ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Rio Rancho, N.M., is about 600 miles from Victorville, Calif.
But by the time Earl Watters got exasperated enough to call News 13 about a missing letter – and the check inside – the U.S. Postal Service has already logged 10,000 miles trying to deliver it.
The check for more than $2,000 was from his mother.
“She got sick just before Christmas time,” Watters explains, “and she wanted to make sure that all of us had a good Christmas.”
Watters’ mother died just before Christmas.
His sister sent a check in early December through the mail using standard first class. But it took too long to get to Watters. At the cost of $35, he asked her to stop payment on it. The canceled check arrived the next day.
Watters and his sister tried again, and this time Watters told her to use certified mail so the pair could have a tracking number.
“We’ll know where it’s at at all times,” Watters remembers telling her.
But after more than a week with no check, Watters decided to check with the postal service. What he found adds up to quite a journey.
Since Dec. 18, when his sister dropped it off in Victorville, the letter traveled to San Bernardino, Calif., and then on to New York City. The USPS sent it back to Albuquerque.
Watters was complaining to the postal service in Rio Rancho at this point. By the time he convinced the USPS that something was wrong, the letter was on the way back to New York City.
From there, it made another trip to Albuquerque. And another trip to New York City. And, this week, back to Albuquerque.
“I’m almost 70 years old. And I can’t wait till 80 to get this,” Watters jokes. He tried to stop the endless loop by calling the postal service in New York and a national claims center in Washington D.C., Watters says, but the answers he got were less than helpful.
“They said, ‘Well, we can’t do anything about it.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean? You can’t pull it from the conveyor belt when it’s going back to Albuquerque?’ ” Watters recalls, “And they said, ‘No, you don’t understand. It’s all automated.’ ”
In fact, Watters says, someone at the postal service told him they wouldn’t be able to catch the eternally-looping letter until the envelope wore out.
News 13 asked the USPS why it couldn’t deliver the check. A spokeswoman delivered the blame to Watters’ front door, pointing out that a “Northwest” designation that should have been attached to his street was instead attached to his city. Without a Northwest Rio Rancho to send the letter to, the spokeswoman explained, the letter got caught in a loop.
But that doesn’t explain why the first letter – addressed the same way – somehow found its way to Watters’ home while the second letter did not. It also doesn’t explain why no one from the USPS could tell that to Watters.
And it doesn’t explain why, just hours after News 13 inquired about the issue, the postal service was able to locate the letter, pinpoint what it claimed was the problem, and get it delivered to him the next afternoon.
The spokeswoman wouldn’t directly answer questions about why Watters was told that task couldn’t be done by the postal service, instead insisting that such “looped letters” rarely happen and offering advice to address mail properly.
“I’m not mad at them,” Watters says. To him, the journey amounts to a sort of farewell tour for his mother. “It’s almost like she got to go all these places she never had a chance to go in life.”