Monday, November 24, 2008

The Post Office

Leaves are scattered across the small parking lot, and I soon find that a number of random pot holes are hidden under the leaves.

The United States Flag, faded and thread bare hangs limp in the warm autumn sun. The flag is one way to find a Post Office, but it's hardly necessary as in Waco, North Carolina there is only one official looking building, The Post Office.

Sometime in the last century Waco, North Carolina was passed over when it came to progress and growth. A reflection of which can be seen in the town's post office, which has two full time employees and one part-time employee. The part timer is Kathy with a "K" she’s Jim's wife, and Jim who is quick to point out that he’s been the postmaster at Waco, North Carolina since 1971.

The third employee is Walter but he’s been on disability since 2006 and only works when he can. “He’s got a bum knee and a bad back”, explains Jim.

Waco is not quite a full square mile in size and with a population of a little more than 300 it’s just big enough to have a post office, but that’s about it. There’s no traffic light or Wal-Mart, so when folks say they are going to the store they usually mean they are going to Shelby which is about 8 miles down the road.

Jim looks skeptical at me when I begin to ask some questions about the town. After all they don't see too many folks asking questions or directions in Waco.

Behind the bi-focals, Jim is what you would expect from a small town postmaster, part Andy Griffin part Nelson Rockefeller, it helps that he is also the town’s mayor.

He's proud of the fact that he has run unopposed every two years since he’s had the job of mayor. Kathy reminds him that the reason he’s run unopposed is that no one else wants the job. Apparently the job of Mayor in Waco, NC doesn't entitle you to a salary.

The Mayor let's me know that he keeps at tight rein of expenses and that is why people vote for him. I ask for an couple of examples.

"Garbage collection, maintenance of two signs on Main Street and the cost of the annual Christmas Decorations", he answers. There is a long pause and then he corrects himself. "I mean Holiday Decorations" he says with an honest chuckle.

In fact he’s had a balanced budget since 1996, the year before due to check book error they were in the red $43.23.

He is about to tell me something notable when a lone pick-up truck already moving at a snails pace rolls up to the curb in front of us and comes to a stop. It’s a Ford model F-150, I’d guess the truck is about 30 years old and in serious need of paint.

Wedged between the windshield and the dash board are enough bills, invoices and receipts, to start a small bonfire.

“Morning Herb”, Jim calls out.

Before Herb has a chance to ask a question Jim has his answer: “Ain’t had a chance to get the mail up yet. Be an hour I'd guess”.

“That's OK”, says Herb. “I’ve got to run to town. I’ll come back about lunch time, if that’s alright?”

“That’ll be fine Herb” replies Jim.

I figure Herb is about 80 and his average speed over the last 20 years has been about 30 miles an hour.

Jim watches intently as Herb backs away from the curb.

“Better watch out”, he whispers.

Just them Herb puts the old Ford in drive, cranks the steering wheel hard to the left and stomps the gas. The red Ford F-150 bolts towards us, then swings tight to the left, up, over and back down the curb goes the right tire. Thankfully Herb is soon heading down the street at the speed of a box turtle.

Waco is lost in a time bubble, halfway between the heyday of textiles and farming of the early 1900’s Waco was passed over. Charlotte 40 miles east has grown from a crossroads of less than 80 thousand to over 600 thousand in the last 35 years while Waco has declined by 10.

With Herb gone Jim retraces our conversation remembering his thoughts informs me that Waco, North Carolina is the birth place of Floyd Patterson. “He's a boxer you know?” Jim asks.

"Yes, I do know who Floyd Patterson is, but he died in 2006 at the age of 71", I add.

I can't help but think that if the hall of fame boxer were alive today he’d most likely look around Waco, North Carolina and smile, for Waco hasn’t changed a bit in the last 50 years. Unless some developer knocks it out with a swift right hook, it’ll be here another 50 years.

I pass Herb and his faded red pickup about 3 miles out of town on the road to Shelby. He’s crawling down the road with both windows open, his arm waving wildly, signaling me to pass despite the double yellow line. He’s traveling a brisk 32 miles an hour and I figure if he makes Shelby by noon and doesn’t hit anyone he’ll get back to the Waco Post Office before they close.

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