Cynthia Oi Under the Sun

Cynthia Oi

America is more
than the lower 48

The U.S. Postal Service last week rejected a package I wanted delivered to another island.

It was one of those flat-rate, priority-mail deals where you pack as much as will fit inside a specially marked envelope and pay a set amount of postage regardless of weight. Once in a while, I buy a bunch of flat-rate stamps, grab some envelopes and when the mood to mail hits, I simply stuff, stick and send.

The envelope was returned with a "customer information" note plastered on the front. The note said the package was being returned because "heightened security measures" require mail "weighing 16 ounces or over" be presented to a "retail clerk at a post office," which kind of negates the flat-rate concept. Another set of stickers had me baffled. All three of them declared that this particular piece of mail could be moved by "surface transportation only."

I seldom have a beef with the postal service. The carrier in our neighborhood is a fine fellow who will walk down the driveway and knock on my door when he has a delivery that's too big for the mailbox instead of leaving one of those yellow slips that instructs you to pick it up yourself at the post office. When I do have to trek to the P.O., the workers behind the counter are efficient and pleasant.

This matter, however, was a bit annoying. So I called the 800 number and asked for an explanation. Isaac, the customer service rep, said the reason for the return was that flat-rate service is for "domestic" mail only, meaning "in the United States."

I said, "Hawaii is a state. Has been since 1959." He became confused and turned me over to his supervisor. She said Isaac meant to say that the service is available only in the continental United States. When I told her I'd mailed flat-rate packages at least a dozen times before, she said those were "probably mistakes."

Not, I thought, but I could see arguing would be useless and moved on to the "surface transportation only" sticker. She said because of security measures, certain mailings can only be transported by truck or rail. How would that work, I inquired politely, when trucks and trains can't sail the ocean between islands? Long pause. Then she huffed that mail in Hawaii, even priority mail, goes by ship, which is surface transport. Even though I'm sure priority mail is flown between islands, I said thanks and hung up.

Sometimes I wonder if people have a clue about Hawaii. Sometimes I think the rest of the country looks upon us as a novelty state, exotic while still American, pretty but not to be taken seriously. Except for the fact that we happen to be strategic militarily, no one inside the D.C. beltway would give a hoot about Hawaii. Things that trouble us, like the brown tree snake threat and protection of coral reefs, are given short shrift because few other states share the same problems.

It's not that we don't have any common concerns. In a casual conversation at a North Shore store last weekend, a woman visiting for the first time said she was surprised that Honolulu had homeless people. Nelda from New Mexico also was shocked by the traffic jams that snared her and her husband as they headed out for a day of holo holo in their rented Sebring convertible.

She went on to say they'd considered taking a day trip to Kauai, but the air fare was too high. Tell me about it, I said. But don't Hawaii citizens get some sort of discount? she asked. I laughed and told her about the difficulty of visiting friends and family and of doing business on the neighbor islands when flying is the only way to go.

I said our politicians occasionally make noises about air fare subsidies and ferry systems, but never seem to make serious attempts to get such proposals off the ground. Just like New Mexico, she said; politicians there blow a lot of hot air as well. We both laughed.

As we parted, I said that at least she could drive from one end of New Mexico to the other and beyond. By surface transportation, to boot. Just like the interisland mail.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at:


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