Monday, September 7, 2015

Maybe the mail stopped at a bar

     Running a restaurant is more than just cooking up good food and getting it to the table.
     Though many fall short even on that basic task.
     There is also service to get right. And decor.
     Beyond that, there is filling the role of being a business in a community, with teams to sponsor and charities to support.
     All of which Harry Caray's, the landmark steakhouse and Italian restaurant on Kinzie, not to forget its various satellite locations, does exceedingly well.
     Or rather, does well when the United States Postal Service manages to deliver their mail.
     Pull up a chair.
     Tales of the ineptitude of the local branch of the post office are such a Chicago tradition, you hesitate before offering up a new one.
     You ask, does it meet the classic standards? The piles of letters found burning under a viaduct? The sacks of undelivered mail discovered in a disturbed postal carrier's home? The bar is very high.
     But heck, it's Labor Day weekend. I shouldn't even be working. And while Harry Caray's CEO Grant DePorter certainly plays the media like a conductor directing a well-trained orchestra, and could generate press for a stoplight changing, there is sincere interest here.
     I hope.
     A stack of letters that Harry Caray's sent exactly 10 years ago was delivered last week, the moldy envelopes arriving to their startled recipients, in some cases, with others returning to the restaurant office.
     "People are getting mail all over town, 10 years ago to the date," said DePorter, marveling at a particular return-to-sender letter from Children's Memorial Hospital.
     "They said they couldn't locate it," he said. "You would think the post office would know Children's Memorial has moved."
     In 2012, from Lincoln Park to Chicago Avenue, changing its name to Lurie Children's Hospital.
     Mark V. Reynolds, spokesman for the USPS' Chicago office, said that forwarding instructions are only good for one year, then mail is returned to sender.
     From how Grant was talking, I envisioned a burlap sack stuffed with mail moldering in a forgotten corner of some vast postal facility. It turned out we're talking about six letters—one delivered to the Cubs, one delivered to Chris Chelios' charity, and four returned to Harry's.
     So far. DePorter worries there are many others he has yet to hear about.
     "This is like the Nielsen ratings," he said. "Where one person represents 100 more."
     He first learned of the problem last week at Wrigley Field, fittingly.
     "Andrea Burke, who works with the Cubs, ran up to us and said, 'You will never believe what I got in the mail,'" said DePorter, "an envelope that was mailed 10 years ago that contained gift certificates for Fan Appreciation Day in 2005,"
     At first he thought it was funny.
     "Like a time capsule. Then I got the letter from the Restaurant Association."
     A letter contained gift certificates for a silent auction.
     "They never got my charity stuff and I was the chairman," said DePorter. "I was guy calling people to say, will you donate? You never know the ripple effect. Ernst and Young never got my thank you letter for their event. The letter to Children's Memorial Hospital had a certificate for dinner with Cubs manage Dusty Baker. They could have gotten a lot of money for that, but it never happened because the certificate for the dinner never arrived. There's probably a lot more. This is only the tip of the iceberg."
     DePorter speculated the mail was "probably under a table for 10 years."
     The post office couldn't offer much light.
     "This is a mystery," said Reynolds, vowing to investigate. "We need to know what happened."
     Don't hold your breath, though.
     "The only person who could tell us what happened to the mail is the mail itself, if it could talk." Reynolds said."This is highly unusually, an anomaly. Mail may be found in equipment we thought was empty. It does happen, unfortunately."
     I've known Grant for years, and he is devoted—perhaps even obsessed—with the image of the restaurant. The idea that people were promised something from Harry's and didn't get it horrifies and torments him.
     "I think people were too embarrassed to call us out on it," he said. "I didn't know they were mad at us."
     So look within. If you harbor any lingering, decade-old resentment against Harry Caray's for not sending that gift certificate they promised, well, maybe they did and it just didn't arrive, for reasons that will probably never be known.
     In 2005, the Postal Service handled 211.7 billion pieces of mail. Last year it was 155.4 billion pieces, a 25 percent drop.
     "This is why FedEx is doing so well," DePorter said.


  1. Many years ago, I found out there was an official Post Office rubber stamp that printed "Found in a supposedly empty mailbag. It was for mail that was discovered months or years later in a mailbag, because some lazy postal worker didn't follow the rule that said to turn all mailbags inside out when empty.
    But to see not the worst Post Office in Chicago, but the worst in the entire country, go to the Rogers Park Post Office on Devon. It's where the Chicago Post Office sends all it's lazy, good for nothing employees when they can't figure out how to fire them!

