Jesse Lichtenstein profiles the USPS, which is losing $25 million a day and approaching default. He supplies portraits of the workers invisible to the millions of Americans they serve:
Holli Apodaca works at the Remote Encoding Center in Salt Lake City. There, in a warehouse-sized room that operates twenty-four hours a day, she sits in a beige cubicle, staring at a flat-screen monitor upon which the addresses appear, a constant stream of broken communications that she must fix. Eight thousand addresses per shift, ten thousand keystrokes an hour, doing her part to wade through the four to five million addresses that flash across the center’s screens each day. The third grader whose 3’s look like E’s, the ninety-year-old pensioner whose right hand shakes violently.
Apodaca zooms, rotates, squints, deciphers, then fires the information back to the machine in Medford, where the once rudderless letters, now matched to an address, are pulled back into the main stream and rejoin their easy-to-read brethren for their ultimate baptism: a 2.75-inch bar code sprayed along the envelope’s bottom edge. The city, state, street, house number, and ZIP-plus-four — the local post office, carrier route, and sequence within that route.