The Night Mail

PostofficeYou know, there’s supposed to be an old British documentary called “The Night Mail.” I think that’s the title. About an overnight mail train. I’ve never seen it; it’s supposed to be a classic. But that’s not what I’m referring to here. Rather, it’s the arrival of today’s mail at 7 p.m. This after getting no mail yesterday (a regular delivery day despite the proximity to Veterans Day). And no mail on Saturday, which was Veterans Day. I got calls from neighbors the last couple of nights wondering what was going on.

I heard our mailbox open and went out to the porch before the mailperson, who was other than male, had departed.

“Boy,” I said cheerfully. “You guys are having a rough time. What happened to the mail yesterday?”

“The guy who had the route yesterday–I don’t think he had a flashlight,” the mailperson said. She scurried into the dark before I could fully process that. Didn’t have a flashlight? Yeah, sure, a flashlight would be nice if you’re out after dark. But since when did it become a requirement for finishing a mail route in the middle of a semi-lighted city?

“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” I’m one of many under the mistaken impression that these words were written with a United States postal agency in mind. The words paraphrase Herodotus, who was describing a Persian courier system of the 5th century B.C. Those guys knew how to deliver a message. The mistaken impression arises from the fact Herodotus’s words are inscribed on Manhattan’s old General Post Office

(a totally neoclassical pile if ever there was one).

Memo to Berkeley P.O.: Neither Herodotus nor his American translator mention anything about artificial lighting. No torches, electric or pre-electric. If you trust the Greek, the Persians were uncowed by undispelled night-time gloom. And you know, from a customer standpoint, I’m not even asking for “swift completion” of the appointed rounds; just plain old unmodified “completion” would do fine.

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