While the nation convulses at the thought of bioterrorists commandeering its junk mail, it is business as usual at Yale Station. An hour from closing time, the only emergency on the clerks’ minds seems to be the fact that they’re running low on Fed-Ex envelopes.
Just last Friday, operations in a North Haven post office ground to a screaming halt when powder was found in a mail bin. Only after employees had been evacuated did it prove to be a false alarm.
Panic had touched campus earlier in the day when a parcel addressed only to the Morse College Master’s Office prompted police to close the area for several hours, before it was found to contain nothing more threatening than an antique iron.
But if terrorism has really burst the Yale bubble and struck fear and reality into the tree-lined quads, it is far from evident here. There are no special precautions. There is no anthrax-testng in post office boxes and no package checking in the back room.
But Roger Loiseau, who weighs and stamps packages behind the front desk, is washing his hands more these days.
With the threat of airmail anthrax affecting everyone with a zip code, even Yale’s shady corner of 06520 may not be immune. Yet, students and postal workers below ground on Old Campus are resolved not to let terrorism upset their prompt receival of time-dated mailings from Yale Information Technology Services.
“I got a little freaked out initially,” said Paige Atkinson ’04, one of 11 people in line to mail a package at 4 p.m. Monday.
“But I only get phone bills from Yale, and I doubt they’re out to get me, so I’m not that worried about it,” she said.
The dogma of Yale’s untouchability has yet to be discredited. Some say they are just being pragmatic, that the anthrax scare has been unnecessarily inflated. Others skimmed Linda Lorimer’s e-mail and didn’t give it another thought before counting their expired Blockbuster coupons and heading to dinner.
Shari Gottlieb ’03 hesitated momentarily before opening her box and then turned the key to find an innocuous stack of fliers. Bioterror isn’t going to interrupt her daily routine.
“It is my understanding that it is in envelopes, not placed in your P.O. Box loose,” said Gottlieb. “Had I seen an envelope I didn’t recognize, I wouldn’t have opened it. But nothing here triggered the ‘Uh oh. Maybe there’s anthrax in this’ response.”
Matt Nicholas ’04, received a “12-cds-if-you-buy-four-at-regular-club-prices” offer in his box. He said he was not concerned; it was likely just the record company and discount pop music trying to infect him.
Lawson White, a first-year student in the School of Music, said he had heard rumors that anthrax powder was found in the main branch of the New Haven postal service, but that he had to come in anyway, to send in his taxes.
“You think about it,” he said. “But you can’t really be scared of it because you don’t know what to be scared of.”
So it’s business as usual at the Yale post office as employees fired off comments in between dealings with the flood of customers an hour before they got to go home.
“People are mailing things, the front desk is checking for leaks,” said John Settle, who spent the day taking yellow slips and retrieving packages. “But they haven’t given us any special instructions for checking incoming packages.”
Another postal worker, wearing a weightlifting belt and unloading Banana Republic, Victoria’s Secret, and mom and dad care packages onto shelves said everyone is more conscious of suspicious packages now but that no one seems to be nervous.
And at the front desk, in blue and white post office uniforms, they talk about the injustice, the idle concern and the reality of terrorism.
“I’m nervous dealing with mail all day,” said Loiseau from his perch on the postal service ladder. “It’s just a real shame they’re targeting the post office. We’re just innocent workers trying to help out the public, and we have to be victimized by this.”
–Staff Reporter James Collins contributed to this article, with additional reporting by Gabriel Arana.