Dan Rattiner's Stories

Wrong Address: Congressman Zeldin Proposes Bill to Fix Missent Mail

Forty years ago, when I bought a house on a hillside overlooking a sunset behind boats in an East Hampton harbor, I thought the name of the street was just so cool. The street was, and is, Three Mile Harbor Hog Creek Road. About a half-mile down from where I live on Three Mile Harbor Hog Creek Road is a little inlet off the harbor known as Soak Hides Dreen. Dreen is an old English term for a kind of muddy wetlands. The word is not used anymore (it was replaced by “drain”), but I’ve seen it used in Renaissance literature. The Hamptons were English settlements in the 1600s.

That first year I made stationery that declared I lived on “Three Mile Harbor Hog Creek Road by Soak Hides Dreen.” Adding that little bit didn’t seem to bother the post office. I still got my mail. I loved living in a fascinating and historic old New England town in a district frequented by descendants of baymen from that era, known as Bonackers. They had their own old English dialect. They still do. And they named roads Abrahams Path, Springs Fireplace Road, Widow Gavits Road and even Ely Brook to Hands Creek Road.

But then there came trouble with the post office. Sometime around 1990, the post office created an online database of all the streets in America. If someone wrote an address using a name of a street different from the post office’s database, the computer would fix it to conform to the database.

Unfortunately, Three Mile Harbor Hog Creek Road, with or without Soak Hides Dreen, was not in that database. After other delivery services hooked into the Postal Service’s database, such things as refrigerators from P.C. Richard or medicines from Squibb occasionally got delivered to the same street number as my house, but at Three Mile Harbor Drive, five miles away. Thus I got to know a Mr. Menofitch, who lived in that house. It’s not been pretty, though. He delivers to me. But the computer doesn’t automatically reroute things sent to his address back to mine.

I’ve actually been on hand when, over the phone, my health insurance company employee types in my address correctly and then, without changing anything, prints out a label with Mr. Menofitch’s address on it. Extraordinary.

I’ve solved this by other means. Important mail now is routed to a safer address. I have to go fetch it. So I do.

It has also occurred to me that having this glitch in mail delivery could cripple America as easily as a hacker breaking into a database somewhere.

Of course, there are others who have to deal with this problem. Twenty years ago, near Riverhead, the residents of Flanders, Riverside, Riverhead and Northampton all began to experience the same sort of trouble I was having, not only because of the odd streets left out (or that would not fit into the form on the computer) but also because in those adjacent communities there are many streets, almost 40 of them, that have the same name or nearly the same name. And all four communities share the same ZIP code.

At the time, realizing that the computer sorts names of streets such as “Main Street” by ZIP code when they come upon a problem, the people of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton appealed to our local congressman Tim Bishop, and he pushed to get the post office to create a separate ZIP code for Flanders, Riverside and Northampton. Giving them a ZIP code separate from that of Riverhead would go a long way toward solving the problem.

You would have thought these three communities were asking to secede from the United States. In spite of all the facts—in addition, the fire and police departments have been known to go the wrong address, as have ambulances on occasion—the Postal Service denied the request.

When Lee Zeldin became our new congressman, he picked up where Tim Bishop had left off and renewed the request in June of 2015. He too was denied. And so he appealed the denial in October 2015. He appealed it to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan in Washington. They were both in Washington. They could meet face-to-face. It never happened. Ms. Brennan reportedly never replied. And in July 2016, Zeldin gave up. He’d try a different approach. He would create legislation in Congress that would bring a new ZIP code, by law, to Riverside, Flanders and Northampton. The people in that community cheered.

At this point, I pause in this story to point out that the federal government and the Postal Service are heavily weighted down in bureaucracy. Consider it. The Postal Service doesn’t even answer appeals. Congress doesn’t even approve its funding. Putting them together is inviting some sort of explosion, or at the very least a situation where what gets put in spends two years getting churned up and then finally gets spit out about as it was sent in. And that is what happened.

Zeldin’s request got attached to a larger bill called the Postal Service Reform Act of 2016, and we were all encouraged to see that also in there were calls for new ZIP codes for two other communities—Miami Lakes, Florida, and Storey County, Nevada. This act provided for a post office oversight board of five headed up by a “Chief Innovation Officer,” a one-cent increase in certain mail, a higher rate for corporate mail and cluster boxes for delivery when there were housing developments. This act got voted through by the House of Representatives, and then went on to the Senate, which brought it into committee. Everyone was hopeful. The Senate could approve the House’s bill, they could do their own bill and have a joint session to make a compromise, or they could put an amendment on the House bill. Months went by. The Senate committee belched. Nothing came out. The bill died there. They were back to square one.

But it’s not over. On January 10, 2018, Zeldin’s office announced they were introducing a new bill into the House to create a new ZIP code for Flanders, Riverside and Northampton.

I should like to point out that UPS and FedEx have straightened things out with Three Mile Harbor Hog Creek Road. There was a time at the UPS office on Newtown Lane here in East Hampton that I watched them type in my address and have the label come out Three Mile Harbor Drive. No more. Somehow, they must have disconnected from the Post Office’s computer or figured out how to override it. My address also now gets deliveries as Three Mile Harbor H C Rd., maybe because that number of fewer letters fits in the form. The folks up in Riverhead, however, continue to suffer.

UPS consistently tells you it will be one-day delivery and the package comes the next day. Last week, a firm sent me something overnight by USPS Priority Mail service. It not only did not arrive the next day, but a tracking number indicated to me it would arrive in four days. It then arrived in two days.

In the battle for the minds of Americans, I have long been on the side of compassion for others and America’s ongoing position in the world as a beacon of hope, rather than as a heartless country no better than any other.

Silly me. Sometimes, in some arenas, the private sector, as heartless as it can often be, does better than the public sector in providing services for its people. I submit postal delivery is one such arena.

And consider this: Last year, the heavily regulated telephone companies needed another area code on Long Island. The population was growing. So they created it. No fuss no muss. That was it.

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