Wednesday, July 10, 2024

USPS...adieu!

I may have waited a bit too long to finish the story of my brief sojourn with the USPS as the memories of my time delivering mail are already fading fast. What I will say is that job contentment is almost all down to whether or not your unit (the USPS uses military terminology) has a robust union presence and whether or not your supervisors began as letter carriers or were brought in directly as management with no practical experience out in the field, as it were. My unit, unfortunately, had neither a decent shop steward nor a management structure that benefited from anyone having had direct experience delivering the mail. 

During classroom postal training, a shop steward, S., from one of the San Francisco units, was brought in to speak with us about the benefits of being in the letter carrier union. He led with the gem that 'all supervisors are assholes' and proceeded to regale us with management horror stories from his early days delivering mail some 25 years ago. One was this: When S. was still in his probationary period, his unit supervisor had surreptitiously followed him out on the route only to surprise S. midday to tell him that he was horrible at his job and that he should quit the postal service. S. finished out the day before sharing what had happened with his then shop steward. The shop steward told the manager that he was engaging in harassment of an employee and the manager backed off. 

My experience with the shop steward, L., at the unit where I had been posted was less-than-desirable, unfortunately. One of the first things he told me--within earshot of management--was that the supervisors at our unit were 'good guys' and that I could go to them with any questions or concerns. Um, isn't that your fucking job? -why I pay union dues? Never mind that this was after I'd already been told by my OJI (on-the-job-instructor) that management and the shop steward had somehow colluded to fuck the OJI out of 80% of his beloved route that he'd had for over 20 years and that he'd quit the union in response. 

In addition to being a suck-up, L. thought that lending me a ratty old safari hat was somehow a huge help while I was out on the route. I already had a sunhat. I'd rather have had a route map, but no one seemed to have an updated one on hand. The mantra was simply: Follow the mailI had just spent 7 years working mostly outside and knew how to protect myself from the sun. What I didn't know were how to 'follow the mail' and how to deliver parcels to the best of my ability. I wound up lugging the lent hat around a couple of days before politely giving it back to L. 

I know I posted about this incident before, but for the uninitiated, when first meeting my OJI, he presented me with a 121-question handout that I needed to learn as worked the job. My OJI told me to go to the break room (I knew where that was, right?) and initial down the list of questions on all the pages while he cased (read: sorted) the mail for the day. I had ten minutes. Using info. from the classroom training all new hires undergo, I could answer a few of the questions with confidence. I initialed those and left the other 100 plus questions blank telling the OJI that I wasn't able to complete the packet as I didn't yet know the answers. The next day I saw the OJI, he handed me the packet of questions again, but instead of going question by question, I was supposed to sign and date the final page stating that I had read and knew the answers to all the questions presented to me. (This paperwork, really, was about the USPS being able to cover its ass, if I were to fuck up royally while on the job. Like, she initialed she knew 'x,y,z...it's not on us!) Knowing that the OJI thought very little of the shop steward, I quietly went to L. and asked what I should do. The shop steward told me to go to management if I were having a problem with the OJI. I thanked him and I left it for another day. 

***

Some unit managers give their new hires four training days and some give three before new carriers are sent out alone on a route. I received three days...sort of. On the second training day, my OJI had a scheduled absence. On that day, I helped a kindly older carrier on his route and all went fairly well. We made good time and I then went out with him on his split (this is when a carrier helps out another carrier complete a portion of his or her route). Day three saw me back with my OJI. I had become a bit familiar with the OJI's route having done a portion of it on my first day of training. One our second day together (I write 'together' but he was elsewhere on the route and not available by phone, interestingly), the OJI had given me various streets (some linked on foot and some one had to drive to) to deliver mail and small parcels along. He'd taken the large parcels on that part of the route for me, so I only had to contend with what could fit in my satchel and what I could carry in my arms. As I trundled along the route I'd walked just 72 hours before, I realized that I had forgotten to grab two parcels from the truck. Knowing this, I made a mental note to deliver all the mail on that loop (a designated portion of street/s that the mail is bundled into and put either in one's arm or in one's satchel) before returning to the work vehicle for the parcels left behind. I'd driven off from the unit around 9a that morning and it was now nearing 11.30a. I'd determined that I would get out those last two pieces of mail before taking my designated ten minute break. Back at the work vehicle, I was bent over the driver's side seat with one hand holding the small parcels and one hand holding the scanner with my feet on the foot board, derriere to the sidewalk. I was doing a bit of preliminary scanning as the addresses for these deliveries were directly across from where my work truck was parked when suddenly I heard a bellowing voice behind me: WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!!!

