How fast is U.S. mail delivered?

This summer (2018), I had a letter arrive from a town in England to Berkeley, California in 10 days. I didn’t know they can do it that fast! I mean, I thought it was weeks and weeks.

A letter left Washington DC on Friday, August 24, 2018, and arrived in rural North Carolina the next Thursday. Pitiful, yes?

It took a letter three days to travel between a small North Carolina town and a rural part of the state in early September, 2018 (the two locations are about 2 hours apart.)

A letter sent from rural North Carolina on a Wednesday in September 2018 arrived at its destination in Berkeley, California, by the following Monday.

Yet again! a letter sent from rural North Carolina on a (later) Wednesday in September 2018 arrived at its destination in Emeryville, California, by the following Monday.

I sent three letters from rural North Carolina to Small Town, North Carolina on a Saturday in October. All three pieces of mail were going to the EXACT same address — a postcard; a small card in a smaller-than-normal envelope; and a normal-sized letter. I had laid all three pieces snugly side by side in the mailbox, so I thought they’d just stay together from there on out — less sorting for the post people, right? Well, the largest letter arrived in Small Town, NC, on the Thursday. The card in the small envelope arrived on the Friday — and it was all ripped up 😦 The envelope had torn entirely open, and the pretty embroidery on the card was all smashed up. But luckily the two stickers and the little bokmärken inside were unscathed. The post people had stuck everything into a larger envelope with a pre-printed and profuse apology on the side. As for the postcard — I have no idea! Maybe it arrived on Saturday?

Two letters coming from the exact same address in rural Maryland arrived in rural North Carolina after four days. They left on a Thursday in October 2018 and arrived the next Monday. They arrived side-by-side, just as they’d been sent. Why didn’t my letters do that 😦

A letter sent from Small Town, North Carolina arrived in the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina in 2 days! Wow! The letter was sent on the very last Tuesday of October. At least … the letter was postmarked on the very last Tuesday of October. Possibly it had been dropped in the mail on Monday, which would make it a three-day travel time.

A letter postmarked on the Friday before Thanksgiving from Medium-Sized Town, North Carolina, arrived in middle-of-nowhere NC on the Monday.

A letter sent from middle-of-nowhere, NC, to Small Town NC in the beginning of November appears to be lost 😦 I asked the mail carrier about this. He said he has no idea what could have happened. But he said that all the mail that they pick up from mailboxes is sent to the Concord post office; and then a truck takes it to the Charlotte post office the same night. And then it gets shipped to other places from there. Cool to know! Update: the letter arrived 1.5 months after it was sent!

A letter sent from North Carolina to Chicago in November 2018 made it eventually. And I sent a post-card back to Chicago in early December, mailing it off the day just before a big snow-storm hit, and as far as I can tell, it hasn’t made it yet 😦 It’s now December 18.

A letter sent on a Tuesday of mid-December from Berkeley, CA, arrived in rural North Carolina the following Monday. That seems a lot longer than when I send letters to Berkeley.

A letter sent in February from rural North Carolina to a city in Australia arrived in about two weeks! And a letter sent back in April also had roughly 2-weeks’ journey. I sent a couple of letters to Australia in 2019, and received several back. Both going and coming, the letters appear to always take about 2 weeks to arrive.

A letter sent from central Houston to the outskirts of Houston at the start of May arrived in 2 days! Monday to Wednesday.

A letter sent from central Houston to rural North Carolina at the start of May 2019 arrived in 4 days. Monday to Thursday.

A postcard dropped into a blue mail pick-up bin in Santa Barbara, California, on a warm Sunday night in December 2019 arrived in a suburb of Chicago on the somewhat balmy following Friday. I had taken the train to Chicago; I beat the postcard there.

I dropped three postcards in a rush into a blue mail pick-up bin in Union Station in Los Angeles on a Monday evening in December, 2019. In my rush, I had forgotten to write the zip code of the delivery address on two of those postcards. The sole postcard with the complete address arrived in rural North Carolina on Saturday. A postcard missing its zip code arrived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on the following Thursday. And the last postcard was also delivered around the same time, zip code-less, to Houston. So forgetting the zip code adds about 5 days or so to the journey of your mail.

A letter sent at the end of December, 2019, from rural North Carolina arrived at its address in a North Carolina town 11 days later. Pathetic! One of those days was the New Years, but still. Apparently, the post delivery person at the destination street is kind of sketchy.

A letter postmarked on a Friday early in January, 2020, from Santa Barbara, California, arrived four days later in Houston, Texas. Compare that to the lagging journey of the letter that never even left North Carolina above!

Two letters left Los Angeles on a Friday in September, 2020, and made it to rural NC by the next Monday!

A letter sent from rural NC to Los Angeles on a Friday in early November, 2020 (the Friday after the election, in fact) arrived at least one and a half weeks later! This is kind of unheard of!

