Monday, April 16, 2007

No Way To Run A Railroad

I was at the post office (or actually, post offices) over the weekend to mail my tax payment. Not my tax return - that was done electronically - but my estimated tax payment for 2007. I never get the withholding correct, and so I end up having to write a big check in April and then quarterly checks the rest of the year.

However, I needed a stamp. I almost never keep stamps around the house, since I use them so infrequently. When I need a stamp, I usually buy one from the office, but this was on the weekend, so I actually needed to get one from the post office.

At the first post office I stopped at, there were three stamp machines. One of them was completely out-of-order, another one was 75% sold out, and the third did not sell single 39-cent stamps. I could buy twenty stamps (which would probably be about a five-year supply, except for the inevitable rate increases), but not one.

So I left. This post office was near the store I was at, and there was another one back in the direction of my house.

The second post office also had three stamp machines. Two of them were out-of-order. There was an old lady at the third, feeding in dollar bills and coins that were repeatedly rejected. The machine would reject a quarter, and then later accept the same quarter. The same thing with bills. This lady was trying to get five stamps, but couldn't get more than one dollar successfully fed into the machine. So she decided to settle for two stamps - upon which the machine notified her that it would not return change amounts less than one dollar. So she would be paying 50 cents for each stamp, rather than 39 cents, with the rest "donated" to the post office. After much trying and retrying, I managed to insert enough change to get the total up to $1.56, which was enough to get her three stamps, plus one for me.

Across America, there are probably tens of thousands of vending machines of all types - sodas, chips, sandwiches - hell, even things like cell phones. The owners of these machines generally try to keep them in working order, because a broken machine is a machine that is not generating income. Not so for the post office, which, like many government organizations, does not need to worry about things like profitability, customer satisfaction, and so on - because they have a government-enforced monopoly.

Most people already turn their children over to organizations like this to teach their children, and they'd like nothing better than to put them in charge of all aspects of our health care. Just amazing.

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