How long does it take for a piece of mail to travel from New Jersey to New Jersey? A day, perhaps two? Three, on a bad week, where snowstorms disrupt the service? Perhaps if an asteroid strikes the city, destroying all infrastructure, tragically atomising all active postal workers in a single moment as they were all gathered together in one spot, celebrating the Postmaster’s beautiful daughter’s 21st birthday at the local scout hall, you’d expect that services would be disrupted for a while. But barring those circumstances (and all my investigations thusfar have not uncovered anything along those lines), you’d surmise that a letter ought to be able to travel 30 miles within the confines of an ordinary week.
After all, centuries ago, all you’d need to do is to beckon the closest slave, hand him a cleft stick, and point in a desired direction, and your letter would be there by the end of the day. Improved efficiencies (not to mention improved postal employee engagement) led to a slowdown, but counterweighted with a significant decrease in cost. Acceptable to all but the most demanding of letter-writers (most of whom, it should be noted, died out in tandem with the decline of the British Empire).
Nowadays, however, technology has moved on so far, that the age-old services are starting to be neglected, and are trapped in a vicious circle of reduced volume leading to increased cost, leading to reduced demand, leading to reduced volume. And so we arrive at my current predicament, where a letter posted in New Jersey cannot arrive in New Jersey within a week. In fact, I have no idea how long it will take to traverse the required 30 miles, as it’s been 8 days thusfar, and it still hasn’t emerged from the cavernous hollows of the once-proud USPS. A week’s delay in that letter’s arrival leads to a week’s delay in my visa application, which leads to a week’s delay in my house being packed up which leads to a week’s delay in my flight.
And so, beware ye the curse of time creep: if your schedule is back-to-back, and linear, and dependent, either rearrange it so ’tis not so, or build in a noticeable quantity of slack. Particularly if one of your nodes involves getting written information out of the USA.
Update (2/8/2010): The letter finally arrived today, 10 days after posting. What I suspect is that the USPS is preparing for a major upgrade in the near future, and are currently setting the bar low in order to guarantee the success of the upgrade project. Only time will tell whether I’m being too generous…