Given both that I thought I was alone and I was bent over in a rather exposed position, my body had an immediate stress response to being yelled at. -tightness and heat felt in the sternum and my heart began beating like a drum. I turned my head 'round and there stood the afternoon manager, K. K. had already proven himself to be a barky S.O.B.--berating carriers while they cased the mail about taking too long on their lunch breaks--, but I had somewhat naively hoped that I might be able to stay out of his crosshairs, at least initially. K., with scrunched up eyes and tight mouth, belted out again the 'what do you think you're doing' line and all I could do was bleat: I'm delivering parcels? WHY IS YOUR WINDOW DOWN?! WHERE IS YOUR SATCHEL?! Mind you, I'm technically still in the work vehicle, so the window is down because of that. The satchel, well, the satchel was empty as I'd just finished my loop and thought that running over two small parcels across the street might not merit taking it. Although, I could have been taking the satchel. How was K. to know as I was still in my work vehicle? 

What did make sense in all the yelling was that, really, one must scan the parcel directly in the vicinity of the house to which it is being delivered. My having started scanning in the vehicle was a no-no. In case of theft, the USPS can, again, cover their ass, by stating that the carrier did his or her due diligence. The scanner would show proof of correct delivery. Speaking of the scanner, the old ball and chain, the reason shouty K. knew exactly where I was along the route is because each scanner assigned to an individual carrier is kitted out with a GPS tracker. Management knows where carriers are at all times. I knew this and I knew that I would likely be followed on my route considering what shop steward S. shared with us during classroom training, but what I didn't know was that it would take place so soon after starting work. 

Even though I was freaked out, I had the presence of mind to tell K. that he'd startled me. -told him I was having a stress response. He looked confused. 'But I always follow carriers on their routes. It's part of my job.' I didn't say, but wish I had had the presence of mind to say was: Is it also part of your job to sneak up behind unsuspecting employees and yell at them? I can't remember what all else he said, but it was a load of criticism. As the old adage goes: You catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar. And I just envisioned his never-ending penchant for yelling and thought, fuck this shit. I told K. that I didn't think that the job was for me, but because I had integrity and respected the mail, that I would finish out the day and then be done. Then I asked him if I could take my ten minute break. He seemed fine with it, so while I sat in my work truck I watched him walk to his personal vehicle parked just down the way from me, get in and sit (also for ten minutes). Once back on the route, K. followed (this time not sneakily) behind me as I delivered the mail. He shadowed me for about an hour. I couldn't figure out why as I told him I was quitting. His trailing me made me feel panicked; I picked up the pace as if I were going to outrun him. I recall him telling me that he couldn't do what mail carriers do--he was a transfer into management from H.R. after his position was dissolved--and did I think I could be a mail carrier because I was, as he so indelicately put it, 'skinny'. So, I guess I was trying to tucker him out. It was nearing 12.45p, so I told him that I wanted to take lunch. Before I could, however, he provided me with unsolicited positive feedback: I was adept at holding and delivering mail, I was quick, blah-blah-blah. He talked for what felt like an eternity before I was able to excuse myself and go on lunch break. 

Done with my portion of the route, I headed back to the unit by 3p. K. is the morning manager, so I was looking forward to handing in my lanyard, scanner and satchel to the afternoon manager who was as sleepy-seeming as K. was shouty. I saw K's personal vehicle in the parking lot and thought, Shit! As I entered the unit, I greeted them both. K. wanted me to come to his desk. I told him I'd be right over--I just needed to leave a note for the OJI regarding one of his customers and drop the outgoing mail in its respective hamper. En route to the K's desk I began clocking out and was about to return my scanner to its cradle when K. told me not to clock out as I wasn't finished. I said, 'Oh, no, I am finished. I'm done.' K. didn't seem to get it, so, as I was taking off my lanyard and putting the satchel down on his desk, I told him that I quit. He said, 'Oh, I didn't understand you before...' Maybe he expected me to yell back at him after his shitty little ambush?  Maybe he expected me to not finish out the day? Who knows? And, at this point, who cares?


