Going postal: when tragedy becomes a business

“I was doing my usual daily routine, you know, putting the letters and magazines into their respective slots so that they would be in order for delivery that day. Then I hear it. Pop Pop Pop. I look over to a hunter buddy of mine working across from me. We both knew that sound.

I began to look for an escape route; I had anticipated that this might happen someday. As I heard more gunshots in my vicinity I ran from my work station. I passed an exit sign; I don’t know why. It would have led me to safety out the front door. Panic I guess. I saw the shooter coming towards me so I ran into the nearest hallway and into the office at the end of the hallway. I tried to open the window in that office but it was sealed shut for security. I tugged so hard to escape through that window the aluminum frame broke off in my hands. But the window still would not open.

I ran out of the office to look for more exit strategies but I did not get far. Coming towards me was a stark figure slinging a rifle from his hip. He began to shoot and bullets flew through the air. I felt a sharp blow to the head and I reeled back and fell to the ground. I found out later that a ricocheted bullet had hit the wall and a piece of mortar had blasted into my head. Lucky, I guess.

As I lay on my back recovering from the shrapnel I rolled over onto my stomach to see a pair of boots walking towards me. I hear a gun click a round into its barrel. I sense the searing metal pointed inches from my head. I plead for my life without looking up. ‘Don’t do this. I’m your friend; look at my face before you shoot.’ I can do nothing but look at the two boots, one on either side of my head. As I am snorting the fear emanating from the cold floor of the Royal Oak Post Office I hear these words: ‘I didn’t come here for you.’ The two boots walk away from the sides of my head. I laid there for just a moment. Then I ran like hell for my life.”                                                                                            

The date was Nov. 14, 1991. I heard this story for the first time in the summer of 2013. I have worked in the Royal Oak, Mich., Post Office since October of 2000 and have known this coworker for just as long. I really can’t remember what started this conversation, but as he told the story he pointed around the workroom floor and walked me through the hallways and rooms where he begged for his life. He was spared, but five people lost their lives that day and many more were wounded, both physically and spiritually. I was amazed that he wanted to recount that day, to share it with me. I wanted to cry, but tears were not appropriate. His catharsis, the cleansing of his emotions, was more important than my tears. And I could tell by the wild look in his eyes as he told this tale that even he could not believe he was alive to share it.  

Royal Oak was not the first, nor the last, post office in the United States to experience this type of workplace violence. Between 1986 and 1997, more than 40 people were gunned down in at least 20 incidents of workplace rage related to postal workers. A certain term emerged from this wave of violence: “going postal.” Its origins are argued about by linguistic historians. For years I thought it came directly after the Royal Oak shootings, but some research shows its earliest citation was in the St. Petersburg Times (of Florida) on Dec. 17, 1993. Again on Dec. 31, 1993 the Los Angeles Times ran this: “Unlike the more deadly mass shootings around the nation, which have lent a new term to the language, referring to shooting up the office as “going postal …” Simply put, “going postal,” in American slang, means becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment.

Now what if you change the term to “goin’ postal”?  You know, shorten the “going” to “goin'” and slap on a smiling cartoon character delivering a package with a big American flag in the background. Then you decide to use “Goin’ Postal” as a name for your new store that sells delivery products to the American public. You open up one store in Florida, and then decide to franchise this nifty idea all across the country. You even have the cojones to partner up with the Postal Service as an allied business. You become so successful that now there are 300 Goin’ Postal stores across the country. But yet, here is the feather in your cap; you open a Goin’ Postal store in Royal Oak, Mich., the hometown of the 1991 post office shootings. Sound like a twisted fairytale? I wish it was.

Goin’ Postal opened up in Royal Oak, my hometown, in December 2013. The company is based in Zephyrhills, Fla., and has been in business since 2002. They sell all shipping services including USPS, FedEx, and UPS as well as offering mailbox rentals and office supplies. Their website says the company “bases its business ideals around the American family, and the American dream that those families are working toward.” The website emphasizes the “family” and “American Dream” theme over and over in their franchise pitch. The Price family, owners of the company, thinks there is nothing wrong with the moniker “Goin’ Postal.” James Hall, COO at Goin’ Postal, simply stated this in a recent interview: “I am sorry that some people have taken the name negatively. That was never our intention. We mean no malice. The post office is a huge ally of ours.”                                                                                             

Since this store opened in my town I began to ask myself if maybe I am missing something here. Has “going postal” ever meant anything other than violent outbreaks at the workplace that lead to death? Does changing the “going” to “goin'” bring it down a notch? Is this just a form of gallows humor that is now acceptable since it has been 22 years since the tragedy at the Royal Oak Post Office where five people lost their lives?

The Goin’ Postal Facebook page answered some of these questions for me. Apparently, other folks are as aghast as I am about the name. The comments section was filled with words like “sick,” “disgusting” and “insensitive.” Our local online community daily newsletter, the Royal Oak Patch, ran a very neutral story on the store’s opening. Its comments section was filled for days with overwhelmingly negative comments about the store’s name. One that stands out was “Goin’ Postal is as inappropriate for a business name as the Sandy Hook Target Range”. Or maybe a gun shop called the Columbine Stop N Shoot built right next to the Royal Oak High School.                                                          

Turns out Goin’ Postal is listed as one of the worst franchises to buy (according to UnhappyFranchisee.com). One opened up in a neighboring town and lasted about a year before it shut its doors. This one in Royal Oak opened up about a block north of a well-established UPS store that offers basically the same services. There has been talk of picketing the store but that would only bring some undeserved attention in my mind. I truly believe the good citizens of this town will make the right decision and spend their money where it is deserved to be spent. They did so after the tragedy of Nov. 14, 1991. Our post office patrons returned two days after the shooting to buy their stamps and send their packages. It helped to heal the wound and bring our town back to sanity. That, in a perfect world, would be the true meaning of “going postal.”

Photo: Flickr (CC)


John Dick
John Dick

Award winning writer John "Cementhead" Dick is a retired letter carrier and proud member of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Branch 3126, Royal Oak, Mich.