Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Charles Owens

October 16, 2013

Back in the old days, the post office box was your physical add

— — As a youngster growing up in McDowell County, a part of our daily routine was driving to the small community post office. The trip took all of five minutes at most — unless a train was crossing the road in Anawalt. Then you would find yourself waiting for a few minutes or more for the train to pass. I always enjoyed watching the trains. But Mom would often become frustrated by the long wait.

But those were the good days. Back when the railroad tracks were still intact, you could expect to see and hear a train at least twice a day or more. And often I would be awakened from sleep by the sound of a train passing our home.

As a small town, the post office was the heart of our community. And of course we had to mail letters, buy stamps and pick up packages on a regular basis. We would go to the post office in the morning and later in the evening. When I was old enough to drive, it was often my responsibility to check the evening mail after school.

The post office was where we would normally run into neighbors, family members, old friends and new acquaintances on an almost daily basis. Back in the old days, there was normally a line of people waiting to purchase a stamp or to mail a letter. There were days when getting a money order was a task that seemingly took forever.

In many ways that small post office box was our official address. But as time passed I realized that not everyone was willing to accept a post office box as the defining location of our home. And as time went on, we slowly learned that not everything that we purchased or bought from a location far away could be shipped to the local post office.

Enter the UPS man. He made life for us difficult at times. That’s because he wouldn’t accept a post office box as our official address. The UPS folks said we had to have a street address, or a physical address, in order for a package to be delivered. Back in the day we didn’t. Our gravel road didn’t have a 911 street address or official name. The only thing we had was that tiny little post office box that was too small to accept larger packages.

I had one or two of the more obscure video game systems back in the day, including the short-lived but surprisingly nice Atari Jaguar system as well as the Turbograph 16 gaming system. Unfortunately, you couldn’t buy games for these particular systems in the greater Welch or Bluefield area. Instead, you had to order the games directly from Atari, or other third-party providers. There was no Internet back in the day. You would just call the toll-free Atari number and place an order. I even seem to remember Atari accepting money order payments by mail. You would place an order by phone, mail the money order and then wait on the package to be delivered. That was simple enough. But convincing the UPS man to actually deliver the game to our home — without a physical address — was a frustrating challenge. It was like we didn’t exist.

I remember the whole situation as being quite frustrating. There was a difference, of course, between living in a small unincorporated community and the big city. For us, the big city was Welch. And folks in Welch had specific street addresses. We didn’t.

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Those specific home and street addresses in the city of Welch could be changing soon. And that is expected to create some confusion. The county’s 911 center is working to implement a rural addressing and mapping upgrade for the city as required under the new state-wide addressing and mapping program. City officials agreed to participate in the address and mapping upgrade back in 2003, but have recently learned that as many as 90 percent of all commercial and residential dwellings in the city may have to undergo an address change, according to City Attorney Danny Barie.

In hopes of sorting out the confusion, and looking for the least disruptive method of complying with the statewide addressing and mapping regulations, the city has scheduled a public meeting for this evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Herzburn Room at the McDowell County Public Library in Welch to receive input on the 911 addressing upgrade process.

They are hoping for a good turnout at this evening’s meeting. If you live in the city of Welch, and have questions, concerns or are hoping to provide input into the process, you may want to consider attending this evening’s gathering at the library.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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