Not a Small World, After All

The American Philatelic Research Library regularly lends up to five books by mail to APS members wherever the U.S. Postal Service can reach them. This standard five-week loan by mail allows for time in transit. If seven weeks go by and the books have not been returned, we take the first steps to get them back.

On March 3, I emailed an overdue reminder to a 27-year member of the APS to whom we had sent the two volumes of Intercontinental Airmails 55 days before. I was not prepared for his reply:

“What a coincidence!  The books arrived YESTERDAY.  I am constantly amazed (dismayed?) at how long it takes for surface mail to get here from the Mainland.”

Seven weeks and five days in transit? It was my turn to be amazed. No wonder he’s interested in Intercontinental Airmails!

Then I noted the last line in his address: Saipan, MP  96950

For those of you unfamiliar, as I was, with that obscure postal abbreviation, “MP” means the Northern Marianas Islands. Military history buffs will recall Saipan as the scene of a Pacific battle ― now there’s an oxymoron on which no one ever remarks ― in the summer of 1944.

Just how far away are the Northern Marianas? Well, when it’s noon in New York City, it’s nine hours earlier ― the middle of the night ― in Saipan. (Fly to Saipan from NYC on Delta and it will take 23 hours and 55 minutes and cost you $3,729.) Guam is famed as the Western Pacific territory “where America’s day begins,” but even it is only 60 miles farther west than Saipan.

Bellefonte, PA is 12,328 kilometers, or 7,660 miles, from Saipan, MP ― about a third of the way around the Earth. But the distance between them on that day was more than a matter of mileage.

Bellefonte on March 3 2015 150dpiBellefonte on March 3, 2015, hosted an ice storm. Intermittent bands of snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain, kicked off a three-day cavalcade of ghastly weather “coming in like a lion.” When it ended, I white-knuckled the drive to a dinner of fishsticks.

I emailed my new philatelic friend half a world away: “It’s 25.5° F. here.”

He replied: “It’s 25.5° here, too, but in Celsius.” That’s 77.9°F. In Saipan. At 9:00 in the morning.

“As a Penn State University alum (1966),” he wrote, “I am more than familiar with your winters, and happy to have them in my distant past.”

But two words perhaps best summed up everything you need to know about the real distance between where I am and where he is:

Papaya Empanadaspapaya empanadas

* sigh *

He requested and we gave him an extension on his loan. I only hope that the slow boat to Saipan that brought the books to him isn’t the one that brings them back.

Some say that the Internet has made the world smaller, with access to faraway places that were once inaccessible. But sometimes the world reminds us that it’s still a pretty big place ― a vast planet that remains unimpressed with us, no matter how fast we can text-message, share a photo, or load a video.