  2. Do you want to see bad mail service? Have the rural style mail where the mail box is by the street. (not that we live in a rural area). Every day it's a different carrier dressed like they have been working in the yard. Having our mail in the neighbors mailbox or vice versa is routine. While the regular carrier has to do a lot of walking, these folks are too lazy to get out of their mini trucks. They don't even like when a car is near a mailbox, Explaining how there's no room in driveways, especially on Sat. when all are home or telling them to be careful/ complaining to the post office, is useless. When I told one carrier that she put the wrong mail in my box, she said she was usually used to delivering in another town. Really? So that means you can't read numbers in this town? It's never anyone steady either. Recently, they lost a title to a paid off car. The bank where the loan hailed can't just send another one, just a lien release, Now I have to go stand in the DMV lines to get another copy and pay for it! That can't be done online.

    1. Aside from the lost mail and rotating carriers the rural route carriers are bound by rules that ignoring will get them fired. They are not supposed to get out of the truck. They are not to back up. They need about thirty feet to pull up to and away from the boxes. They are not required to deliver to blocked boxes. If the nose of your car and the rear of your neighbors car are framing the box, you very probably won't get a delivery. And, if you have a conversation with a mail person, you will discover it is impossible to be a lazy postal employee. I am not affiliated. But do have a postal employee friend

  3. I suppose mine is a minority view, but I think the post office usually does a bang-up job without a whole lot of help from its customers, who routinely ignore or disregard proper protocol when preparing their mail. The mail that takes 10, 20 even 50 years to deliver is great fun, but certainly not the norm. And the post office is sort of like the restaurant business in that it only takes one overcooked hamburger or one late-delivered letter to create everlasting antipathy.

    john (not a postal employee)

  4. Our mail service is great and the local post office staffers friendly and helpful. Yes I suppose there are lazy postal workers, but I worked as a part time carrier on my college vacations, and every minute was monitored. Never worked so hard before or since.

    Tom Evans

  5. Story in DNA info about Mother McCauley getting a thank-you note from New Orleans re: Katrina aid 10 years late.

    1. Thanks for posting that, Bill. I have family who do and have attended that school in MS, so it was of personal interest to me. At first I thought the letter had been written 10 years ago, so I was relieved that wasn't the case!

  6. Mr. DePorter, if you feel your correspondences are so important, it might even be best to hand deliver them. Also you'll get instant validation of you good works. FedEx may be a great option for you. However, for most of us this is not a viable option. A quick online check shows it would cost me $1.64 to mail my grandson in Lawrence Kansas birthday card via the Post Office versus $17.90 for the cheapest FedEx delivery.


    1. Yes, UPS is high too.

      Ah, Lawrence, Kansas-reminds me of some John Brown and Bleeding Kansas, historical info.

  7. Although I've seen some very late mail deliveries, my sister and I have had a long-standing project that amounts to a testimonial for the USPS. She sent me a birthday card with a cover depicting Snoopy on a block of ice, reading inside -- Happy Birthday, Oh Great Cool One. My sister jokingly invited me to mail the card back to her in six months, for her own birthday. I did. Then she did. Then I did. The card first came to me on my 25th birthday, in 1976, and we've been mailing it back and forth ever since. I just turned 64, so we've mailed it 78 times over the years, now stuffed with notes and pictures. I've stayed put, but my sister's lived in London, L.A, Seattle, NYC, and elsewhere. We started using regular mail and never changed, which I grant is unwise, maybe even lunatic, now that the card is practically a historical document, a family history, anyway. USPS never failed.

  8. Our USPS service in the west suburban area has been very reliable. They've also been very helpful when we applied for our passports. No complaints. We just moved to Colorado last year and service here has been good so far.

  9. Oh gentle readers:

    Let us realize there are vicissitudes in this senescent business. We are not incorrigible but in a state of non-static flux with little hiatus. We are not immutable and can adapt in the crescendo. Do not hasten to agitate or ferment as we wait for synchronicity. We will ameliorate the situation.

  10. One major reason the Post Office is handling less mail is completely out of their hands: the ever-increasing electronic transacting of business. Substantially fewer people receive paper bills/mail physical checks.

  11. Cranking on the P.O. on Labor Day is about as tone deaf as writing a column on My Lai for Veteran's Day. Really, Neil? Targeting one of the last bastions of collective bargaining? And comparing the USPS to FedEx, home of the FedEx Express Legal Loophole that's screwing about 100,000 carriers out of labor rights? WTF?


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