You know your world is a small place when a simple trip to the post office is considered to be an “event.” During the pandemic, until lately, I have pretty much been at home or outdoors in the immediate vicinity 24/7. However, about a week ago that changed as I have now been completing a few more errands outside of the house (more here). Most recently, I took a trip to the post office to take a passport photo, which turned out to be a memorable experience, if only because my days at home have become so blurred.
Although the post office is a standard location for passport photos, it was not my first-choice destination. Initially, I called Walgreens for an appointment, however, due to the pandemic, photography services are suspended, as taking passport photos would require customers to remove their masks. While many have their complaints about government-run organizations like the DMV or SSA, I must say, I was selfishly taking joy in the fact that the post office, unlike Walgreens, was operating in a business-as-usual fashion.
Due to scheduling considerations, I ended up visiting a post office in Arlington, Massachusetts. When I walked into the small entryway, I noticed there were tape markings on the floor, instructing customers where to stand in line to maintain a six-foot distance apart. While well-intentioned, the line, unfortunately got a little messy. This is because there were two staff members at the counter —a man and a woman—and the woman seemed to be the more senior of the two because a few people, me included, were turned away by the man and asked to wait until the woman was available to help. This was so often the case that there was an auxiliary line next to the counter comprising the people who required special assistance.
On my email confirmation of my photo appointment time, it stated very clearly that I was to arrive 10 mins early. I arrived 15 minutes early and waited in line for just about as long — arriving early is good advice! When it was finally my turn the woman loudly waved me over in a native Boston accent. I informed her of my photo appointment. She retrieved the camera from the backroom and guided me across the lobby in front of the P.O. boxes. Seemingly out of nowhere, she reached up and pulled down a white slideshow-type screen and asked me to remove my mask.
She was very friendly and even reached out and touched my cheeks a few times to adjust my head. After several clicks of the camera I slid my mask back on and was asked to wait until I was called up to retrieve my photos. After leaning against a table in the back for about 25 minutes, it was clear that I was totally forgotten about. At this point, I think I should explain my appearance to you. I always stand out a bit in crowds. When I’m walking down the street or at a mall, people gaze rather than just glance. There is nothing uncomfortable about my appearance — for example, I do not have any physical disability—but I get noticed. However, at the same time, I have a very quiet presence. On multiple occasions, I have been totally overlooked by teachers and others. So, it’s either one way or the other — I’m either stared at or totally forgotten!
When I approached the counter the woman who helped me, let a very audible “oh, sh!t” escape and apologized profusely. Then, she offered me a piece of candy from the little jar sitting on the counter — all Atomic FireBalls. Although I have never enjoyed one of these cinnamon bombs in my life, I took one as if to ameliorate her guilt. To be honest, I was having a good day, so I was unbothered that I waited quite a while. I was doing remote work on my phone and genuinely amused by all the in-person interactions at the post office.
I paid for my photos. The woman behind the counter apologized again, and I left.
My experience was a bit awkward; my photos look awkward; I am awkward.
All in all, I would say my trip was par for the course.