My training so far has focused most on safety (watch out for DOGS!) and ethics (no, you may not moonlight at FedEx), as well as defensive driving techniques useful for light delivery trucks (keep your following distance to 4+ seconds), but on thursday last week I spent the day shadowing Dee (the regular carrier for whom I'll sub), to get my first real sense for what the job entails. My first impression is that the job is lots harder than I originally assumed...and I'm actually a little nervous about getting started. It didn't help much that my shadow day also happened to be the retiring day for a lady whose been with USPS for 30 years. She went about her duties with a beaming smile on her face saying things like "I can't wait to enjoy the snow for the first time in forever!" and "I'm actually going to like mornings...and CHRISTMAS again!" I suppose every job has its challenges.
In the back room of the post office, a carrier's day begins with "casing": sorting stacks of mail into the proper delivery order for each customer. Each carrier has a set of shelves with dividers labeled by house number and last name into which all the mail, from first class to magazines to political mailings (and in Ohio we have a LOT of those), is sorted. I watched Dee as she'd glance quickly at each piece and then shove it in its proper slot a second later. There are lots of things to watch for (holds, forwards, duplicate #s on different streets, mail sent to the wrong route, etc.), but Dee, who has been a carrier for over 20 years, found each piece's proper place without a moment's hesitation. After a while she asked me to start casing my own stacks and I nervously joined her inside the little cubby and did my best to keep up. I didn't even come close.
This is forgivable for a newbie. In the years she's been doing this route, Dee has come to know most of her customers well, and can easily remember that slot number 44356 is Mrs. Jones, who needs her medications delivered to the doorstep in the wintertime, and that slot number 36621 is Mr. Smith on this-or-that street whose mail is easily mixed up with Mrs. Burns' who has the same number on such-and-so street, and the list goes on. My first impression of Dee is that she's a tough cookie with a work ethic as strong as my mother's (who is hands-down the hardest worker I know), an appreciation for integrity and loyalty, and a genuine affection for people. Oh, and by the way, she was awarded Ohio's "rural carrier of the year" for 2012. As her sub, I have some big shoes to fill!
In the past year or two Dee's route has gone through a number of RCAs. One lady quit because the job was too much to handle, another guy was doing some inappropriate things out on the route and was too slow anyway, and the most recent lady loved the job, but had to leave after only a few months when her husband's work took them out of state. If a carrier doesn't have a sub, they are required to work 6 days a week...rain or snow, sleet or hail, birthday or vacation time be damned. No excuse is a good one. The mail must be delivered. Dee hasn't had a single day off in ages. Once I complete my training (what's left is 4 days in the "rural academy," a day-long driving test in the LLV, and 3 days of doing the route in pieces under Dee's supervision), I'll be working the route on Mondays (Dee's preferred day off), and whenever Dee needs a sub for whatever reason.
After we finished casing, we hand-trucked the mail out to the LLV and went out to deliver. The LLV is not comfortable. It's cramped and noisy and, aside from about 5000 mirrors mounted on its frame, has terrible visibility. I was belted into a seat in the back of the truck which only allowed me to see out the front windshield and forced me to crane my neck forward in order to hear Dee's notes and instructions. The first part of the route covers an area in town and is pretty much your generic "suburban USA." As we drove the LLV, lots of people were already waiting by their boxes, and every one of them got a warm "Hello! How are ya!" from Dee. She waved at every cop, utility worker, and truck driver we passed, and often had stories to tell about them, what great folks they are, and specific details about how they like to receive their mail. I took all the notes I could on the little pad of post-its I had in my purse.
The second part of the route took us into the thick of northern-Ohio farmland. It is beautiful country, and getting to see it is one of the big reasons I applied for this job in the first place. Yesterday, Rob and I spent the afternoon driving the route together so I could become better acquainted with the lay of the land, and all the little details of where to turn around, where to double back, and how to spot the roads hidden behind stands of drying corn. It also gave me the opportunity to take some photos...something I'm assuming I won't have the luxury of doing while I deliver...at least until I get the hang of things. Most of the farms around here grow corn and soybeans and from the looks of things, we're right in the middle of harvest time. I stopped to take a picture of a soybean plant in particular because I'd never seen how it grows. The shimmering texture of dry soy fields reminded me a little of the roughly painted ground in Andrew Wyeth's iconic Christina's World...
This part of the the route follows the western edge of Findley State Park.