“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
These words, written by a Greek historian in 440 B.C., aren’t actually the motto of the U.S. Postal Service. Nevertheless, an aspiring postal worker job-shadowing a city letter carrier should prepare for a long walk and dress for all weather.
Josh Fisher has worked at the U.S. Post Office in Park Rapids for about 13 years. He has been a full-time letter carrier on the City 1 route for the past year-and-a-half. This covers parts of the city from Fair Ave. to Park Ave., and from 3rd St. W. north to where Main Ave. meets Park. It encompasses public schools, government buildings, businesses and apartment complexes as well as front-door home delivery.
“If you count the city blocks, it’s about nine miles of delivery,” Fisher said while walking a section of N. Main Ave. last week. “Like any job, it can be tough sometimes,” he said. “But I get to go for a walk every day. When it’s real busy, it’s still work. But on those nice days, when it’s not as busy, you can enjoy yourself a little bit. You still keep up a good pace, but you’re not as stressed about trying to get back.”
When the weather is mild, he said, people tell him, “I wish I had your job. I could go for a walk in the nice fall weather.”
He admitted that it’s a perk of the job. “I burn a lot of calories every day,” said Fisher. “So, my lunches, I don’t have to watch too much what I eat. I get a good workout every day.”
Fisher punches in at 8 a.m. On a typical day, the first thing he does is to inspect his mail truck (known in the trade as a long-life vehicle or LLV), checking the lights and tires and making sure it’s safe to drive.
Then he sorts mail, transferring trays full of items into rows of slots arranged in the order of the addresses he on his route. The process moves quickly.
“This route hasn’t changed much over the years that I’ve been here,” he explained. “It’s muscle memory. I see the address, and my arm usually goes right to it. When you first learn the route, it can take a while.”
Before inheriting City 1 when a previous carrier retired, Fisher worked as a “part-time flexible” carrier, delivering the city’s auxiliary route – a four-and-a-half-hour job by itself, but one that allowed him to cover for one of the other carriers on his day off.
“Or, if these guys need help, they’d give me a chunk of mail for the day, so they could get done in eight hours.”
The early-morning mailroom bustled around Fisher as postal workers slid items into P.O. boxes and sorted mail for delivery.
A co-worker with a clipboard came by and Fisher signed out a set of keys on a long chain that clips to his belt. One key is for the LLV; the other, called an arrow key, opens mailboxes all over town.
“It’s an accountable item,” Fisher explained. “It’s like a universal key. It’s a very bad thing if we lose that.”
Snow, ice and rowdy dogs
Out on his route among newly plowed snow banks and half-shoveled sidewalks, Fisher noted that the postal service puts a high priority on carriers’ safety.
“We’re not required to deliver if they haven’t made a clear path to the mailbox,” he said while bypassing a house whose front walk hadn’t been shoveled. “If it’s not cleared, it’s not safe to deliver to. It’s the same with the drive-up, curbside delivery or rural delivery. The postal vehicle needs to have a clear approach and a clear getaway, so they don’t have to get out of their car or back up to get out.”
He made an exception for a house whose owner had shoveled his walk before the plow blocked it again. “They made the effort for that,” he said, climbing over the snow bank.
Other safety measures include ice grippers for carriers’ boots and canisters of dog repellent.
“I’ve never been bitten yet,” said Fisher. “I’ve sprayed a couple dogs with our dog repellent. I’ve also sprayed myself accidentally with it.”
He recalled one incident when an unchained dog surprised him, with silly results.
“In the initial standoff, my hat flew off, and the neighbors called the cops. The cops came pretty fast,” he said. “As soon as the cops got there, one of the neighbors shook a jar of cookies to distract the dog, and the dog ... took the hat and headed straight north and out of the neighborhood. The cops went and got the dog, and they gave me my hat back.”
At the end of the day
Upon returning to the post office after his route, Fisher said, “We take all of the equipment out of our trucks. We double-check there’s no mail that may have fallen somewhere.”
Then, they direct any undeliverable mail for forwarding, return-to-sender, wherever it needs to go. “We organize our work station a little bit,” he said. “We’ve got to turn in our keys. We have to file a report of what certifieds we delivered and which ones we couldn’t deliver, and then registered mail.”
Sometimes these end-of-the-day routines get a little rushed, when deliveries are running behind schedule. “It’s not too bad,” he said.
A fringe benefit of the job is working with nice people. Fisher said his customers “make homemade treats for you. They give you gifts at Christmas. I got a turkey this year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also, when it’s really cold or hot out, they’re really nice to you.”
The Postal Service gives him a uniform expense allowance, so he can replenish his shirts, shoes, jackets and hats. For really cold weather, he has wind-breaking pants and an insulated face mask.
“We’re moving a lot, so we kind of stay warm enough in the winter, and you can always wear layers,” said Fisher, “but in the summer, you can’t get away from the heat as much. They allow us to take comfort breaks, if we feel like we need to go somewhere air conditioned to cool off for a bit if we think it’s getting too hot. And they supply us with water.”
Another plus, he said: “We have good management and really good co-workers,” crediting postmaster Scott Freitag and supervisor Rabi Kandel for making a difference in the Park Rapids Post Office.
Fisher said he also enjoys the opportunity to work alone. “That’s kind of nice,” he said. “For six hours, I can rely on myself and take care of it, get it done.”
He voiced appreciation for his wife, Jamie, and children Ramsey, 13, and Linden, 12, who understand when he sometimes has to work six days a week.
“Like any job, it can be tough sometimes,” he said. “It’s a long day. Some of us walk the whole time. Some of us are hustling the whole time. Sometimes we get tired out,” he said, recalling when a customer told one of his coworkers, “I could walk backward faster than that.”
“We try our best,” said Fisher.