It appears the post has just gotten really slow overall: check this out for mail speeds in December 2020 and January 2021…

A letter sent early December 2020 from rural Maryland arrived in rural North Carolina TWO weeks and a day later!!

A letter sent mid-January 2021 from rural Maryland arrived in rural North Carolina a week and a day later.

A letter sent Christmas Eve 2020 from rural North Carolina arrived in Los Angeles exactly one week later.

A letter sent the day before New Year’s Eve from Chicago arrived two weeks later in rural North Carolina. I mean, this kind of slowness is unusual for the post office. 

A letter sent from and to the same town in rural North Carolina in the first week of January 2021 arrived three days later.

A letter sent in mid-December from Chapel Hill, NC, arrived two days later in rural NC. That’s more like normal speeds, I think.

A letter sent New Year’s Eve from Chapel Hill, NC, arrived five days later in rural North Carolina.

A letter sent in the second week of December 2020 from rural NC, arrived apparently one and a half weeks later in Los Angeles.

A letter sent in mid-December 2020 from Los Angeles arrived one week later in rural NC.

A letter sent from San Francisco in mid-December 2020 arrived just five days later; that is more like what I’m used to.


How the WIRED summer went

After our fellowship was done, we were all flown back to D.C., and we had a “poster fair”. All of us fellows who had been placed at newsrooms pasted and arranged our articles on posters, and then we had some very nice and supportive guests tell us what a good job we had all done.

My poster:


And then all of us fellows spent the rest of the two-day “wrap-up” sessions joking, giggling, eating, and having each other’s back. It was great.

Now that it’s all done, here in no particular order are the stand-out moments as a AAAS media fellow:

1. We gave each other certificates for “superlative awards” (like what you do in high school year books), and one of the fellows brought along her childhood sticker collection to decorate the certificates with. They came out looking glittery and glamorous!

2. I got to email, call, and interview people at the Sweden UN office. I also talked to someone at the Swedish consulate.

3. And I got to interview the presenters of an Arabic science show that I’ve watched for years!

4. Seeing my name on the WIRED home page, my name coupled with the article I wrote. It never got old

5. Biking across the Golden Gate bridge.

6. Writing my favorite article of all, which was full of good people, quiet, storied forests, and voices that are heard less often.

7. Writing about Sweden, Arabs, and North Carolina (in three separate articles)

8. The apartment I sublet in Berkeley, with the attic bedroom where you can climb out the window onto the roof, and sit and read in the sunshine

9. The Ghirardelli ice cream store right by my train stop

10. Emailing most any scientist, activist, or natural resource worker and having them be eager to get back to me and be interviewed by me (though this did not extend to government people, especially in Maryland)

Sweden in Berkeley

All the Swedish things you can find in Berkeley, California:

1. Bokmärken: Bokmärken are little pictures that little kids collect. They’re like stickers, without the sticky part on the back. They can be flowers, or maybe toys, animals, angels, and during Christmas you can get Santa Claus ones. If you’re lucky, you can find glitter ones. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do with them, other than accumulate as many as you can. After all these years in the US, I finally have found some – at Payn’s Stationary Store in Berkeley. They had whole stacks!


And then,  I found more at a store called Twig and Fig. However, it was going out of business.

2. Carl Larsson: This is a famous Swedish painter from back in the day. They sell letter-writing cards with his paintings on them in the stationary stores in Berkeley. But, they only seem to sell them during Christmas, from what I gathered from the various clerks. They sell wintry scenes that he painted. So I didn’t find any of his stuff during my summer in Berkeley. However, five years ago, when I was working in Maryland, I went on a work trip to California during the summer, and during that trip, my boss and I drove to Davis, California, just to visit and explore. We chanced to visit some stationary stores at which I found tons of Carl Larsson stuff. I only bought one thing (a set of greeting cards) at that time and I’d always yearned to go back and get more. Davis is only one hour from Berkeley by train, and the train comes pretty frequently for US standards. So towards the end of my summer at WIRED, I biked to the Berkeley train station, bought a ticket, and hopped on the Davis-bound train. I didn’t remember the name of the Davis stationary store, so I just went to all of them, and as soon as I stepped into the one called “Newsbeat,” something felt familiar! It was the same store I’d been in 5 years before. However, they didn’t have any Carl Larsson greeting cards this summer. They did have a calendar of Larsson paintings, and a pack of postcards! So the hunt after all that was very fun, and I went back and examined the cards I’d bought 5 years ago. The company making them is called “Pomegranate.” I went on their site and lo and behold, they have 16 different Carl Larsson items features 🙂

Update: I went to Berkeley in December, 2019, for a conference. There was NO sign of any Carl Larsson cards anywhere to be found, in any of the stationary stores I revisited, contrary to what they’d promised. And I was there for less than a week, so I did not get a chance to take the train to Davis and visit Newsbeat again.

