It is now 50 degrees out and raining, thus erasing all the evidence of blizzard conditions that were present here in West Michigan for the last week and a half. Rough winters have been the case here, especially the past two years. But for winter to arrive so early left many people unprepared. High temperatures were in the teens with wind chill much lower than that. Winds were gusting up to 35 mph. Snow was dumping on us on a daily basis. And it is not even Thanksgiving yet.
Carrying mail on these days is much more challenging than a warm sunny day in the middle of the summer. I was reminded of one particular day in February of 2013 that seemed to me like the longest day ever. So it has been awhile, but I think it’s time for a little story from the route.
The background for that particular winter is that it was pretty cold and quite a bit of snow was on the ground. Also, NALC (our union) and postal management had only just settled our contract. We had been in negotiations for over a year and a half. Because of the postal financial crisis created by congress, postal management had held off on hiring any new employees. The result is that we were severely understaffed.
I have been on the overtime list at work more often than not. Whenever there is available overtime, it goes to those on the list before forcing other carriers to work that overtime. They have to maximize those on the list to 60 hours per week (12 hours in a day) before utilizing other carriers. So this particular winter, I worked a lot of 12 hour days and for 7 straight weeks I worked 60 hours every week except one where I only worked 58 ½. It was good for the paycheck but bad for the social life. It’s no wonder we paid our house off in September of 2013.
My assignment for that day was my own route, and then a lengthy section on another route that had no regular carrier assigned to it. My own route was taking me almost 9 hours because of all the extra walking because of the snow on the ground, and then I had a 2-3 hour section off this other route. My start time is 8:00am, and in the middle of winter it gets dark around 5:30-6:00pm. There was no way around it, I would be delivering a walking section in the dark on a rough winter day. I could bring the mail back if ever I felt that it was unsafe, but we are always supposed to make an attempt to deliver before making our determination of unsafe conditions.
So after finishing my route, I got to this other route and was about 1 hour into that section. On this particular block, there are only 4 houses that are done as one loop. After I delivered the last house in this section, I was walking down the sidewalk back to the street when the door to the house opened and I heard an elderly lady’s voice shout, “If there are any packages, you can just leave them here in the box!” Not really knowing the situation, I decided to play the old “I’m not the regular carrier” card. So I responded, “I’m not your regular carrier, and in fact, this route doesn’t have a regular carrier. It’s a different person each day, so maybe that’s where some of the confusion is coming in.” She shouted back, “Can you get us our package?” In my head my thought process was working as quickly as possible. “How does she know she has a package? She probably got a notice in her mailbox.” So I asked her, “Do you have the notice that was left in your mailbox?” She shouted back, “Yes, it’s in the house!” I said, “If you get me that notice, I can make sure you get your package.”
At this point, she asked me if I would like to come in and wait inside while she looked for the notice. She commented how it was very cold out and that I could come in and warm up a little bit. I thought that was better than waiting outside, so I went up to the house and she let me inside while she looked for the notice.
As I got in, I found myself in a very nice home. This lady was quite older, probably 80, and was hooked to an oxygen tank by a 30 foot plastic cord. So she was walking all over the house looking for this notification that had been left in their mailbox which stated they had a parcel or something. As she went around the corner into what was probably the kitchen, I heard her shout, “Lyle! LYLE! Where is that notice that we got a package! I need to get it for the mailman!” I heard a calm, firm, low voice flatly state, “It’s on the table, girl.”
Let me just state here that this woman’s voice came across like she was in a panic. From the time that I heard her shout to me from her front door, to the time I left, everything she said seemed like she was fretting over it. The voice of her husband was the exact opposite. He seemed like the voice of reason who was accustomed to speaking to his wife in a calm tone.
“Lyle! I already looked on the table! It’s not there!” He responded again, “It’s on the table by the stand, girl.” So she finds the notice and brings it out to me. I look at it and see that it is a notice for a parcel that was postage due. For those who don’t know, a postage due parcel means it was sent out with insufficient postage. Postal procedure dictates that it be sent on to the addressee and ask if they would like to pay the postage that is due upon delivery. Otherwise if the addressee refuses, it will be sent back at that time. Most people will pay the postage due because it is something that they are waiting on. So the reason why the carrier did not leave the parcel in their mailbox is because there was money to collect and they were not home at the time. Some carriers, if they are the regular carrier on the route and know their customers well, will leave an envelope writing the amount that is due on it. Then when the carrier gets back to the office they will pay for the postage due out of their own pocket knowing that the customer will reimburse them. However, in a situation where you don’t know the customer, most carriers will not pay for the postage out of their own pocket since they don’t know if they will be reimbursed. I have been stiffed a few times this way.
