Barney Fife, Postal Inspector

I live in a building in Washington Heights near the top of Manhattan that is over 100 years old. I personally have lived in this building at the corner of 168th Street and Broadway, which contains a mix of residential and commercial tenants, mainly offices of Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, since 1985. My next-door neighbors have lived in the building since World War II. The building number is 601, and has been 601 since the time the New York Highlanders baseball team played their games across the street before moving across the river and changing its name to the New York Yankees. This address is reflected on the fa├žade of the building, but more importantly, on the mailing label of many thousands of pieces of mail and packages that come to the building, as well as appearing on official documents like my driver’s license and passport.

Despite all of this clear and convincing body of evidence, a recent visit by a postal inspector determined that the address is “actually” 603. Somehow, this has escaped the attention of the USPS and the entire Western world since 1908. It has not ever been a problem for anyone, but now that the postal “service” has become aware of it, it is a huge problem. The postal service announced via a flyer in our mailboxes that the address is incorrect and that all mail must now be addressed as 603 West 168th Street, failing which, all mail sent to 601 will be returned to the sender after a two-week “courtesy” period.

There apparently is no 601. It’s not as if said mail could possibly go anywhere else by mistake. There are only two possibilities: Barney Fife (a/k/a Don Knotts on “The Andy Griffith Show”) is the postal inspector, or the United States Postal Service itself has “gone postal.”

So let’s see if I have this straight. Thanks to Mr. Fife, literally tons of mail that will come to this building in the next six to twelve months will be returned by the Post Office to their respective senders. The cumulative cost of postal service man hours, driving of postal vehicles, delivery by air, gasoline to fuel the trucks and planes, not to mention the thousands of hours of people needlessly sending forms to vendors, service providers, friends and family, etc. and ad nauseum to have them “correct” the building address, is astounding. Since the USPS is effectively absorbing the cost of all such returned mail, this also means many thousands of dollars in lost postal revenue to a service that is so broke that it has threatened it could go out of business, and has asked Congress to let them off the hook for the deals it made with the postal union. With such a broken bureaucracy, it’s not surprising why.

Of course, the sensible solution to this non-problem is to fix the entry in whatever book or database or other official document has gotten our Barney Fife’s feathers so ruffled. After 101 years, Mr. Fife, my coaching to you: you might consider another line of work.

The coaching lesson here? The address change might even be technically correct, but always look at the cost of “being right” versus doing “what works.”