Above and beyond

This story is a shout-out to my new favorite person, Ms. Cathy Blair, Postmaster of Ozark, Mo., pop. 19,905. The USPS is frequently maligned, sometimes rightfully so, but perhaps Ms. Cathy will change your mind if you’re giving the postal service a bad rap.

A dear friend, a former Missourian who lives in the UK, recently bought some bird prints from me and asked me to ship them to her at her dad’s in Ozark, Mo., where she will be visiting in a few weeks.

I sent the package on its way, along with another surprise package for my friend, and went on about my business. But when I sent her the tracking number for the original package, I typed the number into the USPS tracking system and discovered to my dismay that the package was not in fact going to Ozark, but to Mount Vernon, about an hour west of Ozark. Not only that, but now the package had been marked undeliverable and was being “returned to sender.” What we soon figured out was that my friend had inadvertently transposed the numbers of her dad’s zip code, and I had not realized the mistake when I printed the label at the kiosk at the postal service. Solely human error, not the fault of the USPS.

So what’s the big deal, you might be asking. Why is this even a story? The package was being returned, and I could just reship it to the right place, right? Except that I had not put a return address on the package since I had used the label printed at the kiosk. So there was no way for the package to be returned to me, and either my friend was going to be out $100 and her prints, or I was going to be out $100 to reorder them for her, and either way one of us was going to be sorely disappointed.

Feeling certain that my next move would be completely pointless, I dutifully filled out an inquiry form on the USPS website. An agent will contact you within 24 hours, came the automatic reply. Yeah, right, I thought.

Scarcely four or five hours later, I had an incoming call that I recognized as a south Missouri area code. On the other end of the line was one Ms. Cathy Blair, Postmaster of Ozark, Missouri. I explained the situation to her, including the sad fact that there was no return address on the package. Where do such packages go, I inquired? Well, she said, first to Springfield, then to Kansas City, then to Denver, then to Atlanta. But let me see what I can do. I can call my buddies in Springfield — what does the package look like? — and maybe we can get it intercepted before it winds up in the vast maw of returned mail. (I’m paraphrasing loosely here.) Ms. Cathy, I said, there’s another wrinkle. I had another package sent from somewhere else, and it does say Ozark, but it has the Mount Vernon zip code. No problem, she said, we’ll be on the lookout for that one, too, pledging to be back in touch.

No disrespect to Ms. Cathy at this point in the story. She sounded perfectly lovely and willing to help. But she herself had expressed that it would be a long shot to intercept the package — who knew where it could be at this point — and quite frankly yesterday was a really horrendous day, so even Ms. B-Positive me wasn’t feeling too optimistic about any of this.

But at 6:50 p.m. last evening my phone rang, and it was Ms. Cathy. We found it! she said, and it’s on its way to the right place. Did I mention it was 6:50 in the evening?

I thanked her effusively. Ms. Cathy, I said, I’ve had a really crappy day, and this was a great way to end it. I’m so glad, she said, it’s a great way to end mine, too.

Thank you, Ms. Cathy, Ozark, Missouri, Postmaster Extraordinaire, for making my day, and for the gentle reminder that going above and beyond is never the wrong thing to do.





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