Handled With Care

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom will prevent the post office snack shack from delivering frill-free food.

The midtown post office on Third and Union is a window to postmodern Seattle opulence. Out the front window sits Benaroya Hall, in all its regal cleanliness; a neck crane up from that is the techno-glassy Washington Mutual Center. Love it or hate it, the city's core is undergoing another design renaissance, reaching from City Hall to neighborhood library branches in oft-forgotten burgs such as South Park and Beacon Hill. This trend even extends to federal edifices: witness the sparkling new U.S. courthouse that borders the Denny Regrade on the northern tip of downtown. So far, though, this gussying hasn't touched our fair city's postal facilities. Until it does, the midtown post office will stand as homage to an era of cold utilitarianism and short neckties. James Janney, who's a ringer for the Seattle P-I's walruslike columnist Joel Connelly, runs the midtown post office's snack bar. A certificate taped to the counter indicates that he's legally blind, so if Janney were a bit lax on the details of the prepackaged sandwiches, chips, and soda he hawks, it'd be forgivable. His customers aren't expecting a gourmet meal, after all. More likely, they're anticipating the no-frills efficiency of, say, a construction-site gut truck—or the post office itself. Yet Janney lords over his tiny, glass-encased snack shack like a maître d'. He knows, for instance, that spicy barbecue Lay's outsell regular barbecue Lay's; and that he's getting a new type of meatloaf sandwich in stock in a couple weeks that is considerably thicker than what's currently on the menu. And, in keeping with the retro theme of his workplace at large, he keeps Shasta cola on hand at 50 cents a can. So enthusiastic is Janney about his shrink-wrapped sandwiches that they actually taste better. Without Janney, this is the sort of chow that serves as road-trip gut filler in the Dakotas. Yet with Janney, failure to derive some enjoyment from these bread and meat triangles seems an affront to the jolly vendor himself. These sandwiches are an important part of the guy's life, damn it—he's proud of them, even if he doesn't forge them himself. One of Janney's regular counter companions is a woman in a motorized wheelchair who quips that while she tries to avoid pedestrians' toes while whizzing along the sidewalks downtown, if she happens to run some over, she's not going to lose sleep over it. There are always characters milling about this particular post office, some not so nice. A couple weeks ago, a Sammy Davis Jr. doppelgänger using a walker was having some trouble opening an exit door. When a patron tried to assist him with the task, he reacted rudely, telling his would-be helper to buzz off. Worse yet, Sammy reeked of piss. Even still, a little cheer can take you a long way in life, which helps explain why folks still line up in front of Janney's snack bar window every day. The food is what it is; but the service rates a Michelin star. Bottomfeeder is a biweekly tongue-dive into Seattle's fast, cheap, and out-of-control culinary underworld. It alternates with Jonathan Kauffman's biweekly Voracious. mseely@seattleweekly.com

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