Thursday, June 13, 2024

Greening the grey...

I should probably finish the story of my working for the US Postal Service before I forget all the icky details, but really don't feel like delving into it just yet. Sorry for the unintended cliff-hanger!

Instead, I would like to share that we're in the process of having our front and backyards turned into something a bit greener, a bit grander. We're not rolling in dough yet we wanted to update the property in some small (pocketbook-wise) way. We figured that a kitchen re-do would be more costly than a landscaping project--we might actually have been wrong about that now that we are in the thick of it--so we opted for sprucing up our wee plot. Our front yard, along with those of most all of the homes in the neighborhood, was paved over during the last great drought in the early 1970s. What were once neatly manicured lawns are now largely 'extra parking' in the form of concrete slabs. We've had the aggregate concrete (think: cement mixed with pebbles) torn up and mostly hauled away retaining chunks of it to use in making a small wall at the front of the property and a funky footpath from garage-way to front door. In its stead, we've had mostly native plants put in like yarrow, lupine and coastal sage. The wee tree seen in a shot of the garden below is a California Buckeye. 


Circa 1940s Sunset District 'row house' replete with tidy lawn.


Our old 'grey garden' out front. 

Aggregate broken up and used for foot path.

Native plant garden at the front of our digs.


The wee wall dividing our garden from the public sidewalk has a bit of Brutalist vibe, but I like it. -keeps the cigarette butts from our ever-smoking neighbors across the way at Party House from blowing up into the garden, so there's that. 

The backyard is next to be worked on. I'll post snaps in good time!

Monday, June 3, 2024

Sea lions at Pier 39


It's been years since I've visited Pier 39, a tourist-centered shopping arcade located along the water, here in San Francisco. On a warm afternoon last week, I found myself taking the train down along the Embarcadero in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the sea lions who annually visit the pier. Sometimes there are only a few sea lions out sunbathing, but I got lucky on my visit. There were hoards of them out along the docks. Most looked to be napping, but some were barking, snapping and/or plunging into the water for a quick swim. We human visitors hung out along the pier jostling for position. I found myself stood next to two Lufthansa flight attendants. I, being the German buttinsky that I am, asked them auf Deutsch how to say, 'sea lion', as I had forgotten. One of them said, 'Seehund (direct translation is: sea dog)'. I didn't correct her, but had thought that 'Seehund' meant 'seal' whereas 'Seelöwe' meant 'sea lion'. I've not yet looked it up, so if anyone is keen....

The sea lions were not a visitor draw at Pier 39 when I was a kid. In fact, sea lions really weren't known to hang out in the area until the 1990s. When they did start regularly showing up at the pier, folk considered them to be a stinky, loud nuisance. Initially, steps were taken to force the seal lions to relocate--I can't remember what was done--, but those efforts were unsuccessful. I assume those opposed to the sea lions (probably boaters and fisherman) simply gave in and the marine mammals became a boon to the area. Look around Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf (the adjacent tourist district) these days and you'll see public parking structures, motels, restaurants and such bearing images of the sea lion.  

The sea lions, in my opinion, have pretty good taste. Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf is a fairly scenic area. There's a lovely view of the Golden Gate Bridge and hills of Marin County just beyond were the sea lions lounge. East of the Golden Gate lies Alcatraz Island, now part of the parks department, but at one time was home to a maximum security prison. (Film buffs might remember the Burt Lancaster film, 'Birdman of Alcatraz'.) And the weather in that part of town, compared to other areas of San Francisco, is, on average, often warmer and sunnier. There are worse places to loiter, you know?

I will leave you with just a few of shots of the now famous Pier 39 sea lions--








 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Postal Service, part III

I want to preface this post by saying that I am not of the 'every body receives a gold star for participation' generation. I don't expect to be coddled in a job until I find my footing. However, I do expect that I am able to gather all tools necessary in order to perform a job and, if the tools aren't readily available, ask for and receive them. And I find bullying behavior loathsome. 

