death, but no one has returned from beyond the veil to confirm or deny their efficacy.

We do believe that one can achieve a pseudo life after death using the capacious and apparently un-forgetting databases of the various commercial enterprises, charities and political parties that use the United States Postal Service – also the topic of yesterday’s blog!

One of the weirdest things about mail is that even death can’t keep it from being delivered to you at “your last known address.” We have experienced this phenomenon first hand. Over the years we have handled a variety of affairs for Joan’s dad, mom and brother, using our home as an official address. As a result we have continued to receive mail in their names, although they are now deceased. No amount of phone calling, emailing and letter writing can dissuade an alumni organization or a charity that their intended communicant is, in fact, an ex-communicant.  Our loved ones continue on in a kind of postal shadow life receiving letters and requests they can never answer.

The mail does not discriminate in its attempt at resurrection; all life forms are eligible for postal preservation. Some years ago there was a cat named Theo Theokitos who started receiving junk mail at his home in Wenatchee, Washington in 1992. His owner had submitted a rebate for cat food in Theo’s name. Once the marketing industry had Theo’s name and address, immortality was assured. Theo became a target for junk mail, mail that kept coming long after he died in 1999. If you’re interested in Theo’s story, here’s the link:

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2010245957_junkmail11.html

Junk mail is, indeed,  a proven form of life after death.  If only Theo could have left a forwarding address!

 

Mr. Gregory Shreve, Official Starfleet Officer

Starfleet Officer

That’s Commander Shreve to you!

 

Today’s story on cbsnews.com about a Brooklyn woman receiving mail sent 45 years ago, if true, raises some questions about where those three pieces of mail have been all these years. See  (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/brooklyn-woman-gets-45-year-old-letters-from-loved-ones-in-the-mail/). Nevertheless, it got us thinking about how mail has changed over our lifetime.

By the time you hit the sixty year mark, you have received thousands of pieces of mail. Maybe that figure isn’t even close to the real total. Back in the Sixties the mail we received was a different mix from what is dumped through our mail slot today. For one thing, we got more letters from family and friends than we do now. Long distance phone calls were expensive. There were no emails, SnapChats, text messaging, and cell phones with unlimited talk plans. So we all relied more on letters to stay in touch.

Back then, whenever the two of us were apart we wrote one another almost every day. Joan still has many of the letters that Greg wrote to her. We don’t know, however, if any of Joan’s letters survived the test of time!

When we were first married in the early Seventies, we used to receive all our bills in the mail. There was no online banking or automatic payment, so we had to do things the old-fashioned way and put checks in the mail. Like they do today, magazines and packages arrived at our doors via the post office. But now, due to online purchasing and the fact that we are not as poor as we were back then, we receive more packages.  On the other hand, because we do more online reading, we receive fewer magazines. There were mail order clubs just like there are today, but mail order record clubs, of course, are now a thing of the past.

It seems like the content of the junk mail we get has pretty much stayed the same through the years. Political ads and pleas for campaign money, marketing ploys, scams, donation requests, coupon mailers, catalogs, we got them all. We still get them all! Publishers Clearing House was sending its “you could be a winner” sweepstakes entries our way even back then. We don’t remember when those pesky “pre-approved” credit card applications started arriving, but we didn’t get them in our early years of married life (perhaps because we were poverty-stricken!).

In fact, when we were first married, we had to actively initiate applications for credit cards.  Our first attempt was with JC Penney, and the company turned us down flat. Greg was in graduate school (a no-prospects scholar, apparently), and Joan was working full-time at a low paying job. We guess we weren’t considered good credit risks.  As a result, a testimony to our long memories and grudge-holding, we never got into the habit of shopping much at Penney’s and don’t, even to this day. Our first credit card was a Master Card.

Over the years we’ve gotten some pretty strange stuff in the mail. In 1997 Greg (that’s Commander Shreve to you!) got an “OFFICIAL STARFLEET OFFICER I.D. CARD” from the Columbia House Company. Pretty awesome! Our young son Justin, always older than his years, received an AARP card with his name on it and an invitation to become a member. When our middle daughter Kristyn was in high school, Joan started to receive invites to apply to various colleges and universities. Joan even got mail from the military, asking her to join up. We think all that came about because Joan, using her own name, had purchased clothes for our daughter through some online clothing companies that targeted teenagers.

Sometimes the mail we have received has been unintentionally cruel. After our first son Jesse died because he was born prematurely, Joan received an invitation to a new mother’s tea at St. Clair Hospital in Pittsburgh where he had been delivered. After Joan’s father died from complications due to Alzheimer’s about a decade ago, mail began to arrive addressed to him requesting a donation to a popular Alzheimer’s charity.

When we read about the current financial difficulties of the Post Office and hear about possible cutbacks in service (good-bye Saturday delivery), we wonder about the future of the Service. Will it become another casualty of the modern age, replaced by email, digital delivery, and ubiquitous Amazon drones?