Saturday, February 18, 2012

The fine line between getting mail and getting our mailbox smashed to smithereens

One of the first things we noticed when we were interested in buying this house in the country was how plain and pathetic the non-descript country mailbox looked, sitting sad and alone on it's pole at the end of the driveway by the road. The previous owners took a lot of pride in decorating the house and bragged incessantly on how much they spent on everything, so the poor old grey galvanized mailbox just didn't fit in. We never questioned the previous owners about it, but resolved to replace the bland, boring mailbox with something cute and country-like after we moved in.

The previous owners explained how the mail system around here works. When the mail car puts something into your mailbox they put the red flag up. We can't see it from the house, but at least we see it when we come into the driveway. The really cool part is that when you want to send out mail, instead of dropping it into one of those big red boxes (of which there aren't any around here) you just put it in your mailbox and put the red flag up. This signals the mail car to stop and pick up your mail. Cool eh?

What we found out pretty quickly when shopping for a country mailbox is that there really aren't many stores that sell them around here, but we did manage to find a cute white mailbox with a red cardinal design on it. So we took down the ugly grey galvanized mailbox and proudly put up our new one.

I think it lasted all of 3 passes of the snow-plow before it got shattered to pieces. Undaunted, we bought another one, but a few weeks later it suffered the same fate as the first one. After rooting around the ditch for the pieces of our fourth mailbox we finally understood why the previous owners didn't have a nice mailbox. The reality of living on a country road with an 80km speed limit is that you really shouldn't get attached to your mailbox...because you aren't going to have it for very long.

On April 1, 2012 we will have been living here for 11 years. I wish I had kept all the receipts, because I am pretty sure in those 11 years we have gone through about 38 mailboxes and my husband and I have had about 34 fights over it. The fights always start the same way. My husband storms into the house, pissed off and ready to kill someone...carrying the remains of our latest mailbox. "That's it! We're not doing this anymore. We're getting a post office box and that's final! No more home mail delivery for us - it's over!" Then he takes his coat and boots off, ceremoniously throws the mailbox into the kitchen garbage, stomps up the stairs and disappears into his office to pout and feel sorry for himself. I have learned the hard way that he is best avoided for two to three days after one of these episodes.

Under different circumstances I would give in. Fine let's get a post office box - whatever! But I know full well that if we do that it will become my job to drive the 24km round trip to the post office to pick up our mail all the time...and it will be my fault if I don't go on a day that he was expecting to receive something in the mail. Don't get me wrong - my husband is a complete sweetheart, but he gets really impatient and crabby when he orders something by mail and he gets completely inconsolable if it doesn't arrive on the day he decides that it's supposed to.

I have spent countless hours online shopping for mailboxes and I have learned one thing. We are not alone. The pole-mounted country mailbox is probably the single most frequently replaced fixture on country homes across North America. There is all kinds of cool stuff out there. There's a mailbox that swings, which is basically a device that swings your mailbox around a 360 degree circle when it gets hit by the plow. Here's a YouTube video that shows how it works:

It probably works fine when your mailbox gets hit at 50km per hour or less, but at the speed ours gets hit, the mailbox will swing around for sure, but it will also get crumpled up and busted.

I also found (but I've lost the link now) a place that sells cast iron mailboxes that weigh in at 300 pounds. They are GUARANTEED to put a dent in the snow-plow!!! But alas there are rules around here. We can't actually have one of those because if a car hits it, or a motorcycle hits it, it has to be installed in a way that the pole will break off instead of slicing the vehicle/motorbike in half. And any pole that would hold up a 300 pound cast iron mailbox would be massive and would have to be planted in cement. So sadly it's not a choice that is available to us.

I did find a really interesting candidate - it's called the indestructible mailbox. There used to be a wickedly fun video to watch about the indestructible mailbox. It was some news reporter who was doing a review on the mailbox. It started out with a professional baseball player breaking his bat with a single, well placed smash to the mailbox. Then it showed a mailbox getting run over by a bulldozer and the mailbox didn't collapse, didn't get crushed or anything. It was pretty amazing. But the really fun part happened when he took the indestructible mailbox out to an army base and had them put a some explosives into it. The first explosion managed to blow out one of the welds, but the mail box was basically still intact. Very impressive. But the guy doing the review wasn't satisfied so he had them put even more explosives into it and this time they managed to blow it to bits. It was awesomely funny to watch. I tried to find the video it but it looks like it's gone :o(

Anyways, over the years we have tried every kind of mailbox available in our area. We were hesitant to spring for the indestructible mailbox because it was something like $250.00USD and it weighs about 50 pounds. We have made numerous inquiries about shipping costs, but we never get any response. So we just keep buying whatever we can find out here - plastic, rubber, metal - whatever and put it out there to face it's fate.