My first three days at the post office were to be in training with another carrier called an on-the-job-instructor, or OJI. The OJI was around my age and had been a carrier for two decades. It was from the OJI that I would be learning the ropes, gleaning tips and tricks and understanding the basic ABCs of the world of letter carriers. Right after we were introduced he told me that just over two years ago his shop steward and management had conspired to take away 80% of the route he'd walked for nearly 20 years while other carriers in the unit only had their routes altered about 40%. He felt personally slighted by the restructuring and angrily quit the union in response. This story told me two things: The OJI hates his job and would probably not be giving me much in terms of training and that the shop steward is likely in bed with management. I put those red flags in my back pocket, as it were, and pressed on. But as one might imagine, this was not a good starting point for a new hire. 

Being a carrier isn't too mentally taxing, but there is a lot of information at the start to ingest and keeping it all in mind can feel overwhelming. Physically, working as a letter carrier involves a fair amount of walking and weather extremes can make the job all the more challenging. Fortunately, I had come from a the world of window washing and gutter cleaning and was well-versed in both working outdoors and with physical work. 

During the first three days, my OJI was to impart to me approximately 120 bits of work-related information. There was a multi-page checklist given to all new-hires and I was to initial each bit of info. on said checklist after I learned it. I was then meant to hand over the pages to the OJI and he, in turn, would give it to the manager after having initialled it all himself. The OJI hadn't yet finished casing the mail (sorting the mail in sequential order for a given route) when we first met, so he sent me with the checklist to the breakroom saying, 'Could you just initial this column--finger pointing to a middle column--on each page and I'll be with you in ten minutes. 

I sat in the breakroom reading over the paperwork. From my classroom training, I was able to initial about four bits of information. The rest was unknown. That the OJI expected me to blindly initial the whole checklist at the beginning of day one made me feel ill at ease. I returned the paperwork to him saying that I initialled what I could, but did not yet know all the information, so I'd wait to mark the rest. He took the paperwork from me and we went to load the work vehicle with both mail and parcels for my first day out on the route. 



Monday, May 6, 2024

Postal Service, part II


One of the pluses of working as a letter carrier, we were told more than once during classroom training, was that one would 'lose weight'. No one in my training seemed to need this rather toss-away information. However, it was not only said by the first trainer, a somewhat sleepy guy in his late 50s who probably wanted to be anywhere else than in that training room with us, but it was also said by some HR bigwig zoomed in from elsewhere in the country. HR guy mentioned how he had been in the best shape of his life when working as a carrier a number of years ago. He then patted his belly while making reference to the fact that his office job did not keep the pounds off. I wondered why middle-aged men kept putting such an emphasis on one's weight and fitness as a selling point of the job. I mean, I guess it is? The real perk would be that working as a postal carrier means you are a federal worker and with that comes decent medical benefits and a 401(k) plan. I was keen on joining the letter carrier union myself.  

Speaking of weight, the first thing the manager at my unit (the USPS uses militaristic language--I find it funny) said when we met was, 'You're pretty skinny. Do you actually think you can do this job?' Never mind that I'd already met a carrier on site who was in her 50s/60s trimmer than I was, so I don't know what his comment was really about. My response was: Well, I have a very physical job right now, but, of course, it's not the same as this job. And I think I'm capable and would certainly like to try. In my head I was thinking, why are you commenting on my body, you fucking twerp? Later that day, the Postmaster told me that she thought I had come from the white collar world and, you know, those people normally quit after three days! I simply repeated a version of what I'd told the manager and she seemed satisfied. Having them both question my abilities did put me off, but I rallied on. You could call it swatting away the red flags. Looking back, I can see why folk would quit after their 3-day training period, and the fact that the job is physical is not top on the list of reasons why.

Right after I was hired and before any training commenced, I spent an 8 hour shift literally following a senior mail carrier around on a fill-in route as the usual carrier was away on vacation. It was an easy route, to be honest. There were no hills, only short blocks and it was very near the ocean (which could be either good or bad, weather dependent). The person I shadowed was also very pleasant and we had great chats during our breaktimes. He told me at one point: You get paid to walk! What's better than that? I can now say that not being yelled at by management is better than that. More on that later...

