Monday, November 27, 2006

Bicycling in the Post Office: Pros and Cons

Back to the post office story, as promised last Tuesday.

That particular post office, the downtown central one where I’ve kept a PO Box for at least a dozen years, is huge. The hallway in there must be a hundred feet long, with the stamp counters all down at one end. The rest of it consists of banks of PO boxes and the big roll-up window where box holders can go to pick up a package or pay their box bill.

If you enter from the end opposite the stamp counters, there are hardly any people to run over, so that’s not really a risk. And the hall is very wide, so if there are people, it’s easy to avoid them. It’s all wheelchair accessible with no steps, and the two sets of double doors at each of the entrances are automatic. If you time the speed of your approach just right, the doors will open and you can glide right in without having to either touch down with your feet or crash into the doors.

Even though there’s always plenty of room to ride on in, I actually only do this after stamp-selling hours because I don’t like to frighten the pedestrian crowd. Seeing a bike ride past them indoors seems to alarm people – or at least make them look alarmed, even though I come nowhere near colliding with them. I don’t like to scare people. It raises the collective stress level of humanity, and who needs that in this world? So usually I just walk my bike in, grab my mail, then walk it back out.

Despite the fact that the building is unattractive – a big nothing, built by someone with no aesthetic sense whatsoever – the thing I like about this post office is that it’s open 24-7. So that means that if you’re downtown in the middle of the night because you just went out somewhere, you can always stop by and check your box. Or at any other time outside business hours when there’s absolutely no traffic of any kind.

And it’s lit up like the Rapture (which I wish would hurry up and come so that certain really annoying people would leave the planet as promised) so you don’t have to worry about anyone lurking in the shadows. It’s even fully heated, and I’m not sure why it’s not a magnet for Portland’s throngs of homeless people during the bad weather – but the fact is that in all the years I’ve kept a box there, only once have I had to step over a reclining body.

Anyway, to get to the long awaited point of this story, once when I was walking my bike out of there, this Post Office worker approaches me and says, “You’re gonna have to pick that up and carry that, Ma’m.”
Carry what? I asked.
“The bike, Ma’m.”
Excuse me?
“You have to carry your bike in here.”
You are kidding, aren’t you? I thought the reason we invented the wheel was so that we wouldn’t have to carry our bicycles.
“Says right on the door, Ma’m. We make the skateboarders carry their skateboards and the rollerskaters carry their skates, so it’s only fair to make the bicyclists carry their bikes.”

Oh stop, I thought, as I went along my merry way.

And it didn’t either “say so on the door, Ma’m.” I looked.

The above took place a couple of years ago. After thinking it over, I began to doubt that the man was an actual Post Office employee at all, and elected to continue my same behavior. I never saw him again. But recently there was another man on a step ladder repairing the doors as I walked my bike in. He said I had to leave my bike outside. “Really?” I whined. “I’m only popping in for a second to check my box. And if I leave it out here, I’ll have take this off, and this off, and this off, and this off, and this off, and this off – and carry them all with me because if I don’t someone will steal them.”

He rolled his eyes heavenward and made a resigned “go ahead” motion with his arm.

Then, just the other day when I was in the act of checking my box, another rider came and checked her box, which was right near mine. We got to chatting about the convenience of riding in to check our boxes, and she said, “Once when I was in here some Post Office guy told me I had to carry my bike. So I started carrying my bike. But later another Post Office guy saw me and looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Good Grief, you don’t have to carry your bike!”

The main theme, boys and girls of the Post Office and Elsewhere, is this: If we of the ever-warming planet want bike riding to happen, we can’t be harassing bike riders with 101 petty, arbitrary and made-up rules that make it really inconvenient. Bike riding is already inconvenient in a ton of ways, and under the circumstances we should be grateful that anybody at all is doing it. Don’t make it harder. Make it easier.


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