Wednesday, March 10, 2004

P.O. blog.

Went to the Haymarket Station Post Office today, and wondered on the walk back about the future of the post offices. Will they vanish as completely as whaling stations someday, victim of e-mail and Web logs like this one? Maybe not, since I went to the p.o. today to mail a box, something that can't be sent electronically.

You can imagine a future in which the libertarians have taken over -- so to speak -- and instead of post offices, the likes of Fedex and UPS are all we have. They would busy themselves consolidating, eventually forming a monopoly-like cartel of privately owned delivery services... which would function like the post office, but not necessarily be any better, and possibly more expensive, while cutting service to areas without enough volume.

Just a thought. I don't want to see it happen, since I think the post office should be a quasi-public utility. I've never disliked the USPS the way some people do. It could, of course, be more efficient, and cheaper, but it isn't particularly inefficient or expensive. Compare it to: Japan and Britain for expense, or Canada and Italy for efficiency; I think the USPS does all right by those comparisons. Of course, a place like Germany might be have a better and cheaper post office. All that means is the USPS ought to hire German consultants.

Besides, I like some post office buildings, especially the older ones, and the ones with that WPA flavor to them. The Uptown p.o. in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago is a little run down, like the neighborhood itself, but it’s got some fine WPA murals inside. The Miami Beach p.o., which I've mentioned before (January 23), not only had a (dry) water fountain inside, but also History of Florida murals that depicted Indians and Spaniards with great style, but in a way that probably wouldn't pass muster these days.

But my favorite post office isn't part of the USPS. It's the main post office in Saigon, Ho Chi Mihn City if you prefer, at least as it was in 1994. It was a remarkably preserved piece of colonial architecture, yellow outside, with an enormous vaulted ceiling inside. It looked like the French had just stepped out, but it was also unmistakably Vietmanese: inside, a big portrait Uncle Ho looked down on everyone.


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