New Neighborhood Voice

Making the Case for Neighborhood Mailboxes

by Judy Thompson

 (Reprinted from the San Jose Mercury News Opinion page, March 12, 2002)

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Another mailbox bit the dust. One day last month, the Alum Rock Village collection box which had stood just outside the little produce store on the corner, was unbolted from its brackets and carried away to the U.S. Postal Service's graveyard for superfluous equipment. There it joined what must be thousands of brother boxes including the box that, until a few years ago, stood a half mile up Alum Rock Avenue in front of the California PEO home. That was the box which the home's elderly lady residents used to visit to mail their lavender-scented letters to their loved ones far away. The proximity of the box gave the ladies an easy destination to walk to and a little extra purpose to their day.

There used to be a lot of mailboxes. Every neighborhood had one. People would walk to their corner mailbox and tuck in their outgoing mail (jiggling the lid briskly to make sure nothing got stuck, of course) and feel good about their little jaunt in the fresh air. The mail truck would come to each neighborhood every day and the mailman would take the letters from the box to the post office. It was The American Way.

There has been a steady erosion of the accessible mailbox supply. I'm sure there used to be several collection boxes in my neighborhood here near Alum Rock Park. But not today. With the PEO Home box gone, the closest mailbox is a two mile walk or drive down the hill and, with the Alum Rock Village box gone, there are no longer any mailboxes on the north side of the street.

The lack of mailboxes may not sound like such a big deal and one might wonder why that whiney Mrs. Thompson doesn't just put her letters "out" and put up the red flag on her mailbox so the mailman will take her mail to the post office on his return trip. Mrs. Thompson got good and burned doing almost exactly this! However, she was crafty enough not to hoist her mailbox flag so as to advertise that her mailbox was full of tantalizing stuff. Mail thieves are having their way with the mail belonging to folks na´ve enough to put it out for the mailman to take. Even if the red flag is never raised!

Twice last summer, thieves emptied Mrs. Thompson's mailbox of the outgoing mail. Each time the thieves stole the checks and altered them to suit their thievish needs. One check written to pay $100 to Dr. Bench the dentist, was bleached out and changed to pay $950 to "Ryan D. Davidson." The bank which cashed the check for "Ryan" was careful to have him ink his thumb print on the check - just in case he wasn't who he said he was - before they handed over the $950. Ryan is still at large, inky thumb and all, no doubt blessing the Postal Service for removing the neighborhood mailboxes and providing easy pickings for knavish fellows like himself.

Back in ancient times when postage to mail a letter was 3 cents and post cards crossed the country for a penny, before the Post Office became the Postal "Service," somehow neighborhood mailboxes were provided and maintained and emptied at least daily and the postal people didn't moan around about needing a few more cents per letter every whipstitch. But hey, don't let cranky Mrs. Thompson get started on that!

Copyrightę 2002, 2003 by Judy Thompson.  All rights reserved.

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