If someone comes up and asks you if you’re stupid, and you don’t know the answer, it’s possible you took a wrong turn in life.
So. Letter carriers get accused of lallygagging when they show up late. As far as the customer is concerned, the entire point of the carrier’s day is when he hands over their personal goods. The rest of the day is fluff and nonsense.
“The regular always gets here at 11:30. You can set your watch by him,” they’ll mutter. The polite ones, anyway.
You’re brand-new on a route. You show up at the sorting case with the task of finding an itty-bitty slot for every one of 3,000 letters. It should take the regular something like four seconds to pick up the letter, look at the address, and poke it in one of some 300 corresponding slots. Repeat for the next 2999 letters. But that’s not what it takes you. You’re standing there getting a sweat stain on the letter for a half minute before you even find the correct street on the sorting case, let alone the right house. A few hours later it gets quieter and quieter in the station as one by one carriers bundle up their letters and leave your ass behind, and you stand there whimpering quietly in the shadow of your tower of mail until the boss comes by and tells you to leave everything but the first-class and the Wall Street Journals, and then you consult a map and drive the crappiest vehicle in the fleet out to the route and figure out where everyone’s mail slot is, and it might be at the back door, and it might be three steps inside the fence with the dog, and it might be a flowerpot on the porch. Then you find the next house, which may or may not have visible address numbers.
As shadows lengthen and the whole day looks like the deepening dusk of your own pathetic life and half the mail is still inside your vehicle and you’ve skipped lunch altogether and you’re already wondering how it could be so hard to do something that always looked so easy, some grumpy old fart in scuff slippers will open up the front door and ask you if you’re just stupid, or what, and you don’t know the answer. You truly don’t. Before you took this job you didn’t think you were stupid, but you can think of several certifiably lint-headed fellows in the station who have punched out hours ago and are having beer with the boys and planning their next trip to Reno. And here you are, hoping people put their porch lights on so you can read their house numbers. You’ll go home in the dark and fall into bed and dream of finding address numbers all night long.
You have just lallygagged for eleven solid hours on the strength of a stale donut eaten on the fly at dawn.
Periodically the mail routes get out of adjustment and new boundary lines are drawn and the block that used to be one of the first delivered is now dead last in the other carrier’s route, and the customers on that block are united in their low opinion of that carrier. A Very Important Person in a very wealthy section of town once glared at our friend Stricky (RIP) for weeks in a row to no effect and finally, exasperated, asked him if there was any way he could get his mail earlier in the day. “Yeah,” Stricky said smoothly. “Move to the front of the route.” Stricky used to be a boxer. He could pull that shit off.
Want to know who the lallygagger is? It’s the one you can set your watch by. The workload changes day to day and in order to be that punctual you have to have a lot of slack time built right in. You then can dilly-dally, chitty-chat, read people’s magazines, scratch your nuts if applicable, and space out your deliveries to the minute. It’s called a “retirement route.” You are not only old enough to have the seniority to get that sweet route, but you’re old enough to utterly intimidate the supervisor du jour if they get a little uppity.
You know who else doesn’t know what a mail carrier does all day? The Postmaster General.
I never thought that it seemed like an easy job. Sometimes I see “my” postman du jour two streets over when I leave the house around 9am. Then we don’t get our mail until around 7pm. Those are just fucking crazy hours. On our route, he parks the truck, carries an enormous bag, and walks the route for a few blocks before repeating the process. It’s not a cushy route, like these new developments with the entire group of mailboxes all in one neat place at the entrance that he can just drive up to.
And I’ve noticed from garage-saling that entire blocks of houses in some developments will have no numbers. One has to find a house WITH a number and count in one’s head for the number you’re looking for. What if they need an ambulance, fire truck… or a pizza delivery?
I always preferred the walking routes to those that had all the gang-mailboxes in one place. You still have a route that ideally takes eight hours on average. Standing in front of those gang boxes all day is not a bit fun. I’d rather walk than stand! My last route, which I had for hmmm 16 years, was a mix of walking and businesses and apartment buildings, in which, at least, I could talk with my customers in a nice lobby and catch up.
The only tradesperson who gets a tip around here is the postie. Not so much for the lack of house numbers and street names (we don’t have those), not so much for the lack of house names (we do have those, but plenty don’t have a sign on display), but more for the turning out in all weathers (we do have that). In fact our weather is so bad it’s won awards. I’d show you the certificate but an average gale force wind snatched it out of my hand, and by the time I’d caught up with it, the horizontal rain and hail had reduced it to smithereens. I have never had to deliver mail, but I do have to find folks’ houses in the middle of nowhere for my day job, so respect given without question. It’s not old school, but my favourite tool is an app which takes a house name and a postcode (zip code) and shows me exactly where the property is. If I have signal…
No no no, I want to see the award!
Retired UPS driver here. My first 15 years were spent as a cover driver in mid coast Maine. Back then most drivers would spend their entire career on a single run, and would become local celebrities. Many regular customers would become so spoiled that addresses became unnecessary in their minds. So… when I would cover a driver on vacation I would have to stop at the town office with a list of package addresses like:” John Smith, UPS knows, Blue hill, or Empty pockets cottage, Sedgwick, Me. Often the town clerk would be stumped as well and UPS would have to send a postcard requesting a proper address. The complaints that were generated could be amusing, from “why does the driver need a vacation?’ To “teach your drivers how to read!”
I read a very moving true story in the NYT of a woman living alone in a ground floor apartment in NYC, whose sole living contact was a UPS delivery guy who she talked to from her window as she was working from home during the pandemic. During the end of the lockdown, he got transferred to another route, but he got her through the worst of it. I teared up. (Still do.)