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Postal Service, part I

How many straws does one have to grab before getting to the last one? I was recently trained, and I use that word lightly, to become a postal carrier. I had thought that there would be some sort of test I needed to pass prior to making the cut, but nope. The US Postal Service was just sort of like: Give us your information and you're hired! This quote by Groucho Marx really isn't entirely apt here, but I could not help but think of these words as my paltry training wore on: I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. Suffice to say I should have refused.

The US postal service vehicles are OLD. Yes, there are a few newer USPS vehicles out there, but the majority of the fleet are from either 1984 or 1998. I trained at a post office directly across from the ocean and its vehicles are parked in an open lot when not in use. To call many of them rust buckets on wheels is not an insult but rather a state of fact. In the interests of safety, but also in the interests of covering your own ass, one always needs to perform a vehicle check prior to rolling out. 

As a newbie, I was put into a loaner vehicle (read: a vehicle that none of the more established postal carriers would wish to use). I made sure the engine turned over and that the tires were not flat. I couldn't figure out how to check the brake and hazard lights. A postal dude whose name I didn't get came by and looked for me as I hit flicked the switches and pressed the brake pedal. He called it 'the buddy system'. Thanks, bud. There was a note affixed to the dash by binder clip and rubber band of this particular postal truck that read: Only goes 35 MPH. Do not drive on highway. I mentioned the note to my trainer and he said, 'Don't worry. You aren't doing any highway driving today.' 

I then noticed that one of the 7 mirrors used for safe driving--merging, reversing, etc.--was missing. Presumably it rusted and broke off years ago. The missing mirror was one of the convex ones attached to the front left portion of the vehicle. USPS vehicles are right-side drive, so the driver needs to use this type of mirror to see if there is anything along the left side of the postal truck. Any collisions I could have had during on-site training would have resulted in immediate dismissal. Not to mention I could have hurt someone or myself due to decreased visibility while at the wheel. I brought up the missing mirror to the trainer and he didn't seem to think it important. Not wanting to appear difficult, I sucked it up and got in. While driving to a nearby neighborhood--I was to deliver a portion of the trainer's route--I noticed that my vehicle would not accelerate past 15-20 MPH. I hit the middle of my steering wheel and the tiniest most beleaguered 'honnnk' squeaked out. It somehow got the trainer's attention and we went back to the office so that I could switch to another vehicle. 

When looking for an image of a USPS mail truck to add to this post, I came across more than one showing a vehicle in flames. Apparently, postal truck engines are catching fire for seemingly no discernible reason. Here's a reason: They're OLD.

The LLV stands for long life vehicle. Har-frickin-har.


Saturday, April 20, 2024

OAK is not OK

The goofiest kerfuffle around these parts currently involves our two major airports, San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport. The Oakland International Airport, now known already for a handful of years simply as: OAK--spoken like the three letters not the wood (think: Fly O-A-K!), is being allowed to change its rather very clear name (What is it? An international airport. Where is it? Oakland.) to the San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport. What in the word salad funk is this?

Oakland Int'l is claiming that folk who fly into Oakland don't know where Oakland is and can't figure out how to use a map in order to locate it, I guess, so the 'brains' behind the airport needed to put the geographical locale of Oakland in the name of the airport. The new name is not only an ungainly mouthful, but feels confusing as well. Oakland lies east of San Francisco across the San Francisco Bay. Oakland is in the East Bay, as that region is known. SF and Oakland flank either side of the bay, SF is to the west of the bay, and you already know where Oakland lies. I think the OAK folk wish to catch more flies with honey, if you will, by including San Francisco in its name. I get it, but think that flyers are savvy enough to figure out what's where when traveling. Or am I being naive? I mean, I don't fly into Gatwick when visiting friends in London. Thanks to internet search engines and ye olde paper maps, it's a safe bet visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area can figure out both where they will land and where they wish to travel once on the ground. Simple!

Just for kicks, I've included a transit map below which shows both where Oakland Int'l (OAK) and San Francisco (SFO) Int'l are located. 





USPS...adieu!

I may have waited a bit too long to finish the story of my brief sojourn with the USPS as the memories of my time delivering mail are alread...