About 4 years ago the snow-plow driver really did a number on us. When we went out to find the mailbox we couldn't even find the pole it was bolted to! The mailbox pole had been amputated so cleanly and completely that we couldn't even tell where it used to be...sliced it clean off at the level of the gravel. Admittedly even I got upset that time and blasphemed against the snow-plow driver, against the city, against winter, the clouds and even against the poor little snowflakes. Now what were we supposed to do?

I drove to the post office and asked their advice. They gave me the low-down on the rules about how the mailbox needs to be set-up in order to receive our mail. The rules were very specific because you can't put the mail delivery person's life in danger, and the mailbox has to conveniently sit where they can access it from the open window of their delivery vehicle. But the most important little tidbit of information I got from the post office lady was that we could call the city and they would make the snow removal company replace our pole and our mailbox! I drove home feeling triumphant - we were going to be getting a brand new mailbox and a new pole too - at the expense and effort of someone else. Finally a little justice!

I think I got transferred around to about 12 different people at the city before I finally was put in touch with the person who actually took down my address and said they would take care of it. And sure enough, the next day a red pick-up truck stopped at the end of our driveway and a couple of guys started digging up the ditch. At first I couldn't figure out what was going on, but then they managed to unearth our crumpled mailbox, still firmly bolted to it's pole. I expected them to throw it into the back of their truck and take off to buy us a new one.

Nothing doing. To my shock and dismay, they started pounding the frozen gravel with a pick axe and replanted the amputated pole - with it's crumpled mailbox still intact.

That's it? That's how you're going to fix my mailbox? Are you kidding me?

When I called the city back and complained they told me it was fixed. I argued my case but they said they had fixed it the best they could - the ground was frozen and that was all they could do. The snow-plow contractor had the big end of the stick -  they were washing their hands of me and my mailbox problem.

The mailbox was no longer at the specified height required by the post office and I was sure our mail would not be delivered anymore. But luckily, our mail carriers - bless their souls - would contort their bodies to get the mail into our dilapidated mailbox...except on windy days. Because the mailbox pole was  round and planted in a round frozen hole the wind could catch the mailbox and swing it around like a weather vein. And on the days that the mailbox wasn't facing the road when the mail car came by, we wouldn't get any mail :o(

So I spent the rest of that winter trying to remember to go out and set our bashed in mailbox-cum-weather-vein at the right angle so that we could get our mail. I didn't bother to do it on really windy days (which is about 50% of the time out here) because by the time I would get my coat and boots off it would have swung around in the wind again.

My husband and I also got busy making plans on how we would install our new mailbox post in the spring. We decided to plant the post in the grass, back from the road with an arm sticking out onto which we would hang the mailbox at the height and distance from the asphalt prescribed by the post office. We figured that  with the post so far back from the road that it wouldn't be in danger of getting hit like it was when it had been planted in the gravel. As spring neared my husband got to work and when he was done he planted this beauty at the end of our driveway:

Pretty sweet eh? All legal-schmegal and up to code and compliant with every requirement that the post office could invent.

Yeah, well don't get excited - we made that mistake. Because, you see, the post office height requirement puts the mailbox - you guessed it - right in range of the business end of the snow-plow. So it doesn't matter where you put your post - your mailbox is still going to get smacked around. We still go through 3 or 4 mailboxes every winter. Thanks to the chains we rarely have to dig around in the ditch to find it though - a good, swift hit from the plow will now send the mailbox spinning up, over and around the arm from which it hangs. After a few good hits the mailbox starts to look pretty pulverized and it usually only takes one snowstorm to rip the door off and make the little red flag disappear.

We've tried everything to try to make the mailbox more visible - we've tried buying colours that contrast with the snow, we've stuck reflectors on the mailbox, we've tried plastering the mailbox with reflective tape - nothing helps. We just seem to be in a bad spot - either that or the plow driver LIKES to smash our mailbox to bits. Maybe he doesn't realize how pissed off it makes my husband. Maybe he doesn't understand that every time we have to replace that damned mailbox that we have a huge fight over it. But more than likely he just doesn't care. If you were out there at 3am, wiping the sleep from your eyes and trying to find the road amongst the snow drifts in a blizzard would you care about hitting some stupid mailbox?

Exactly - probably not.

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