Very Last Points on Wawa, Romney, and the USPS

For previous items, see this and this.

Wawalogo.jpg

1) Wawa and the mysteries of perception.I have seen these convenience-store signs many times over the past twenty years or so, and I have always noted the oddity of the name, since it wasn't something I'd encountered in my childhood on the other side of the country. For some reason, I had always mentally registered the spelling as "WaWa." It turns out that it is "Wawa." My mistake and apologies.

2) Address-change and the mysteries of perception. I recounted Mitt Romney's story about a doctor (actually optometrist) who was frustrated by filling out a 33-page government form to change his billing address. In context it sounded to me and I assume other people in the crowd as if he was talking about normal address changes as handled by the Post Office. After I mentioned this part of Romney's speech, to explain how he was making his case about public/private differences, many people wrote in to make a point I hadn't: that in fact it's very easy to make a USPS change.

So I went back to see the tape. It is possible though not spelled-out that the optometrist had been talking about getting the Medicare and Medicare systems to change his registered billing address, which could well be more complex. I am not inviting more correspondence on how Medicare billing actually works, nor the merits of its being more complex than the either Wawa or the USPS. (For instance: billing fraud is a huge issue for Medicare / Medicaid, so new addresses are a bigger deal there. Similarly, the first time you ask Amazon to send a shipment to a new address, they require extra verification.) I am saying that if this is what the optometrist had in mind when telling his story to Romney, then the 33 pages make a lot more sense.

Again, the entire context in which Romney was presenting these stories, and in which I relayed them, was his emphasis on the difference in convenience between what he had seen at Wawa and what he had heard about from the local address-changer. You can agree or disagree with his point, but that is why he was offering the two illustrations.

3) USPS and the mysteries of micro-billing. Yesterday I quoted a reader who wondered why the Post Office charges $1 for people who change their address online. Very large numbers of readers wrote in, all providing the same answer. Here's a sample:

The $1 fee at USPS for change of address is ONLY if you do it online, and its a token fee so that they can charge your credit card and as a side effect verify your identity. Its free if you fill out a paper card in person at a post office.

Similarly:

The $1.00 charge is to verify that you are who you say you are.  If there was no verification, I could change your address and steal your identity.  The post office has it under control.

 I hope this is the last time that the word WaWa, or even Wawa, appears in this space.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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