Rust showed the color of time past. There was wood splintering under the blistering hot sun of July and the frozen winters of the Michigan coast, buried in the snows of December. Plastic had found its way onto the scene, but those who were a fan of the “classic look” were drawn to a metal structure. Important business was housed within, or fanciful messages to celebrate the milestones we all eventually endure. What’s in your mailbox?
“Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily” Lemony Snicket, The Beatrice Letters
Traveling to so many different cities, thrust into unknown environments, I try to see what’s really there, and not just what I expect to see. Sometimes I don’t get past the front door, both literally and figuratively. I have to remind myself that behind the door of every residence, or business, is a world I haven’t experienced, a lifestyle I may know nothing about, a person’s story.
I’m often able to explore a new city by bicycle. I slow down a bit, and try to find out what I can learn by “reading” the façade that is presented curbside. One thing all the buildings have in common is a mailbox.
This receptacle of bills, junk mail and Hallmark greeting cards can reveal the personality of the residents inside. You can learn a lot from the presence (or absence) of a particular mailbox. It may seem like a small feature, more utilitarian than deeply revealing of character, but if you look closer you discover hints of who lives inside. Or perhaps the mailbox wasn’t a choice, but rather a remnant, something that came with the house. Or perhaps the choice not to have a mailbox, and to maintain some level of privacy through the use of a P.O. box, tells you something about the characters living next door, down the street, and across town.
This week, pulling my Trek out of the back of my Subaru, I decided to get to know the city I’d landed in by bike. I examined Monroe, MI (a small town just south of Detroit) the way a mail carrier does. Wishing I could explore the contents of the mailboxes, but knowing better, I was limited to learning what I could about the people of Monroe by an examination from a distance. A more hands-on approach may have had me run out of the neighborhood, by perplexed residents, or the police.
Elaborate, personalized and demanding attention, or mass produced, ignored and dilapidated, everyone has a mailbox. Unless they don’t.
Perhaps the agonizing choice of an email address (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) is replacing the selection of a postal mailbox, the sort that a mail carrier would deliver an actual letter to. I hope not. I’m in the camp that still sends cards, and appreciates it when others do the same. I keep the stationary stores in business, and plaster my fridge with items the USPS deliveres to my door.
My grandfather was a stamp collector, so perhaps there’s a bit of nostalgia to my checking the mailbox. Grandpa Frank’s collection was passed along to my father, who divided the stamps into collectables and the “Lick’m and Stick’m” stamps. I mailed my share of letters in the late ’90s with $0.02 and $0.20 stamps. If nothing else, it was colorful!
In my current residence I have a mail slot that drops the mail to the welcome mat just inside the door. . . it’s just not the same as checking to see what’s arrived in the box with the red flag raised. I’ve never had that red flag, but. . . shrug. . . ya know, that’s the stuff of Norman Rockwell. My next mailbox might need to have a bike attached.
So, what did I learn about the people of Monroe, MI? They are messy and meticulous, creative and careless. They are heartfelt and harrowed, lackadaisical and a little bit lost. I’d like to say that at the end of my turn around the neighborhood I found the unique character of Monroe. Instead, I discovered that the residents of this small town are very much just like the rest of us!
Join me on my next adventure!
City of Monroe, MI: http://www.monroemi.gov/
American Philatelic Socitey: http://stamps.org/A-Hobby-for-Everyone
Snoop – What Your Stuff Says About You: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1581330.Snoop