Lifers and Runners
A half life time ago I worked at a small town post office. The Postal Service has always been the brunt of jokes and for good reason. It is a strange organization where those at the top piss on those beneath them. After working there for only a short while one can see how the activity of “Going Postal” came about. This organization turns nice people into monsters.
There is a constant push to do more and increase productivity. Every piece of mail is counted and every person that handles it is timed. The times are compared with productivity of the day before, of the week before, of the month before and the year before. If something happens where the productivity decreases, heads roll.
There is even conflict on the street level between carriers with opposing philosophies. On this level there are Lifers and there are Runners. Lifers do everything by the book. They always walk on sidewalks. They read each envelope address several times before placing it in the mail box. They walk slowly. This is done to stretch their routes out as long as possible. Every route gets an annual inspection where each stop is timed. If the carrier gets through their delivery too quickly they will have additional stops added to their routes, thus increasing their work load.
Runners are substitutes or “floaters” that cover every route in the office or rotate through the same six specific routes each week to cover days off. Runners don’t care about time. They cut across lawns, they rubber band the mail for each delivery so they can run and dump. Sometimes they actually run.
As a runner it was always good covering a Lifer’s route. Routes back then were designed to have five and a half hours of delivery time a half hour lunch and two fifteen minute breaks. As a runner we had ways of condensing the time to about an hour. People that were used to getting their mail at 4PM got their mail by 10AM. The runners would finish the routes quickly and we would meet at someone’s house and drink beer and play horseshoes for the rest of the day. We did a lot of other things that I don’t want to commit to print.
This was all a quarter century ago and I don’t know if things have changed. This all comes to mind after a recent re-read of the Charles Bukowski book, “Post Office.” If you've read it, it is more fact than fiction.