|Bulverde, Texas, post office|
I went to the Bulverde post office yesterday. It’s in an old, picturesque building, what you might imagine a small town post office looks like. Inside it’s about the size of my kitchen. A total of 438 old-timey post office boxes line one wall. The scarred wooden floor creaks when you walk on it. The post office used to be somebody’s house in New Braunfels, a town about 30 miles to the east, and somehow it was transported and plunked down in the middle of downtown Bulverde. Nobody remembers when this happened, just that “It was a long time ago.”
The Bulverde post office has had its share of controversy. Some time back there was a flurry of outraged letters to the editor of the local paper, complaining that the post office was not displaying a photograph of President Obama. It seems that during the previous administration, George W.’s photograph was on the wall. Accusations and insinuations flew. When someone got around to asking the local postmistress about it, she said, “They haven’t sent us a picture. We’ll put one up as soon as they send it.” There were no more letters after that.
Anyway, I was there yesterday to mail a small package of baby clothes to Bolivia, where I used to live many years ago. The clerk set the package on the scale and said cheerily, “Okay, let’s see here….” Then she frowned. “Hon, did you say Bolivia?”
“You spell that B-O-L, right?”
“Right. Don’t tell me…”
“That’s funny. Bolivia isn’t on the meter.”
My heart sank. The same thing happened right before Christmas. At that time a different clerk asked similar questions: “Are you sure it’s Bolivia?”
“We have Brazil on here. Are you sure it’s not Brazil?”
“No, it’s Bolivia,” I said. “It’s in South America like Brazil, but it’s not Brazil.” The clerk looked doubtful, so I added, “I know it’s there because I’ve been there.” I was hoping I didn’t sound annoyed, although I was.
The customer in line before me had been mailing a package to Indiana, and that was exotic enough. “My daughter moved up there and now I have two grandbabies there, too,” said the customer. “What’s your daughter doing all the way up there in Indiana?” asked the clerk. They had a brief conversation about the new grandbaby and why the daughter was in Indiana. I didn’t mind. This is what happens in a small town post office.
If Indiana threw her off, she really didn’t know what to make of a place in South America called Bolivia. She decided to call the post office at Spring Branch, a town a few miles north of Bulverde. Spring Branch is no bigger than Bulverde, but it does boast a modern brick post office which is no doubt better staffed.
Her side of the conversation went like this:
“We have a customer here who wants to send a package to Bolivia, and I can’t find it on the Pitney-Bowes.” Pause. “B-O-L-I-V-I-A. ” Pause. “I asked her that, and she said, no, it’s not Brazil.”
She looked at me and said, “They don’t have it on their machine, either. They’re getting the supervisor.” She repeated the problem to the supervisor, then listened and said, “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Well, I’ll be darned. OK, can you repeat all that so I can tell the customer?” She grabbed a pencil and took some notes, then hung up the phone.
“Here’s the deal,” she told me. “The only way you’re gonna send something to Bolivia is in an envelope. They’re not taking any packages right now.”
“Really? Why is that? I just mailed a package there two months ago.”
“I don’t have any idea. That’s just what they told me.” So I left without mailing any Christmas gifts. Back at home I looked on the U.S.P.O. website. It indicated that until January 10, 2011, Bolivia was not accepting international packages from any mail service. No explanation was offered. So I mailed the gifts after January 10. By then Bolivia had reappeared on the Pitney-Bowes meter.
So yesterday, the same thing was happening. This clerk went through the same routine, calling the Spring Branch Post Office and telling me Bolivia wasn’t accepting any packages. She suggested I try UPS. So I got back on the highway and drove to the nearest UPS office. I explained the situation to the UPS clerk. She assured me that UPS could indeed mail a package to Bolivia. She set it on the scale, punched some buttons, and studied the computer screen. She said, “You might want to sit down before I tell you this.”
“How much?” I asked.
“How much?” I asked.
So you have old and picturesque next to bucolic next to modern. That’s life in Bulverde.