Small Differences : Mail Boxes

I own a mail box for the first time in my life.

We had no sooner moved into this house than a letter arrived informing us that the postal service required us to install a kerbside mail box (as opposed to one attached to the exterior wall).  I imagine this was the result of some sort of efficiency drive on the part of the postal service as the kerbside box means the postal worker does not even have to exit the mail van.  Upon receiving this communication, I looked left and right along our new street and right enough ours was the only house without a kerbside mail box.  We duly installed one within a week of moving in.  I can only assume our mail delivery person is now happier.

I  am new to this whole culture of mailboxes and cannot quite wrap my head around it.  In Britain, you have a letterbox in your front door.  The postie can then shove all your letters and even some small parcels through this flap in your door so that the mail lands safely and securely inside your house.  No risk of weather damage or theft.  The only risk was tripping over a massive pile of mail on returning from a vacation.  Here in America, on the other hand, it all seems to become quite complicated because the receptacle for the post is outside the house and is, therefore, not so secure against the elements or sticky fingers.  It would not have been a concern in our new house since we have a porch but at the rental property, on rainy days, I had to ensure that I grabbed the mail from the box as soon as it arrived otherwise it would all turn into a soggy mush of papier mache since the box attached to the side of the house allowed water to drain into it, creating a destructive puddle at the bottom.  Furthermore, because the mail is not securely deposited inside a house, there have to be all sorts of mail tampering laws in place – as I learned last November.  This means that only an authorised mail delivery person can deposit anything into anyone’s mailbox.  Furthermore, since the mail cannot simply be left to accumulate into a small mound on the other side of the door’s threshold, when travelling it becomes necessary to halt the delivery of the mail, have the postal service keep hold of it, and then resume delivery upon return.  That then becomes yet another one of those thing you need to remember to do before going on a trip.  Finally, although we paid for an installed our mailbox, it is not our property.  No.  Apparently all mailboxes are property of the United States Postal Service as that then gives them the authority to impose all of these mail tampering laws upon it.

So it is all very weird and alien but I do love having a mailbox all the same because it’s that little slice of Americana that reminds me everyday that I am now living on a different continent and am experiencing new things.

Pounding Pavements or Stomping Sidewalks

I did warn you I had a compulsion to alliterate.

Whether I call it a sidewalk or a pavement, there just aren’t enough of them around here.

I’ve always known that America doesn’t really town plan for pedestrians.  During my first trip to the US, back in 1995, my now husband and I went to the Independence Day fireworks on the mall in Washington DC, our bums getting slowly but certainly numb on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At the finale, we were carried in a wave along with the rest of the crowd and deposited into Foggy Bottom Metro Station.  At the other end of our metro ride, the streets were pitch dark and empty.  We had a half hour walk to get to the place we were staying and every step was precarious.  The streetlights shone onto the road, not the sidewalks, because obviously cars with headlights need more visual assistance than pedestrians stumbling around, and the pavements were so uneven that we had to adopt a hobbling gait and almost face-planted a few times.  And that was when there were any pavements to walk on. 

I had a smidgen of hope that the leafy suburbs of Philly would be at least a little more geared up for pedestrians but, yes, even my smidgen-full of hope was in vain.

I am a walker.  Not in a zombie way.  I like to walk.  I enjoy the moderate exercise (just as I really don’t enjoy proper exercise), the fresh air, the thinking time, the opportunity to see things and explore.  I have always walked a lot.  When we lived in Scotland, the kids and I walked everywhere.  It was great.  OK, maybe not so much in the horrible winter weather but otherwise it was great that everything was in walking distance – school, shops, hospital.  Here, on the other hand, things are all close by – indeed more things are close by – but they are inaccessible on foot because of the lack of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings.  It’s frustrating.

I’ve taken to going on little ambles of a morning, once I’ve dropped the smallest Pict at preschool, trying to find a safe route I can walk with the kids, just to stretch our legs and get some fresh air without having to get in the car first.  The options are proving to be limited.  Even when I can construct a circuit, it involves constant criss-crossing of the road in order to access pavement on one side of the road when it has run out on the other.  I can walk on my own just fine because, as an adult with good road sense, I can actually walk on the road around here as there is not a lot of daytime traffic.  But I don’t really want to encourage my kids to walk in the road and it’s also not that sensible to walk along a road in a trail like a momma duck and her ducklings.  I’ve seen duck roadkill.  I actually do walk the littlest Pict back and forth to nursery on the road, very briefly, because the building is literally around the corner from our house and I refuse to drive for two minutes to get there.  The road is wide enough that we can do so safely and he is small enough to be happy holding my hands.

Mailboxes are a related nuisance.  We don’t have one close to home.  I know because not only have I not walked past one but I actually looked up the website to find where our nearest ones are.  They are all a bit of a walk away but still within what I consider to be a very reasonable walking distance, maybe 20 to 30 minutes for the closest two, forty-five for the furthest one.  On adult legs that is.  With kids it would take longer.  However, not one of those mailboxes can be accessed from home along pavements.  Probably the safest walking route is to the mailbox furthest away because it is the quieter road and stretches of it do have pavement on at least one side of the road.  The two closer to home are almost entirely devoid of any sidewalks whatsoever.  It does make me ponder why they chose to site the mailboxes there.  Convenience of collection probably won out over ease of actually accessing the mailbox.  It’s a bit of a pain in the butt for something as simple as needing to post a letter to have to be a kid-free mission.

I’m not going to even get started on the standard of the paving when there are sidewalks either.  Haphazard would be a kind description.  It surprises me that in a country known for its culture of litigation that local authorities would risk having people face-planting and snapping ankles all over the place.  Unless being a pedestrian is considered some sort of extreme sport.

That’s today’s rant then.  Sidewalks and mailboxes.  Riveting stuff.

Mail Tampering

Moving to another country involves a lot of realizing there are things you didn’t know you didn’t know until you need to know it.

I have written Thanksgiving cards for the neighbours and now need to deliver them. I was about to pop them in their mailboxes when something in a dusty nook in my brain bright itself to my attention. Something about mailboxes, tampering with mail and federal laws. So I didn’t “post” the cards and instead researched the issue as modern people do by asking the question on Facebook.

It transpires there was something worth noting in that musty corner of my memory because there is indeed a law prohibiting anything other than officially posted mail going in mailboxes.

In Scotland, houses had letterboxes, a rectangular hole with a flap cut into an exterior door. Thus post was ostensibly secure as soon as it had been shoved through the flap and it was possible, therefore, to deliver post by hand in the same way the postman delivered stamped and franked post. Here such an action could get me in trouble.

It appears what I have to do is sandwich the cards between the house door and storm door, which is a challenge of speed and dexterity but is at least definitely legal.