Parts Counter: At the Post Office

I was shipping some parts off at my downtown Portland post office, and nothing about the entire experience felt either modern or streamlined.

It was actually pretty nice, if you were in that “not in any sort of hurry” type of mood.

I had spent the morning doing my usual lamentation for a real, honest-to-god, small-town styled auto parts store. A few months earlier, Radke’s in St. Johns had closed. They weren’t the best, but they had been around for years and the knowledge behind the counter was well-worth the dollar markup you might pay on the gasket sealer you bought there.

I once tried asking an O’Reilly’s employee for an NGK plug insulator for my ’72 Honda CL350. There was furious typing at the computer, to which I replied “it probably won’t be in there, it’s just the standard 90 degree insulator. You know, for spark plugs. I need two of ’em”

A manager was called.

“What year was that?”

More furious typing. I left defeated after trying to explain what an insulator was.

Radke’s had them. To be fair, O’Reillys probably did too. They just weren’t for a 2015 Kia Rio or a 2010 Honda CR-V. These are probably easy to search for on the computer. I have a computer at home. I can order stuff on it very easily. I was looking for a part TODAY.

So, back to Post Offices –

Other than a brief flirtation with self-service kiosks (which I haven’t seen in Portland for years), most Post Offices feel like they are firmly planted 30 years in the past.

Post Office Box Sign
A hand-lettered, but printed sign in downtown Portland, Oregon Post Office.

They all have that familiar smell of paper. Most are quiet as a church – maybe a radio that fades in and out as the door to the backroom swings open and closed.

I imagine that non-rushed feeling doesn’t give everyone warm, nostalgic feelings, but it was working on me that day. Amongst the lunch-hour lineups from impatient business folk, I found it calming.

Instead of the fluorescent lighting mixed with nu-rock country blasting over the loudspeakers experience I get whenever I go to a chain parts store, the Post Office gives me what I miss: knowledgable, mostly friendly people providing a local service.

Can I ship this first class? I can save a couple bucks sending this parts manual as media mail? Thanks! Need stamps? Sure, why not. With few exceptions, most post office workers look like lifers. They are knowledgable, know what I need and help me get it done as quick as possible. And they don’t try to sell me a tube of “thread sealant” for $1.25 with every transaction.

So until I find my auto parts shang-ri-lah, I’ll buy stuff online and visit my local Post Office. I won’t be in the zen-mind every single time, but this time I’ll take it.

Next Post Office post – murals.

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