Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Literally Colorful Office

Here's a purple post office, courtesy of redwood country in California. Presenting Phillipsville, CA!:

Monday, November 22, 2010

For the record...

Since another post office enthusiast and photographic archivist -- indeed, a former Postmaster himself -- was recently harassed by a Postmaster in Missouri while taking a photograph of her post office (and given the experiences detailed in two previous posts), I feel compelled to specify what the laws (and postal regulations) say about post office photography.

On the issue of [exterior] post office photography:

So long as one is on public property, one may take photographs of whatever you please -- including federal buildings such as U.S. Post Offices. If that were prohibited, then Google Street View images would be blacked out around such facilities. You should see the high-resolution stuff they've got in Manhattan!

Nobody has the right to inspect any photographs you take from public property. The only exception is if law enforcement has probable cause to suspect that your photography is directly involved with some nefarious activity. (a.k.a. They have a specific reason to assume you're a terrorist.)

The only situation I can conceive for which that would apply to exterior postal photography is if one sits in the woods behind a post office, recording the activity of the trucks and the carriers for eight hours. THAT's kind of suspicious. Taking photos of the front? That's absolutely fine.

Photography policy: inside post offices...

Postal Operations Manual
§ 124.58 Photographs for News, Advertising, or Commercial Purposes
Photographs for news purposes may be taken in entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors, or auditoriums when used for public meetings, except as prohibited by official signs, the directions of postal police officers, other authorized personnel, or a federal court order or rule. Other photographs may be taken only with the permission of the local postmaster or installation head.

(So yes, you can be restricted from taking photographs inside post offices, even just of murals, and even if it's just for archival purposes. If they do allow you to do so, they have the right to set whatever restrictions they so choose. Let's just hope they're friendlier and better informed than some of the places I've recently visited, then!)

P.S. In the case of the post office in Missouri, the Postmaster yelled at my friend, declared that his reason for taking a photo of the post office ("It's my hobby.") wasn't good enough, and copied down his license plate number to report to law enforcement. Of course, absolutely nothing became of that since she had no right to pull that garbage to begin with.

1,500 Post Offices

It took about 24 hours of work spanning six days, but I recently made an Excel spreadsheet documenting all the post offices I've ever visited. Including experience notes! (Such as: beautiful office; friendly/nasty Postmaster/clerk; exceptional postmark; arrived just before closing; etc.)

For the most part it was easy to keep track of where I've been, because I've taken photographs of most post offices I've visited (including all since late 2009); and the postmarks in my collection tell me what day I visited any office!

There is the issue of "postmark prehistory", however: what post offices did I visit in my younger years? My father took us [mom and I] to various offices while we were on vacation. My threshold for visiting is thus: I explicitly recall visiting a particular office (with my memory possibly jolted by a postmark I see in our boxes); or I had an interaction with the facility once I started venturing out on my own. That is, I took a photograph of the facility or obtained the postmark (or left a note and materials if it was closed, requesting such); or both.

Every post office I've visited since 2008 is explicitly documented, though it's possible I will be adding more office visits from my younger years. Nonetheless, for the time being I've established the 1,500th post office that I've visited: Atlantic Beach, New York, at the southeast corner of Nassau County.

(If I remember more, 1,500 could migrate to Long Beach, NY, or Island Park; Oceanside; or other offices I visited on Friday the 19th. But let's stick with this.)

The Atlantic Beach post office is, unfortunately, characterless in terms of signage; but it did have a nice four-bar (one of about four I've seen on Long Island) and a black dater with "New York" written out. Class act!

This is the Atlantic Beach Post Office:

Perhaps the most photogenic office on my Nov. 19th "run" was that in Freeport, NY: a beautiful WPA (Depression-era) office complete with vertical murals inside. I took this photo before sunset, and the light struck the fa├žade beautifully:

Unfortunately, that afternoon I also experienced two troublesome offices in terms of documenting their murals for the PMCC Museum. One Postmaster claimed that the authority to allow picture-taking was stripped from him "after 9/11" -- which is false. He insisted that I get written permission from the Long Island District office (which I then got later that afternoon). So, if I'm ever again in the area for some reason I can go back and take a photo. Another insisted I schedule an appointment so I wouldn't interfere with/get customers in my photograph. Which is a legitimate thing to stipulate, though it would be an absolute pain in the butt because that's a 45-minute drive from where I live.