I showed the amount due to the lady and explained the situation to her. She understood and then I stated that when the carrier comes with the package, she needs to be prepared to pay this amount. “Oh, we will pay! We always pay! Sometimes they leave an envelope and we just put the money in the envelope! Can’t they do that?” So I explain again how they don’t have a regular carrier and she understands. Then she asks (shouts), “Can’t I just give the money to you? And then when they come they can just put the package in the box?” I told her that was a very good idea. I was willing to take the money and make sure it was applied to the postage due and then the package could just be delivered.
So now she is in a panic because she needs to come up with $0.87 or something like that. “Lyle! LYLE! We need to get change for the mailman so he can deliver our package!” So she is scurrying around the house followed by the plastic cord looking for a change cup. She finds a change cup and begins shouting at her husband again. “Lyle! LYLE! We need change for the mailman!” At this point, her husband comes walking across the living room very calmly and reaches into his pocket. He pulls out a change purse while she has a change cup. They stand there, she is fretting while he is calmly counting change. Together they are trying to come up with the exact change necessary to give to me. After a minute or so of tallying and totaling, he says in his calm voice, “If you give me two quarters, I have the rest.”
At this point, they are both standing quite close to me so I can see everything that is going on. She reaches into the change cup and pulls out a quarter and a nickel. She puts both into his hand. He looks and sees the mistake she made and says, “Come on, girl, you gave me a nickel.” She shouts back (even though he’s standing right there), “Lyle! You know I can’t see good!” “Come on, girl, you can do better than that.” She reaches in the coin cup again and pulls out a quarter. She drops it in his hand and asks, “Is that a quarter, Lyle?” “You’re doing better now girl.”
So the husband gets together all the change from what he contributed and what she contributed, counts it up and the total matches what I need. I stated something to the effect that I would make sure they get their package. Then the lady shouts, “Lyle! LYLE! I want a dollar! GIVE ME A DOLLAR!” He reaches into his coin purse and pulls out a Sacagawea which is worth a dollar. He drops it in her hand and she looks confused. “Is this a dollar, Lyle?” “That’s a dollar, girl.”
She takes the coin and puts it into my hand and says (shouts), “Here, I want you to take this and buy yourself something warm to drink because it’s cold out there!” I said, “Thank you very much.” But I realized I had been there over ten minutes. I still had a huge section left to deliver so it was time for me to be going. And it has just gotten dark while I was in there. As I was walking down the sidewalk back to my truck, I heard her shout from the front door, “If you ever need anything, just ring the doorbell! We’ll be here! Just knock on the door or just come on in if you ever need anything!”
I chuckled about this while delivering for the next 45 minutes or so. Then another incident happened which was funny in a completely different way. I pulled up to deliver this church which is set by itself. I jumped out of the truck, threw the mail through the slot, then jumped back in. Just as I was about to pull away, another car came around the corner from behind and pulled up beside me. I saw the driver motion like he had something for me. He pulled up slightly so that his car was to my front left, blocking me from driving forward. I saw that the passenger looked like a woman who was getting an envelope and putting something in it. This is not uncommon for carriers. People drive by and remember that they have an outgoing letter and try to save themselves a trip to the post office.
However, they sat there for five minutes in front of me as I sat there looking at my watch. It looked like they were trying to get this letter together and I wondered if it was something quite important. Then, something inside of me snapped. It was about 6:40pm. It was dark out. I still had another half hour left to deliver. I didn’t know how the next section would go. And here is this car blocking me in from getting my job done. I started laughing like a maniac. I said out loud, “It’s quarter to seven at night and these people think I have nothing better to do than to sit here and be their own personal post office!”
Finally, I had enough. I backed my truck up and was going to go around them and leave. It’s one thing to give me a letter. It’s quite another to hold me hostage while they do whatever they are doing. Just as I’m about to drive away, the woman gets out from the passenger side and brings a letter up to my truck. I slide my door open and this lady looks somewhat embarrassed. She looks at me with surprise and says, “Oh, and it’s my mailman, too.” I looked down at the return address on the envelope and thought, “I know this lady. She lives on my route.” So I smiled and she started explaining that it was her husband’s idea to quick get this letter together when they saw me. I looked down at the letter again and it was a Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. I looked back up again and she looked embarrassed again, rolled her eyes, and said, “And it’s Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes,” with a heavy tone of sarcasm in her voice.
At this point, I had lost my maniacal laughter and was back to my good natured self. I smiled and asked, “Is that Keith up there?” She smiled and responded as she rolled her eyes, “Oh yeah.” So I said, “Well, you give him a hard time, will ya?” The smile faded from her face, she looked at me dead serious in the eyes, and said, “Oh I will. And I DO!” She pursed her lips emphatically and walked back to the car and I knew Keith would be getting little talking to.
So, even though the weather was bad for the past week and a half, it’s not Buffalo New York where it snowed like 70 inches or something like that. And it’s certainly not the longest day ever like back in February of 2013. Even if it was, days like that are days to be remembered with joy. Even in the midst of that long day, there are things that make me smile, things that make me laugh, and things that frustrate me and test my patience. All these things are things to be thankful for. I hope you enjoy reliving the longest day ever with me.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman