Looked for a mailbox lately? You know, the big, blue metal receptacles that used to stand on every street corner in every town in America?

Best of luck with that.

According to National Public Radio, the number of U.S. Postal Service mailboxes fell below 200,000 nationwide in 2008 and continues to decline at a rate of about 4,000 a year. The calculus is simple: The less mail — because of e-mail, faxes, texts, tweets, UPS and Fed Ex — the fewer mailboxes.

And you don’t realize how few until you really, REALLY need to mail a letter nowadays.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law, who live in California, were visiting my wife and me in Boise the other day. Victoria’s mom needed to post a letter that had to be delivered ASAP, and it was after 5 p.m. on a Saturday.

Now Boise is a city of 206,000 people with eight post offices. It shouldn’t be THAT challenging to mail a letter, should it?

Guess again.

My mother-in-law and I drove around for an hour looking for a Big Blue Box until we finally posted the letter in the mail slot at an Albertsons. That just isn’t the same.

After all, what can you say about a nation in which mailing a letter is harder than doing your own taxes?

The decline of the Postal Service is well documented — it lost $3.38 billion last year — but did you know that at no post office in America can you actually buy a 44-cent stamp with CASH after business hours?

The crux of the problem is that America is a post office nation that may not have a postal service as we know it for much longer. For 200 years, the United States literally defined itself by its post offices; if you had one, you were a community. If you didn’t, you were Berger.

And through it all, posting a letter — in a Big Blue Box — was the ultimate validation.

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NOBODY tampered with the mail after it was deposited in a mailbox. To do otherwise was the moral equivalent of kicking puppies.

Worse, it was un-American. So how can you be a real American if you’re off-loading your letters in the mail slot at Albertsons?

Some analysts believe Big Blue Boxes will disappear altogether within the next 20 years, replaced sporadically by Fed Ex and UPS containers and, of course, electronic mail in all of its forms.

But isn’t a nation with virtual mail really only a virtual nation?

To me, the ring of truth of America is the sound of a Big Blue Box slot clanging shut.

That and the fact that I just inadvertently mailed my car keys.

Steve Crump may be reached at 735-3223. Hear him on KLIX-1310 at 8:30 a.m. on Friday.

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