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Friday, July 23, 2010

Send us a Letter; Better yet, Make that a Check….


The “Have we got mail?” siege is over. In the matter of 18126 SR. 203 vs. WSDOT and the U.mailboxS. Postal Service, I’m happy to say 18126 SR 203 has prevailed. No shots fired; no fists thrown; no blood spilled. And except for a sporadic barrage of sarcasm now and then, I was able to weather the siege with a minimum of vituperative language.

For nearly a month our mailbox stood tall, proud and empty as pictured. On June 24 Vinnie of TSI yanked it out for pavers to access the shoulder, and there it sat until yesterday. A letter from WSDOT sent last November informed us “WSDOT or their agents”  would relocate and reinstall our mailbox on a new “breakaway” stanchion. We were told this would happen sometime during the construction project between February and October of this year.

When Vinnie pulled the mailbox, the Postal Service abruptly ceased our rural route delivery. Didn’t inform us. Not even a note or a phone call. For three days we had no idea what had happened to our mail: where it was; if we had any. Thus began a month’s worth of episodes of “Where’s Our Mail Today?” Sometimes it would be at the post office; other times we were told our carrier would try to thread his way through construction and deliver our mail, only to get a call later in the day to inform us our mail was there; we could come in (a second trip) and collect it. Now added to our weekly routine was the chore of stopping at the post office every two or three days to get our letters, bills, magazines, (one Government check), and junk mail. After waiting in line for five to ten minutes for a postal worker’s service, you’d request your mail, and huffily be asked to produce your ID. Then there’d be a scowl and shrug of the shoulders to let you know what an imposition it was for her to climb down off the Government gravy train long enough to shuffle a hundred  feet to the backroom where our mail was ensconced and shuffle the long way back with the two or three day accumulation.

And this could continue into October?? Nuhh uhhh! I fired off an email to Ms. Lorena Eng, WSDOT’s Northwest Region Administrator. (Ms. Eng and I became acquainted last April through the kind intercession of our State Senator Val Stevens. The Honorable Senator forwarded my concerns about the SR 203 turn lane project to Ms. Eng. Lorena then addressed my concerns--albeit AFTER THE FACT.) The paving was done, I told her, the striping completed, the hi-tech breakaway signage installed….Certainly WSDOT didn’t intend for our mailbox to stand bereft and abandoned until October?

An hour and a half later (coincidence, do you think?), I look down the driveway to see four day-glo-vested workers circling our stranded mailbox like it was a Maypole and they were bringing in the May. When they saw me, one of them spun off the circle and walked up the driveway to meet me. It’s good to see my old friend Tom, Tri-State International’s project supervisor. Tom of TSIIt’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to share my insights for the turn lane project. He’s here, he tells me, to save the day—or at least help restore our mail service. We walk to the shoulder where Mr. Robert Wofford, DOT’s Project Manager, is poring over one of three WSDOT print outs  containing detailed specifications for mailbox installation. I take a peek myself at what appeared to be the specs for the landing gear of a 737 jet (well, a 707, perhaps).


Malibox specsRobert scratches his head over the handful of dimensions, a draftsman’s masterpiece of lines, arrows, figures. From this marvel of DOT guidelines, Robert concludes that the base of the mailbox must be thirty-nine inches (39”) above pavement and  twenty-eight inches (28”) from pavement’s edge. Given these parameters, I learn I have the final say in how far down the road from our driveway I want the mailbox placed. I decide, and at that location Robert sprays the asphalt with a white arrow . Tomorrow they’ll return with regulation hardware and that special breakaway stanchion. Tomorrow I’ll be back in business, they tell me. Yeah, right. “The check’s in the mail” seemed the appropriate context here.

Yesterday I quickly ran the morning’s errands in town (even stopped by the post office for my morning’s ration of huffiness); I wanted to be on hand for the installation ceremony. Around 11:30 a.m.,  halfway through my trimming the arbor vitae hedge, Tom’s gray truck rolled into the driveway. About the same time a second pickup pulled up on the shoulder. What followed reminded me a good deal of the old joke: “How many (insert ethnic group here) does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Now I have replaced many a sheared off 4’x 4’ post and mailbox platform over the years, done it myself, found it to be a job one man could handle quite easily. How many  people does it take to install a mailbox using WSDOT’s specs and hardware? Four…three men and one comely young lady (cute, even with the hard hat). Throw into the mix one can of energy drink.TSI energy How long does it take a crew of four to set a mailbox? (It was nigh on one o’clock when I went in for lunch.) What’s the entertainment value  four TSI workers can provide in an hour and a half? Priceless!

