All six of us needed passports.

A lot of forms, originals, copies, and unsmiling 2” x 2” photos ensued. We followed the directions on the State Department website to make sure we had everything we needed (and then some!).

One of my guys ventured by himself yesterday to a local post office to get his passport in process…and wanted to kill himself. He had everything he needed, but the wait was interminable, the facility was crowded and tiny and the postal employee was miserable (I know—shocking!).

I went online and found that the other nearby post office—the bigger one with better parking—also accepted passport applications. And to boot, it opened earlier. This was great news because this morning, the rest of my guys had a delayed opening of school that would enable us to get in and out of the post office and get them to class on time. I took my big envelope with all the paperwork, and we were fourth in line at the post office door just before it opened.

At exactly 9:00 a.m., Maria, the frowning postal worker with the key, unlocked the door. She didn’t open the glass door or acknowledge the first guy in line, mind you, she simply clicked the lock, turned around and walked away. I assume union rules prohibit her from touching the door handle. And prohibit all postal workers from smiling.

When it was our turn to approach Maria, the sole counter worker, we greeted her cheerily (I told her I loved her adorable royal blue North Face cap; she stared back at me blankly) and told her we were there to submit passport applications. She glowered at us.

“Do you have an appointment?”

Uh, no. Your website doesn’t say we need an appointment. Plus our other son walked in to the other post office yesterday during the hours it says you accept passport applications and he was handled without a problem.

“Lemme get my supervisor.”

Oh goody. That’ll be a treat.

Out eventually comes Mr. Supervisor. I assume his first name is Cranky and his middle name is Slow.

He proceeded to inform us, with classic stink-eye, that we needed to make an appointment and come back some other time. He pointed out that there were other customers (there were exactly three in line) and that they needed to be served, insinuating that our needs were not important. I protested politely but firmly, because the branch’s website does not indicate that an appointment is necessary during weekday hours. As it is, the passport acceptance hours are all during the school day, and because one of our kids isn’t yet 16, he needed to be present with both parents in order to apply for his passport.

Mr. Cranky Slow Supervisor sauntered away while I was speaking, clearly unmoved by my case. Maria, on the other hand, must hate Mr. Supervisor more than she hates customers. As soon as he was out of sight, she whispered that if it were up to her, she’d be happy to do all of them, but that he was a pain in the ass so she didn’t want him on her case. And then she agreed to do that one where we all needed to be present.

It took exactly two minutes to get it done. One-hundred-twenty seconds. As promised, I had every stitch of documentation she needed. When she finished, the room was empty. There was nobody waiting in line because another counter worker had come out to help. So we asked her if she could do another one.

Her first reaction was that Mr. Supervisor would be mad. But when we told her that we’d continue only until there was a line of other customers, she agreed. We sympathized with her while she bitched about being overworked and understaffed. And that people from nearby towns come to that post office rather than going somewhere more local, adding to the burden. She lamented the downsizing of the facility in our town, and we agreed with her. You could see the stress and misery melt away as she vented and we politely validated her woes.

Maria was speedy and efficient, and in less than 15 minutes, she had processed all five applications. There was still no line of customers, so ultimately we hadn’t held anyone up. She was smiling pleasantly as we all expressed our sincere appreciation on the way out. I wished her a wonderful day and told her I hoped someone would make her day, as she’d made ours.

We dropped the kids at school, relieved to have gotten it all done in one trip. While the post office experience had begun dreadfully, I was grateful it ended in such a positive way. I could only imagine the endless stream of wretchedly behaved patrons Maria served in that gloomy postal facility every day, and I wanted her to have something tangible to remember that she’s appreciated.

We swung by our house, and I pulled out a greeting card that said, “You Made My Day.” I keep a box of cards with cool sayings just for occasions like this, and inside the blank card I wrote a short note to Maria, thanking her again. We dropped it off to her along with a giant cup of Starbucks. She couldn’t believe we’d come back just to thank her again.

It literally took just 15 minutes out of my day to give her a proper thank you, but it was important to me that that she knew she was appreciated. I really hope we brightened her day a little and made her smile.

I figure it’s a pretty good day when you can conquer the nearly-impossible challenge of cheering up a postal worker. I guess the only greater challenge will be at the DMV when I go have my license renewed in May!


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