Long time, no see RSVP
Today, a story that’s either an uplifting tale of heroic success or a depressing yarn of abject failure. Your decision might turn on whether you’re the kind of person who sees the glass half- full or the kind of person who’s often half- loaded.
It starts with good news. My family’s longtime friends Beth and Larry Goldstein of Plano say they will be attending our daughter’s wedding.
“Looking forward to your celebrations!” one of them (my money’s on Beth) wrote on the RSVP that showed up last month.
The wedding date on the invitation is Aug. 20. 2011. Yes, 2011, as in four years ago.
I’m no etiquette expert (why do you have to put spoons on the table for meals in which there is zero chance a spoon will be needed?), but shouldn’t the heretofore- responsible Goldsteins of Plano have returned their RSVP a bit sooner?
Turns out they did. It was mailed in North Texas on June 21, 2011, to what was then my daughter’s New York City home address.
The Goldsteins indeed showed up for the August 2011 wedding (a good time was had by all) but their RSVP didn’t show up until May 11 of this year — about four years late and 3,000 miles west of where it was supposed to go — when it found its way to my daughter’s current California address.
( FYI, it’s actually two addresses later. She moved into a different NYC apartment, though in the same building, about two years after the wedding.)
How, you ask, does an RSVP show up four years late? I’ll tell you what I know and leave it to you to decide if it’s gross incompetence or impressive persistence by your Postal Service. I’m leaning toward the latter.
I’m a great admirer of the Postal Service despite its flaws and financial woes. What it does on a daily basis, and with an admirable success rate, is a minor miracle.
The service’s task is simple and formidable: Send somebody to every address in America, business and residential, six days a week. It doesn’t even sound like a good idea.
That disclaimer aside, I endeavored to find out where the RSVP from the Goldsteins of Plano has been these past four years.
The postcard itself offered little evidence, merely bearing a sticker telling my daughter to “notify sender of new address.”
Anticipating a long, drawnout process, I asked the Postal Service for some answers. My request went to Sam Bolen, the Postal Service communications programs specialist for our part of the world.
Seeking a prompt response, and despite my confidence in the Postal Service, I opted to submit my inquiry by email instead of by way of a mailbox.
I told Bolen what happened and asked if there was any way to figure out what happened with this one.
To his credit, Bolen got right on the case. Impressive. I had a response in about four and a half hours.
Feedback such as mine, I was told, assists “us in identifying problem areas,” he told me by return email.
“Certainly, the service your daughter reported is not indicative of the level of service we wish to provide,” he wrote. So that’s good. “While we are generally very proud of the manner in which the mail is processed, it is disappointing to recognize and accept that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, errors and delays will occasionally occur,” Bolen told me, pretty much echoing my thoughts about life in general.
Bolen reported that “isolated instances of delayed mail, like the one your daughter experienced, are ordinarily caused by human error and it is sometimes very difficult to pinpoint a specific location or instance causing the delay.”
Hey, we all make mistakes. And the Postal Service has more opportunities to do so than most folks.
While unable to pin down specifics with any certainty, Bolen was able to offer this:
“In your daughter’s case, after looking at many possibilities, it appears that this mail piece was lost somewhere in our system, between where it was mailed in North Texas and where it was apparently recovered in New York, at some point possibly falling under heavy machinery, accidentally left in stored mail equipment believed to be empty, or otherwise being set aside — possibly by a customer who received it in error and left it lying around for several years — where it went undetected for some time before being returned to the live mail stream, forwarded and delivered.”
Bolen closed with an apology to my daughter for the mistake.
“Every effort will be made to serve you, your daughter and your family’s needs in a manner more consistent with your expenditures and our standards,” he wrote.
I appreciated the prompt and frank, if unspecific, attempt at an explanation. It seems we got to the bottom line we often get to in this life: These things happen. I’m OK with that. I do, however, feel the urge to hire somebody to do an RSVP audit to see if there might still be some others out there under heavy machinery.
The Goldsteins made it to the August 2011 celebrations, but their RSVP didn’t show up until this May.