March 12, 2013
I read about the end of Saturday mail delivery and the demise of the penny and think not of the bill from the water company, magazine subscriptions, letters and loose change but people.
In long Alexandria summer days of childhood and the first days of air conditioning, a band of rag tag numismatists haunted the cool marble floors of the little city’s banks.
We were not vagrant though our dress was casual and we may or may not have been wearing shoes. We had a few paper dollars in our jeans and soiled, gray, bank money bags, with draw strings, stuffed into a rear pocket.
We were coin collectors, and we took the pursuit seriously. We weren’t hobbyists. We were treasure hunters, but learning American history through its coinage at the same time.
Now, it feels as though I dreamed it, but Alexandria banks in the 1950s allowed children to spend the day in comfortable chairs near the tellers’ windows exchanging paper money for the bank’s coins.
This is how it worked: We laid upwards of $5 on the sill of a teller’s window. The tellers gave us the coins we requested in paper sleeves.
I was a big penny collector so I usually exchanged my paper money for sleeves of pennies hoping to find a 1909 “VDB,” “S” or “S VDB” Lincoln cent.
VDB are the initials of designer Victor D. Brenner. “S” meant the coin was minted in San Francisco.
I looked through thousands of pennies to find one, ONE, 1909 “VDB.”
Someone, a teenage numismatist probably, had told us to request coins from parking meters. The wisdom in that was people didn’t check their pocket change carefully before dropping it into parking meters.
Imagine! A nation so unrushed that it took time to examine its coins before spending them. Imagine a nation that bought things for mere coins!
It’s hard to root for the U.S. Postal Service in its bid to save $2 billion a year by eliminating Saturday delivery. The USPS’ budget is $70 billion.
The person I root for is the letter carrier who besides delivering the mail asked my wife if he could help her unload a heavy box from the trunk of her car.
If Saturday delivery goes, can delivery on other days last much longer? Would I miss home delivery? True, it would mean I could no longer get Netflix DVDs by mail, but I’ve streamed movies. So, no big deal.
What I would miss are my brief conversations with the letter carrier whom I still call in the privacy of my own brain “mailman” if he happens to be a man.
I’d be willing to throw the “mailman” under the mail truck if I thought his sacrifice would put the U.S. Government on the road to solvency.
I want something in writing from the government that in exchange for getting rid of pennies and letter carriers we’ll get universal health insurance, food for the hungry and schools that will make poor people as obsolescent as mailmen and bank tellers.