I’ve respected UPS drivers ever since my brother-in-law wrecked his knees because they gave him a route in San Francisco with a LOT of staircases. I’ve respected FedEx drivers a bit less since I was driving behind one in my neighborhood and learned that they make their schedule by running stop signs.
Had I ever had the tenacity to be a letter carrier I think my best thing would have been nut scratching. Do that first before handing over the mail.
Gives you that extra grip, don’t it?
I loved this all to pieces. We have had the very best carriers, subs, and in most cases, day-off coverage for the entire 23+ years we’ve lived at this address. You know what makes a great postal worker? Trusting that they’re doing their very best to get your mail to you as quickly as they can given all the obstacles and hurdles that get tossed in front of them during the course of the day. On the days when the mail didn’t show up during the hours of light, I always think we’ll see it tomorrow. When I hear the box open and close later in the dark hours, I wince for being an idiot and not leaving the light on.
You sound like a liberal.
One particular Postmaster General? Or just in general, postmasters? This post took me back to my unsuccessful days at UPS, and now I have to go cry a little.
One particular Postmaster General!
Think about it: has the average person EVER known the Postmaster General’s name before? No! It is NOT a good sign….
Ah, Stricky! I wish I could have recorded the dialogs he and Packy would have in the morning. What a virtual comedy team they were!
I laughed so much. He was a treasure.
Ah DeJoy, what a Joy that Grifter ain’t! I once snagged a Post Office Job doing Data Entry for them, jumped thru Hoops to get it too, quit in 3 Days before Orientation was even over. The Supervisor called me at Home to ask me to reconsider and come back in the Morning, being I’d been one of the fastest and most accurate they’d been Training, I told him I was pretty sure I’d still Hate that Job come Morning. Honest to God, they told us that if we had to use the Restroom and it wasn’t our assigned Break we had to fill out a Govt. Form… the Trainer held up said form and I thought it was a Joke, to break the Ice, nope, she was Serious. I told her I only ever had to raise my Hand in Kindergarten and I’d piss all over the floor before I’d fill out a Govt. Form to have ‘permission’ to relieve myself of a most basic Human Function! I realized them how the term ‘going Postal’ came into being, anyone who stayed on that Job more than a Minute, would likely never be Well and very likely close to the Edge. God Bless you for Retiring without going Insane! And for revealing the average day of the Substitute Mail Carrier. I’ve always liked our Mailmen/Mailwomen and became Friends with one we had for many Years.
Excellent! You bring me to mind of more than one Urgent Potty Situation out on the route and they didn’t always end well.
I have worked in a mail sorting room, very briefly, (two days), so I have some idea of what you go through at that end, but having to find your way around a new route and houses that don’t have even visible numbers must be a nightmare. Here in Australia, mailboxes for houses are right at the front fence, either by the pedestrian gate or the driveway gate and many times are built into the fence structure. For blocks of flats that are spread out in groups, there are groups of boxes along the central, like mine, or one big stand of mailboxes all together if the flats are one tall building. Even out in the country or hills areas, people have their mailboxes with easily visible numbers at the beginning of their driveway. Also regular mail deliveries only happen between 9am and 5pm.
We used to have a thing about not delivering after dark (pretend Postal motto be damned) but I guess that’s gone by the wayside.
that should read “central driveway”
I happen to live on one of those “retirement” routes and have been lucky enough to have great carriers over the years I’ve been here.
I still think it a miracle that for a mere 58 cents I can leave an addressed/stamped birthday card at my front door and 3 (okay, maybe now 5 or 6) days later it will arrive at the front door of a friend several thousand miles away. I don’t understand when people complain about the cost of stamps.
This is awful, but I am now one of those people who doesn’t know what the current standard stamp costs. Huh! Every time the price went up I’d hear from people who complained about it being some odd increment that involved pennies, as though people bought stamps one at a time.
I always get the “forever stamps.” This time, they had a “Raven Story” stamp, which represented the Native American story of the Raven, and it was drawn in a Native American manner. WITH SPARKLIES! Needless to say, it was Corvids, so I bought several “books” of them!
Been at my address for a year now. Exchanged greetings early on with my ponytailed, ear buds installed carrier. Previous owners wired locking letter box to the outside of our chain link fence in such a way that you must put one leg in the garden dirt to open it. I casually asked the carrier if there was any reason preventing me from moving the box to our porch, a good 40 feet away and up ten steps. He replied softly,”I’d rather you didn’t.” The bottom of my left sho continues to attract mud.
Bummer! There actually is a restriction against siting your mailbox wherever you want if it adds to the carrier’s time. He could’ve blamed the boss.
Since both of my parents passed years ago, I can now comfortably reveal that my father was once enraged with my mother when he learned that she had invited the mailman in for a glass of wine. Unfortunately I know nothing more about that occurrence, including how it went and how he found out. Or fortunately…
I definitely want to know more. Please make something up.
I have a fabulous mail carrier who has had this route longer than we have lived here (6 years now?). He knows where our mailbox is located, and if there is too much to stuff in, he happily drives his vehicle up a steep winding driveway and drops it off by the downstairs door. UPS, FedEx, and Amazon usually can’t find the house and have been know to drop packages on public stairways, the middle of our driveway or our neighbors bushes…
He retires in the next couple of year….. (sniff)
Aww. Yeah, and when I used to get the newspaper delivered, it could be out on the front sidewalk. It’s wherever you can throw it from a moving car.