Shoving my cards into the mail drop, I noticed a large hand grabbing them from the other side.
“Now that’s service,” I laughed, as I peeked around the corner and into the small back office of the Olga, Washington post office.
“That’s what I’m here for!” said the grinning man behind the counter. He said this to me as he simultaneously scanned postage and continued a conversation with the gentleman at the window.
On the eastern tip of saddlebag-shaped Orcas Island, the spread-out population of Olga is around 1,000. While there is a pottery studio and an art gallery, a restaurant only open part-time and a deserted market, there is also the quaint little post office that is the hub of the community.
The atmosphere in this government building felt more like a coffee shop (sans the aroma of fresh coffee beans) and it turned the errand of mailing letters into an experience.
Most of the customers coming in, even those just going to their boxes, would stick their heads in the back to say hello to Postmaster Mike, and maybe exchange a word or two of the latest news.
“No, it’s not gossip. We talk about what’s happening on the island,” said Mike.
Mike has been at this post for two and a half years, and in that time has easily gotten to know all of his customers.
I suppose it’s not that hard when you’re overseeing only 175 boxes and 250 highway contracts, but the friendly atmosphere made me want to rent one of the remaining mailboxes just so I could be a part of it.
When he sees a car pull up, Mike subconsciously registers the customer’s name, and their post office box number automatically comes to mind as well. “Everybody has a number floating over their head,” he told me. Even when he sees them outside of the post office, they have a floating number.
These floating-number-people of Olga have a lush bay to call home, but very few amenities. The empty market – across the street from the water – has been for sale for five years, but even with the summer tourists, it’s a tough place to run a business. Locals must drive to Eastsound, about twenty minutes north, for provisions.
But Olga has been a haven for my writing and watercolor retreat, and as I gaze out my window at zigzagging boats, I listen to screaming sea gulls, singing birdsong and gently lapping waves.
I’ve had to dodge a few raccoon and deer to get across the street from my beach cottage to the post office, but being so close I’ve met a number of the locals. Virtually every one of them has been warm and laid back, and quite happy about the warming weather. And the off-season.
I don’t know if they are just generally happy people, or happy because they’re heading into the post office for a dose of Mike’s sunshine.
After chatting with the postmaster, I walked across the street to my cottage. As I was opening the gate I heard my name called from the post office.
“Do you like lemon poppy seed cupcakes?”
I almost ran back across.
Mike delicately drizzled lemon frosting over a small yellow cake that sat inside a Tupperware labeled “cat food.”
Walking off with my cupcake hoisted in the air, I reflected on good things in small packages. Just as you can make a delicious miniature cake, you can find a man in a little government building that’s almost as delightful as getting an actual card in the mail.