December is a terrible month to have to go the post office, but many of us do. We have holiday packages to send to friends and relatives who don’t live near us. Often we are rushing to get there and back on our lunch hours, or hurrying in for special Saturday hours. It is almost always stressful.
My favorite December post office is in Fulton. Fulton is a hamlet, more accurately a crossroads with some cottages and a few businesses. A lot of day laborers wait there to get picked up for one or two days of work in someone’s yard or field, or on a remodel project. Fulton’s claim to fame, if you can call it that, is the Fulton Farms Poultry Processing Plant, where, if you drive by early enough certain mornings, you can see naked chicken carcasses promenading along an assembly rack on the outside of the building, dangling like items of dry-cleaning.
Fulton’s best kept secret is its tiny post office. The space is largely given over to mail and parcels, and the back looks like an old-fashioned garage door. It is always cold. As you walk in the front door a row of post office boxes marches away from you at right angles to the door. You turn left and go into a vestibule area, then open another single door to step into the service area, which holds about three people, or as many as six if you are all personally close and no one wants to inhale too deeply. I’ve only ever seen three different people behind the counter, and I’ve never seen three at once at the counter, which makes sense because there are only two stations.
People at the Fulton post office are always friendly, even when they are wearing hats and gloves because the room is so cold. They are helpful, and, during December, at almost any time of day, they are usually not crowded. One time I went there and there were three people ahead of me in line. I had to wait in the vestibule area for nearly three minutes before the crowd thinned out. To be fair, I never go there when I have six or seven packages; Fulton is my fallback for the late package or the special package that I have to mail early for some reason (like a December birthday). I don’t think I’m the only person who uses it this way. The locals may come in with hand-trucks loaded up, but the rest of us are using it as our Post Office of Last Resort.
Did I mention friendly and helpful? They make eye contact, they help you fill out forms. The other day, the woman behind the counter offered me a flat rate box for my parcel because it would save me $1.75. I had forgotten about the flat-rate boxes until she mentioned it. They give helpful directions on how to re-tape a box if you need to. I was going to write, “they even help you re-tape a box if you need to,” but that is apparently against regulation, so I’m sure no one who works there would actually do that.
My former favorite December Post Office was in Boyes Hot Springs. It connected to a small local market and had many of the same attributes as Fulton. Unfortunately, people discovered it, and the last one or two times I went there, there were lines onto the sidewalk.
I like the Sebastopol Post Office too, with its 1930s architecture and its Automated Post Machine, but there’s just something about Fulton. Something old-fashioned, something 60s-ish, when civil service meant service and it was actually civil, something special, unspoiled and, as yet, undiscovered.