Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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.


Blogger darev2005 said...

I often wondered why our delivery times used to vary so widely some days. There's an older lady (well, about my age) who delivers to us about 11:30 every day. Then there's a succession of young dudes that do a drive-by mailing. They zing the stuff in our box and are half way down the street by the time I can get the door open. The wife and I order lots of catalogs and samples and things. I'm sure they hate us. Every once in awhile they have to knock on the door and say "Here you go. There's too much to fit in your mailbox."

6:03 AM  
Blogger Uncle Walt said...

Lifers also tend to know the people on their route. At least, that's how it was when my dad was a mail carrier. Back then, if a "runner" (temp) was delivering when there was a present in the box for the regular carrier, they would take it back to the office and make sure the regular carrier got it. Or they wouldn't be working for the Post Office much longer.

My dad did a lot of volunteer work for people on his route. Mostly after hours and on weekends. Things like minor repairs and lawn work, for people who couldn't do it themselves and couldn't afford to hire contractors.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Cyn said...

A few years ago, I worked at a contract post office on the central Oregon coast. There was no street delivery so everyone had a mailbox.

I have to say that my boss was awesome. It was a mindless job but she played great music and just left me to do my job of stuffing the mailboxes. The customers were mostly older and usually just glad to chat with us for a few minutes each day. I guess it was a bit different than at a regular post office.

1:52 PM  
Blogger dalia said...

um, as far as i know, it's still a lot like that in some neighbourhoods. if you finish your route in under a certain time, you're laughing for the rest of the day.

back in toronto we have what's called "supermailboxes" in newer developments. basically it's a tower of mailboxes that carriers can open with a single master key, file all the mail in the proper slots, for each house in the development... there's even a slot to drop mail, if you wish, which beats having to go to the post office.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Ginger said...

My Grandma was a mail carrier...she drove a rural route. Her car hit more mail boxes and parked cars than I can count :) When I think of mail men/persons, I think of the movie "Funny Farm". The mail man driving by and throwing the mail out of the truck, on to the road. We used to have a mail man who didn't bother delivering the mail Mon-Th...just Fridays. When he would see us, he would scowl and yell "YOU NEED A BIGGER MAIL BOX!". I would yell back "AND YOU NEED to deliver the mail when "scheduled", during the WHOLE WEEK, then YOU wouldn't have a problem STUFFING ALL MY MAIL IN AT ONCE!". He is no longer our mail man...thankfully. I love our new mail man...he delivers's great! I would say that I leave a special something in my box for him at Xmas time, but that would sound a bit naughty :)

2:46 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Darev, now you know what they are called. We had our own language, like prison.

Walt sometimes you can't shut lifers up. They will talk at you so long you start thinking of gnawing off a leg to get away.

Cyn, the magic number is 12. Once an office gets more than 12 routes it suddenly becomes a hostile work environment. Small offices are great.

Those big boxes were making the scene around the time I left. The only problem there was that you are a standing target for too long and the lonely would have time to migrate towards you for a daily chat.

Ginger, that was a ballsey runner. Frankly the postal service should take a lesson from him and only deliver once per week. It's a wonder they are still in business with this six day a week delivery system. And yes, it isn't a good idea to stiff your letter carrier on the holidays.

6:12 AM  
Blogger dalia said...

lol at ginger and guy! cheeky!

6:46 PM  

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