Friday, March 9, 2012

Going Postal

I maybe cried in a Staples earlier this week.

Approximate portrait of me. Minus TV.  
Now, it was just a few glistening drops of self-pity (yes, I looked like the girl in the "First World Problems" memes), but still. It was sad. Why, you ask, was I so distraught? Passport renewal difficulties.

As with most things run by the government, the hours you can renew your passport make it nearly impossible for people with a job to make it to the office. From 10 AM—4 PM, Mon—Fri, you're allowed to come by and take your chances with fortune's wheel (recently renamed "the bureaucracy").

I tried going right at 10, before class, and, in a moment of high-stakes stupidity, I forgot to bring my driver's license. This meant I would have to go back during the lunch hour. Fail on my end.

Lunch came. I gathered my things, and dashed over to a post office a couple of blocks away. I waited in line. I got to the window. The guy told me that, despite the infinite knowledge offered up by the interwebs, that particular branch was not doing passports on that particular day (for no particular reason), and I would have to go to the main branch. Whee.

The main branch was two long blocks away. I went quickly. The main branch, unlike most post offices, looks like someone other than an ex-Soviet designed it, so I was looking forward to that. I entered the majestic building, hopped in line, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And for almost two hours, I waited.

I read every email in every inbox.

I played Words with Friends.

I looked at the cracks in the ceiling.

I joined the rebel forces in line who were angry at all the random people who kept being allowed to cut by the postal workers.

I realized why people "go postal."

I really wished I had brought my lunch, as my blood sugar levels dropped dangerously near "emotional and irrational."

Finally, my turn. There was a couple standing outside the line, looking ready to dart. No way, I thought. It's my turn. I shimmied up to the window, and the lady yelled at me, because she hadn't called for me. I asked her where I should stand to be called. She said "in line." My future life began to flash before my eyes ... I'd never eat another meal. I wouldn't finish college. I'd just wither away, standing in that awful line, not being called forward.

After a million years (give or take 15 minutes) I got up there. I started laying all my stuff out quickly, hoping that I wouldn't turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of 1:45 or something. I got everything squared away, only to be told I had to make a photocopy of my ID.

"Where do I do that?" I nicely asked the mean lady who had yelled at me earlier. "35th and 8th. There's a Staples." She said I could come back and not wait in line (solving the mystery of all those line-cutters earlier). Off I went—cursing the country that gave the world the incandescent lightbulb, put man on the moon, and created the Taco Bell drive-thru, but couldn't run a line for passport renewals.

I rushed, only to find that this Staples had no working color copier, and no working self-service black and white copier. This is like walking into a bakery to find out they're no longer carrying bread. I almost went to another Staples, but instead, I turned around and marched back into that one. After the guy tried twice to fix the broken self-service copier, he just walked away. Classy. I went to the desk so they could copy it for me, and I waited. And waited. And no one would help me.

I succumbed. To my lack of blood sugar, to the emotional rawness of waiting in line and being yelled at for thinking it was your turn, to the knowledge of all the money I wasn't making (this adventure was during the time I was supposed to be an hourly employee), to the whole SYSTEM. I felt more vulnerable and exposed than Angelina Jolie's right leg on Oscar night. My eyes welled with tears, and NO ONE EVEN NOTICED.

It's a bad day when crying in a Staples doesn't do anything.

I finally asked in my most pitiful voice if someone (like one of the four employees not doing anything) could help me. They did. I went back to the post office, dropped off my stuff, and went back to work and ate my lunch.

I learned why government-run things are wildly inefficient. NO ONE CARES. There is absolutely no incentive to move people through faster. So they don't. There's no ownership, no rewards system for outstanding employees, nothing to incentivize people to help nice co-eds get their passports renewed.

For the record, it's not like government is the only place where things are run badly. No one was running that Staples very well, either. That said, I was at three post offices in one day, and had to wait to be helped in all of them. I have, however, been in Staples with working copiers.

Yes, the free market can have its upsets and copy/office stores with broken copy machines. But all in all, I'd rather not give the government more control over more of my life. Why would I want healthcare to feel like the post office (or the DMV, for that matter)? Give me my Taco Bell drive-thrus—just don't tell Michelle Obama. Otherwise I'll have to fill out a form to eat something other than broccoli.

I had a miserable experience with government services in:
Black sequined dress, black blazer, black tights, long strand of pearls, cubic zirconia studs, black and silver cocktail ring, and black close-toe stilettos with bow detailing.