3. The Swedish couple at Golden Gate Park: I wrote before about the sad lack of Swedish tourists I found in San Francisco this summer. But on my second to last Friday, I went to the Golden Gate Park and the Pacific Ocean. While walking near the Botanical Gardens, I kept passing and re-passing a middle-aged couple who looked American (all three of us were kind of lost). The only reason I got interested in them was because even when I was only 3 feet away, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I couldn’t even hear indistinct murmurs of what they were saying. When people talk softly like that, there’s a chance they are Swedish. But I put it out of my mind until I overtook them, and as finally the direction of their mouths was directly towards my ears (and maybe the air currents were trending my way, too) I heard actual words from them, and yes, they were Swedish. I wanted to stick close to them after that, but you sadly can’t do things like that without exciting suspicion.

4. Swedish books at the library: they have 2 Pippi Longstocking chapter books in the kids’ section of the Berkeley Central Public library; and other Astrid Lindgren books besides. They also had a book from back in the day by a guy called Hjalmer Söderberg, which I didn’t really like and is in my list of books, and they had other Swedish books besides that, too.

5. Swedish lady at the Farmer’s Market: This is a farmer’s market that takes place along Shattuck Street, near the CVS and Safeway, on Thursday afternoons. A lady at one of the booths was offering crackers. She said her Swedish partner, who was away for the month in Sweden, made them by hand according to some traditional recipe. The crackers were really good.

6. Swedish consulate: This is very near Ghirardelli Square and the curvy Lombard Street. It’s on a hill overlooking the water. It’s a snow-white, quaint and stately building with a large ship’s anchor out front. It’s got a very nice flag outside, and I don’t mean the Norwegian or Danish ones.


(The view from the side of the snow-white building.)

Places to visit in Berkeley

1. Climb the hill to the Lawrence Hall of Science. This hill is shrouded in forest, and lanes criss-cross them here and there, lined with fancy houses. It’s to the east of Berkeley. One Sunday afternoon, I followed the labyrinth of streets all the way to the top. It is pretty steep, but not too terrible. Someone told me not to do it at night, because there are just a few spots when the roads are a little isolated, and people have gotten mugged in the dark apparently. But I reached the peak, and the last little bit was not walking on the roads at all; it was on the bare, sandy slope of the hill, with powerful gasps of delicious sagebrush everywhere. And little lizards slithering eeeverywhere. And a view of Berkeley, Oakland, the bridges, the Bay, and San Francisco’s skyscrapers to the west, in glorious sunshine. At the very top of the hill, you can either go into the museum (I think it’s a museum); or you can just sit and take in the view. I went at the end of July, and there were several juicy blackberry patches along my path by the stands of forest.


(The bees like it a lot, too.)

2. Bike along the Berkeley seashore. It is one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever been, especially if you go in late afternoon, before the sun is really setting, but when it’s already angled in the sky and the light is especially golden and dreamy. If you bike along to a particular spit of land, past a marina building and the Cesar Chavez park, you find yourself suddenly swept up in a sea of yellow flowers, sitting atop long green stalks taller than I gently swaying in the wind. I think those flowers are called fennel. If you keep biking, you break out of the fennel and when it’s quite behind you and only the sea is before you, you can see Oakland, the Oakland Bridge, the tall dragon-monsters that are the electric power supplies; you can see the misty blue hills far away across the water; you can a tiny speck of skyscrapers wrapped in fog, which is San Francisco; and you see just a thread of a bridge that I think was the Golden Gate.

3. All the stationary stores. There are many and they are fine! My very favorite was Payn’s Stationary Store, which was on a cute street not far from a second-hand bookstore. I bought stickers, letter-writing paper, and something called “bokmärken” there, and if I lived in Berkeley forever, I would probably go back every month, at least. Another nice stationary store was Twig and Fig, but that one is shutting down. And a third stationary store was by the Amtrak station—on another cute street right by the Anthropologie clothing store. I browsed in that one, and I ended up buying four packs of pretty colored envelops. On the same street was another stationary store called Castle in the Air. That was also pretty nice, though it wasn’t really a stationary store, despite what Google says. I did buy some stickers there. You can get to another wonderful stationary store called Newsbeat if you keep walking to the Amtrak station, wait for one of the frequent trains, and take the hour trip to Davis, California. It’s definitely worth doing at least once. One final stationary/book store to mention is Half-price books. The prices really are great! I bought 2 sets of beautiful notecards, and they were like $4 and $5. And there were tons to choose from. Half-price books is right next to the BART train station—so in downtown Berkeley near the university.


Light in Berkeley

I will miss walking between the train station and my apartment, both in the mornings and in the evenings, and catching glimpses of the hills where I can see further between the trees. Even when it’s not yet evening, and there’s no lights on them, they still seem to twinkle at me through sloping sunlight that somehow makes everything look as though it might through a child’s eyes: very new, very clean, very untouched and innocent and dreamy.