Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Does anyone but me remember the carnival atmosphere that used to prevail at the South Station Postal Annex in Boston on the night of April 15?

At least a couple of times I found myself dashing for the post office as midnight approached, promising myself never to put it off like this again. Lots of other people were no better than I. The streets and byways in the South Station area looked like the gas lines of 1973, choked with procrastinators' cars trying to get into the tiny parking lot. I seem to remember a band playing somewhere on the premises, balloons and confetti and food, and people sitting on the cement wall that bordered the parking lot -- young guys, mostly, with no particular business there, dangling their feet and watching people come and go.

Inside the post office would be a long line of taxpayers snaking between posts that divided the usually empty and echoing space into lanes. It didn't take long to get through -- the clerk just weighed the envelopes, stamped them, and took your money, and you were on your way. There was probably even a system for weighing and stamping it yourself. I wouldn't have used it. I never understand such things. The postmark machine kept stamping April 15 until everybody and their taxes had finished.

For a bunch of years I did in fact do better and wasn't a participant in the April 15 melee. Then a small business I worked for put off its tax return to the last minute, and I was commissioned to run it to South Station.

No longer did the channel area look like a late-night party -- no band, no gawkers, no balloons. I don't remember anyone outside at all except taxpayers coming and going, matter-of-fact and rather tired. The lines were in place inside; but the postmarking machinery had been updated and now chugged along automatically, changing the date promptly at midnight. If you failed to get to the head of the line by twelve, your postmark was late (anyway, do we believe that the IRS has time to scrutinize everybody's postmark and come after people for being a few hours late?). If your tax return will be dated the following day anyway, you might as well drop it in the mailbox down the street.