Fortunately, after discussing this for a while at that second office, the customer line whittled away and I was allowed to take photos -- once I gave my driver's license to the supervisor, who then wrote down my license number and held onto it while I took my photos, until I let him inspect every photograph I took of the murals inside the office. Oy.

So once again, from my experiences I must declare the New York metropolitan area to be the least conducive to collectors in the country. Although there are competent people at higher levels in each of the District offices, where it really counts.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Now Serving Number 59.

I've visited three post offices in which waiting customers don't just stand in line; they take a number and get called up to be "served"! Just like a New York deli. Has anyone else witnessed this before? And if so, is this system more prevalent in certain postal districts / areas of the country?

(I can't take photos of the system in action, for obvious reasons. But it's interesting to see people standing around the lobby and checking out the Hallmark cards / philatelic sections of these offices, or sitting and writing letters, while waiting "in line". Might this system even boost auxiliary sales?)

Gainesville, Florida: General Mail Facility [retail station]

Monday, November 15, 2010

Southern HoPOSTALity

Here are shots of a few nice offices from my 2009 summer road trip to the southern U.S. (wherein I visited 247 POs over three weeks).

Post office in Cecil, Georgia [pronounced SEE-sil].

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Brooklyn, NY: Another Nice Touch

Especially in large cities, there are postal facilities that aren't for customers. They go by various names in different parts of the country, but in the Northeast we call them Carrier Annexes. They're the places where postal carriers for certain communities are based.

[In Oregon, they have DCUs -- Detached Carrier Units; some go by other designations as well.]

The coolest carrier annex I've seen is in Brooklyn, NY: the Ryder Carrier Annex. It formerly held the retail operations for the community, but the "finance" operations moved three blocks down to a new facility. The old building features two full-wall murals by a Long Island artist named Bonnie Siracusa (who also painted a mural of the Brooklyn Dodgers inside the new Ryder Station post office).
Rear: 'U.S. Post Office Ryder Station Salutes America's Birthday.'

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fairfield, OH: A Nice Touch

The Fairfield, Ohio post office [a branch of Hamilton], north of Cincinnati, did something nice for its community's 50th year of incorporation: it had five large murals painted on its front and side, documenting some aspects of the pre-/history of the town.

Here are a few more images [click the thumbnails to enlarge]:
'1955-2005: Our Golden Year'

Another interesting thing about this office: It features a drive-through stamp window! It's no longer in use, but this was the third I've seen (after Laconia, NH: Lakeside Station, and Moultonborough, NH). P.S. Those 'bricks' you see on the side of the building? They're actually painted on.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Post Office Signage and Community Identity

Part of the joy of driving through rural areas lies in the distinctiveness of their post offices. Current USPS policy involves attempting to homogenize [albeit slowly] the look of most post offices in the country toward standardized, characterless blue-and-white signage. Nearly all areas of the country are affected to some degree (usually, such signage replacements occur during the renovation or replacement of offices); but fortunately, many post offices still sport their unique character with wonderful, distinctive signs. Some are hand-painted and others hand-carved into wood. Here are a few of my favorites:
Wonderful wood-carved and hand-painted signage; Murray, Iowa.

One of USPS's greatest assets lies in rural communities' connection to their small-town post offices. Such are not only places at which residents pick up their mail; they frequently serve as community gathering sites and, most importantly, marks of town identity and pride. Yes -- this means that in some parts of the country, people actually don't hate visiting the Post Office! The Postmaster of Muncie, Illinois, remarked to me one afternoon how the town of 200 had no grocery stores and no school, but ("golly") they had a post office! It's what defined them as a community.

It is the author's opinion that the removal of markings of local identity on such a community asset, in favor of those of a nationalized "brand" (akin to McDonald's), is wasteful and pointless. And frankly, it makes visiting these places a lot less enjoyable.

Below, generic post offices with new signage that do nothing toward promoting a sense of community identity. Or, as I like to refer to this segment of my post, "Let's play a round of 'Where the Heck is This?' ":
Where the heck is this? Answer: Maumee, Ohio.

So: which do you prefer?