I could tell by the new shovels the workers brandished, my mailbox project had been assigned top priority. When I commented on this, one stopped shoveling and asked me how I could tell new shovels from well-used. “Aside from the fact the ad stickers How many does it take to... are still on the blades?” I laughed. “Look,” said the stocky TSI shoveler and pointed to round tip of the wooden handle. “It’s still round, not worn flat by my leaning on it!”Just a little sample of that priceless entertainment.New shovels

After digging a hole big enough to set a power pole, the crew turned to positioning the stanchion sleeve, the slender hollow tube used to house that state of  the art breakaway feature. 

 Stanchion sleeve


While the men were doing the grunt work, little Bobbie, her pigtails a’quiver with concentration, was piecing together the bracket to hold the mailbox, adjusting it to fit the width of the base, following the directions, of course. Ah, woman’s work!Following instructions Tom showed me the special stanchion. I asked, “So what happens when the first SUV backs over that and bends the post to ground level?” Tom smiled knowingly, “You pull out the bent stanchion and replace it with a new one!” My reply “And where do I get that?” The smile turned to puzzlement. “I have no idea,” he said. Hardly an encouraging--or entertaining answer. This little interchange led me to understand that I would have had the option of using a standard 4” x 4” post. However, the posts were treated according to WSDOT specs and regulations and stamped “WSDOT approved.”  (Wonder what that specifications page looked like!) Tom thought maybe I could purchase one at Matthis Lumber down in Woodinville if I wanted. At this juncture I thought it wise to hang on to my old mailbox stanchion, have it ready just in case that wayward SUV came along. I had the two shovelers haul the old setup over to the fence line for safekeeping.

The stanchion sleeve was set and out came the tape measures and spirit level. Foresight is 20-20, right? While the measuring was taking place, I told Tom I had a big favor to ask. How big, he wanted to know. “When your crew has the mailbox and stanchion in place, make sure they position it with the address side facing north in the direction of the in-coming mail.” “Gotcha,” Tom smiled. Measure once. Measure twice. Level once. Level twice. Following the specs“39” up. 28” in. Ah, just right. Now for the metal wedge to lock the stanchion at the regulation height. This is a job for the supervisor. Tom does the honors, hammers the wedge in place. Ah, what perfection! The precision of it all! Whoa! But wait! Just a minute here!What’s going on? Tom and the gang so micromanaged the stanchion adjustment they forgot about positioning the mailbox bracket at right angles to the highway. ThTom does the honorsere it sits, paralleling the road. Set the box now and the address will face the house, the doors  will open parallel the highway. Just one little favor was all, Tom….come on now.TSI screwup



They try to remove the wedge. Thanks to hard hittin’ Tom, it won’t budge. This is entertainment at its best!  How to proceed now? Tom makes an executive decision, has the guys yank sleeve and stanchion out of the hole and reset it in the untamped soil. No measuring or leveling this time. Just eyeball it. Just reset it and wrap ‘er up. (This entire time Tom’s truck has been idling in the driveway.) 

Well, that wraps up a rollicking fine hour and a half’s entertainment. And when they install Mark’s new stanchion next door, I might very well pop over for the second showing.

Thanks, Tom, for livening up my day. And thank you, too, Ms.Lorena Eng for your support. Hopefully  our mail service will resume tomorrow. My dear, these balloons are for you.

Adminstrator's balloons

(This afternoon I took my tape measure, sauntered out to our new, state-of-the art mailbox, did a little measuring of my own, and discovered the mailbox was two and a half inches shy of WSDOT regulations, a scant thirty-six and a half inches above the pavement. Shhhhhhh! I’m not telling anyone. And you better not either.)

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1 comment:

  1. Quite the operation there! I'll admit, living in the city and having to use a key to get my mail is a bit of a hassle. But, I'll take a locked mailbox over dealing with the WSDOT's shenanigans any day!