Most of the stories are the stuff of urban legends. A cache of undelivered letters found in a postman’s home. Bundles of mail burned under a bridge. Birthday cards that never arrived.
Of course, in Chicago, this stuff is not only believable, it is often true. Beyond the annoyances of finding last week’s Time Out in the mailbox or wading through mountains of discarded rubber bands the mail carrier couldn’t be bothered to discard (or reuse?), there are times when it seems like the USPS in Chicago just doesn’t care.
Like it is one giant Dead Letter Office.
Among the myriad logistical details to cover before we left Chicago was what to do about our mail delivery this year. While we canceled every magazine and catalog we could think of, and made sure we could pay all critical bills online, we knew that there would still be important letters coming through. Or, at least that should be coming through.
Though jaded by years of mail fails, we nevertheless made a special trip to the main postal facility, Cardiss Collins, to inquire about international forwarding.
“Hi. We are moving to South Africa for one year. Can we have our mail forwarded there?”
“How do we do that?”
“Uh, ya gotta fill out the form.”
“Just one, or one for each of us?”
We found the forms in a dingy cubby and began to fill them out. They were like mini standardized tests on postcards, with dozens of loose coupons for moving companies, car rental services and storage facilities. We entered our names and the forwarding start/stop dates into the tiny squares. All black. ALL CAPS.
But, wait. There’s no place to enter information about the address in the foreign country. We are not moving to South Carolina or South Dakota, we are moving to South Africa.
We took the forms back to the counter. “There’s nothing here about forwarding to a foreign country,” we said. “And our forwarding address is a bit complicated. How should we do this?”
“Just put the whole address on there. It will be fine,” they said.
So we did.
“OK, it’s all here,” we declared, handing over the completed forms. “Will there be confirmation?”
“Yeah, should be.”
And that, naively, is where we left it.
But you’re smart…you know our transaction sounds too good to be true. And you’re right. Not one piece of mail has been forwarded thus far. Or, at least nothing has arrived.
Now, mail sent from the US directly to Jenny’s university address does trickle through. Among the cards and letters from family, and a bill from our storage company (that we pay electronically anyway), was a notice from Jenny’s doctor in Chicago. Although clearly addressed to Jenny at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, you can see that the piece was initially…
…MISSENT TO JAMAICA.
Yeah, your guess is as good as ours.
What we know is that the letter left Chicago on or around July 26 and arrived in Pretoria around October 10.
What we don’t know:
- Whether the letter heard Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock” upon arrival in Jamaica.
- Whether the letter felt (or smelt) a “Jamaican breeze.”
- Whether the letter got its groove back.
The letter probably didn’t shoot the sheriff, but it did shoot another hole in the foot of the already ailing US Postal Service. If this letter is any indication of how mail gets routed, it’s no wonder the system is just a cancelled Elvis stamp away from being returned to sender.
If you’re reading this, General Donahoe, please know I wish you nothing but the best of luck. I also wish you would send us our mail.