Have I mentioned my new book? Well, my new book is a bomb. Or so the United States Postal Service fears because it weighs slightly more than a pound. As many of you know — and possibly because of our good friend The Unabomber — one can no longer drop a book or anything else in the mail if it weighs more than a pound. All that advertising about "priority mail" for up to 2 pounds at just $3? Well, that’s fine, but if I drop my book in the mail to someone priority mail, it comes back to me with a notice that any item weighing more than a pound must either have a postage-meter strip (presumably so they can trace the source of the postage if it has not been blown to smithereens) or else be handed to a postal employee at the post office personally, during postal business hours.
That means walking or driving to the post office, waiting in line, and walking or driving back. Hellooooooooooo Fedex!
(What with the potential of the Internet to eliminate the middleman — but not the physical delivery — I recommended FedEx a couple of times in this space 18 months ago when the stock was half its current price. It’s a much less compelling buy now, having doubled, but it does remain intriguing: FedEx is efficient. And unlike UPS, its stock is publicly traded.)
Is the idea that letter bombers, having decided to kill or maim someone and having built a bomb to do it — not a decision taken casually — will get to the mailbox, see they have to go to the counter, and give up? (Yes, the lines at the Post Office are long, but they’re not that long.) Might not someone this heinous be able to steal a $3 strip of postage from some mail room? Or just go to the Post Office, as I did, and mail the thing?
As best I could tell, no dogs sniffed me or my book as I handed it over; no X-ray machine radiated it; no camera homed in on the address label and then my face. So in what way was this package made safe by my having to waste half an hour taking it to the Post Office?
Here’s my free-market suggestion. Let’s X-ray any packages above a pound that are left in postal drop-boxes. Any found to be bombs would be destroyed; the other 99.99999999% could be sent on to their destinations. To cover the cost, let’s add a $1 surcharge to the rate for packages left in drop-boxes. Wouldn’t you like the option of paying an extra $1 to save half an hour? And couldn’t this become a nice little profit center for the Post Office? Win-win. We save time, they make a profit.
Or here’s another way to do it. Why not have the Post Office offer $3 meter strips, or "registered" stamps, to people like me who have no postage meter. You could go and buy 10 or 20 at a time, paying with a credit card and showing a photo ID. The computer would match your credit card to the numbers on the meter strips or the special serial-numbered stamps, so the package could be traced back to you just as if it had come from your own Pitney Bowes. You’d still have to go to the Post Office in person to buy a new batch when you ran out, but nine times out of ten, you’d just affix one of these babies to your package and off it would go.
Just a suggestion.
Incidentally, Amazon.com is now selling the book for 40% OFF — or was last week, anyway. I was so excited, I bought ten more. Now I have to figure out a way to mail them.
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