I’d driven past the small little post office in Ochopee, Florida (pronounced O-CHOP-ee) many times before on my way into the Everglades, even stopped by several times to snap a few pics. The tiny structure sits alongside Old Route 41, the main road that snakes through the Glades all the way to Homestead on the other coast and the entrance to the Florida Keys. They say it’s The Smallest Post Office in the US, and though I don’t know that for sure, I do believe it since its small size resembles one of those miniature place tourist attractions.
Route 41 runs from Miami, through southwest Florida all the way to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It's the old road in Florida that used to get everyone everywhere…the road, like many around the country, that were eventually surpassed by a faster, more efficient bypass highway. If you’re like me, you bypass the good stuff when you take the highway. This is the road you want - the slower route if you have the time. And always the more interesting and scenic route where you’ll see the old attractions that time forgot, and find little surprises now and then.
So last week, when a friend visited me in The Sunshine State for a few days, we headed, like we often do, to the Everglades. Miles of swampy hiking trails punctuated by an interesting gallery, Indian village, or funky biker bar here and there, it’s always an interesting place to take your tourist friends. And as we passed The Smallest Post Office, a loud exclamation from the back seat told us we had to stop for pictures on the way back.
Hours later as we pulled in the parking lot, there were several visitors hanging around taking photos. The building itself is smaller than an outdoor shed - probably six feet wide and just a little deeper - it seems smaller still compared to the tall flagpole next to it. We got out of the car and began snapping, and a funny thing happened. My friend walked over to the Post Office and read the sign on the door. A sign that I’d seen before, but never bothered to read. I wondered what she was doing as she grabbed a small handle, gave it a tug, and slid open the front door.
What is she doing?
Someone forgot to lock the door!
You mean…it really works?
But there it was. The Post Office was open for business!
And as she slid open the door, a girl with a surprised look on her face looked up and gave us a friendly “Hello!” Postal worker Shannon sat stuffed in the only open spot in the building, in a small chair against the back wall surrounded by stacks of mail, mail bins, and barely able to move around. She looked as surprised to see us as we were to see her!
She graciously took time to answer our questions about the history of the Post Office and even offered a little about herself. She was born and raised in the Everglades and graduated school (K-12) with ten others. She and her husband know everyone in the area and are busy raising a family here. Her sister-in-law was the former Postmistress before Shannon took the job. Yes, they get a lot of visitors, but not many who open the door and chat. No, we weren’t bothering her at all and thanks for sliding open the door. Sure, you can take a picture!
Do you want a postcard?
As we walked back toward the car, amazed by the serendipity of our stop at this tiny place, I saw a young couple writing postcards on the hood of their car. Postcards of the Post Office itself. And if you take a moment to fill them out while you’re there, Shannon will be happy to mail them for you, postmarked from The Smallest Post Office in the US, Ochopee, Florida, USA.
Serendipity. Merriam-Webster defines it like this: “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for”. But it wasn’t luck that we found the door handle, or the door, or the sign on the door of this tiny post office. I had seem them many times before. I just never thought to open it, confident in my misconception this was just a tourist attraction, for show. It was my friend whose open heart and one small gesture reminded me in a instant of something I forget sometimes. A huge life lesson in a split second.
Go looking. Kick over some rocks. Slide doors for service.
Have you had a small but profound moment when you're traveling? Tell us about it below.
Next time your travel brings you to south Florida near the Everglades, slide the door for service and say Hello to Shannon. And send us a postcard!