ZHU: Peace at the post office

There’s something about Monday mornings: so peaceful, so crisp. There’s the lazy allowance of a few extra, savory moments lying in bed, surrounded by the silence of Old Campus. It’s peaceful — except where the post office is concerned. Students line up before Yale Station even opens, hoping to beat the rush to pick up packages that will ensue later that day.

My roommate checked both of our P.O. boxes practically every day for the first two weeks of school, a ritual perfected for receiving an important package. At first she’d get most of my mail, mostly textbooks from Amazon, finding the enigmatic yellow slips calling for parcel window pickup. Thinking it could be her package (we shared a box while she was getting her’s set up), she waited in line for it. But it was my book. Again. And again. (They really should label on the slip what package it is.) You would think picking up mail would be easy, maybe a matter of minutes. But lines at this parcel window were a matter of forty minutes. My roommate eventually became so frustrated waiting in line for me that she would just text me about my mail. Frankly, I was surprised she had been willing to stand in line all three times before that.

So on an innocuous Monday morning, I ventured to the post office for the first time myself. I was already wary of its reputation of inefficiency and slowness; I waited over an hour to set up my P.O. box itself earlier in the month. I chose a time I thought the post office would be emptier, braced myself and opened the door near L-Dub. Even then, the line stretched down the hall and up the stairs leading to the entrance. I reluctantly joined the back of the line, clutching my yellow slip, but as a freshman, still eager to receive my first package at Yale. I waited thirty minutes that Monday. That day, there were two people working the counter, which as I came to realize, was truly a privilege.

The next Monday, I returned to find the line the same length. Not in the mood to wait, I returned a few hours later to find the line the same as before, and this time begrudgingly joined the back. I made a mental note to check mail on a different weekday. I tried Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to no avail. The line remained as constant as the rhythmic snoring of the guy sitting behind me in lecture last Wednesday.

Once, I brought an orange with me to eat, thinking I could occupy myself through the wait. The line moved up maybe three or four people by the time I’d finished peeling and eating (while balancing the leftover peel and orange seeds in one hand, a somewhat odd endeavor). I started making friends, albeit temporarily, with the people behind me, groaning about the lassitude of standing so long, spewing expletives whenever a new surge of impatience hit.

The post office is so notorious for its inefficiency that Yale students have begun actively wondering how to improve it, taking to Facebook to suggest complete student takeover. The administration has kept the post office open longer the past week to allow more time to pick up mail, but that really just means more time available to stand in line.

But on the other hand, the inefficiency has a positive side. It gives a chance to stop our days, to relax in the monotony of knowing there is nothing else we can accomplish in that very moment other than to just be. For my first couple weeks, it gave me something to talk about with the not-so-strange-anymore-strangers at the dinner table. It gives us a small chance to bond, and is probably an irretrievable aspect of the Yale college experience. On Monday, when I’m unhurriedly readjusting to the routine for the week, I add the post office to my to-do list wearily, but also, optimistically.

Cathy Zhu is a freshman in Branford College. Contact her at cathy.zhu@yale.edu.

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