DEC. 23, 2008–SOUTH BEACH, OR–It’s Christmas Eve Eve, as my husband used to call it. Maybe a better name is “last chance day.” Receiving a sudden deluge of book orders, I discovered I had used all of my padded envelopes to mail Christmas presents, so I had to go to Staples in Newport. Cars lined Highway 101, and filled the parking lot. Who buys office supplies two days before Christmas? Apparently a lot of people do, trying to fill last-minute orders like me, suddenly realizing that report is due before the holidays and oh my God, the holidays are tomorrow, or desperately seeking Christmas presents.
Books packaged in the car, I had to wait half of forever to merge back into the traffic on 101. Everyone’s out of school. Lots of folks are out of work, voluntarily or not. The Georgia-Pacific mill, one of our biggest employers, has furloughed all hourly employees without pay through the holidays. Even without paychecks, we’re finally freed from our prisons of snow and ice, and credit cards will get us through to January.
You can’t get here from anywhere else, except perhaps by boat. Portland is still snowed in, so we beach dwellers have our little island of 40-degree warmth to ourselves. The rain has let up, the air is crisp, the sky is pale blue, and the ocean is a deeper blue frosted with white. The blades of grass are beginning to spring back up, and the trees are shaking off the last flakes of ice like dogs shaking the water off their fur.
Speaking of dogs, let me take you to the South Beach Post Office. It’s 4:10 p.m., 20 minutes to closing, people lined up to the door. As I got out of the car, I saw one dog, then another and another and another. Four little dogs pattered around the linoleum floor. Three were long-haired pug-nosed types named Lulu, Cleopatra, and something else. The other, Henry, possibly a miniature poodle, huddled against its owner, terrorized by a little boy who kept leaping around among the people. The dogs sniffed the scents of our dogs off our pants and shoes, and greeted newcomers. Their owner didn’t seem to think it was strange to take four dogs into the Post Office, but that’s South Beach. As I was mailing my books, a Rottweiler wandered out of the back room behind the counter. “Get back!” hollered the clerk. He did, but he sneaked out again. How could he resist? All these people, and all these dogs.
Most of the folks in line carried Christmas boxes. Each had the same question: Will it get there on time? Let’s put it this way. Overnight mail here takes two days.
A bowl of candy sat on the counter amid various Santas and reindeer. The postmistress, Valerie, wore a red baseball cap with green stitching that said, “Santa . . . I’ve been good.” The two women tossed packages onto the scale, slapped on stamps and stickers, collected money, passed out change, wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and the dogs, wagging their stubby tails, said hello to one and all.
The Post Office, which shares a building with a video/computer/office supply store and a gym, is the heart of South Beach. No one wears uniforms; the walls don’t offer pictures of wanted criminals. We do have racks of greeting cards, a return slot for the video store next door, stacks of telephone books for anyone who wants one, and the biggest bulletin board around. You can find cats, dogs, llamas and goats needing homes, housekeepers and handymen seeking work, yoga teachers offering classes, writers doing readings, emergency telephone numbers for the sick, the lonely and the addicted, business cards, and lots of spare pushpins for anyone with a message to share.
I love picking up the mail from my box. It may be all bills or ads, but there’s a chance I’ll find a magazine or a letter or even a card informing me that there’s a package waiting. No matter how cold it gets outside, it’s always warm in the Post Office. If they’re not busy, the ladies will dig through their change for that commemorative quarter you’re seeking or help you figure out how to wrap that odd-shaped thingamajig you bought for Uncle Pete. It wasn’t like that back in San Jose.
People hold the door open for each other here. You walk in and think ahh, home. Even when the counter is closed and no one else is around, it feels good at the Post Office. And the acoustics are great. Catch me on the way to church or a concert and I’ll be singing ma may mee mo moo, warming up my voice. Or maybe bibbity bibbity bibbity may mee my mo moo. I’ll grab my mail, read the bulletin board and walk out still singing.
My mother used to ask me where downtown South Beach was located. I kept telling her there is no downtown. South Beach is not a city, just a postal designation, a stretch of Lincoln County land between the Yaquina Bridge and Seal Rock. But if I had to pinpoint the center of South Beach, it would have to be the Post Office. Stick around long enough, and you’ll meet everyone there.