Man of Letters

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Jamesa Euler delivers mail on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, in Atlanta.
A letter carrier in Atlanta makes a delivery. David Goldman/AP

What I learned about America, and myself, working as a mail carrier.

My fourth day delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service, it snowed-one of those heavy, wet, spring-in-Colorado snows that knocks down tree branches and crushes newly-bloomed tulips. I was training with a veteran letter carrier on a walk-out route, the type where the carrier pushes a blue buggy full of mail and small packages. It’s a lot harder, I discovered, to push that thing through slush.

I schlepped my disheveled, wet self into downtown businesses where concerned secretaries took pity on me as I handed them their soaked mail.

Welcome to the Postal Service.

“Neither snow nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night …” that’s how the saying goes right?

The rude welcome to the Postal Service quickly taught me mail delivery is no leisurely stroll through the neighborhood, dismantling the idyllic image of a smiling Mr. McFeeley handing out birthday cards in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” My first week on the job, I lost 5 pounds.

Being a mail carrier is hard.
I’d eventually get used to the physical rigors of the job and learn the rhythms, tricks and routines of delivering mail, but what surprised me the most over the next 15 months working on the front lines of this vast, imperfect, but essential big-government institution is how the Postal Service delivers much more than just letters, magazines and Amazon packages to a neighborhood.

I met elderly residents who lived alone and just wanted someone to talk to for a couple minutes a day. I saw how critical the Postal Service is for local businesses, like the one that ships dozens of Priority Mail boxes of custom-made zippers for wedding gowns across the country every day. I met strangers willing to donate grocery bags full of food during the long-running Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, which tallied 71.6 million pounds of found collected nationwide. I learned the value of a powerful union and experienced the most diverse workplace I’ve ever encountered. And most importantly, what I found while roving from house to house on foot was an intimate insight into my community and fellow Americans.

Like many who come to work for the Postal Service, I didn’t find my way into the USPS because I had burning desire to deliver mail; I just needed a job. A laid-off journalist, I’d spent six months striking out on landing a writing gig and grew tired of the soul-sucking grind that is job searching. An old college friend was working happily delivering mail, and making more than I ever did in newspapering: The benefits are good, you don’t take the job home with you, and there’s lots of overtime if you want it.


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Gunfire hits man in hand, shatters windows of U.S. mail truck in downtown St. Louis

By Kim Bell • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Jul 13, 2018

ST. LOUIS • Gunfire in downtown St. Louis on Thursday morning hit a man in the hand and shattered windows of a U.S. postal truck.
The postal worker who was driving the truck wasn’t hurt.
The injured man, 24, was not riding in the postal truck at the time, and has no connection to the post office, said St. Louis Police Officer Michelle Woodling. The victim refused to cooperate with police, so Woodling couldn’t say if the victim had been in another vehicle or standing on Tucker when he was shot.

The victim was taken to a hospital, where he was stable. His medical condition wasn’t released.

The shooting was just before 10 a.m. Thursday in the 300 block of North Tucker Boulevard.
Police say they believe that two men may have had a role in the shooting, but they had no one in custody Friday and no detailed description of either suspect. It’s being handled as a case of first-degree assault and second-degree property damage.

A 27-year-old postal worker was driving a U.S. Post Office truck north on Tucker when the shooting happened. As the mail truck approached Locust Street, gunfire shattered windows on the driver and passenger side, police said. The postal worker was uninjured.
Postal Inspector Matthew Villicana said, “He was not involved and not targeted in the shooting. The bullet did pass through his vehicle, so he’s very fortunate” he was uninjured. “Wrong place, wrong time.”

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USPS has a new way to ensure you get all of your mail: Money Matters

USPS offers a new way to ensure you're getting all your mail.
USPS offers a new way to ensure you’re getting all your mail.(USPS)

Q: We don’t have a locking mailbox like you suggest, but we do take advantage of a very useful service offered by the U.S. Postal Service called Informed Daily Delivery Digest. You need to create an account with the Postal Service (which is also very handy for all sorts of things such as creating and paying for shipping labels, requesting package pick-up, buying stamps, and such).

Once you establish an account, you can sign up for the optional Daily Digest service, which provides an email with pictures of the mail that is expected to be delivered to you each day, along with an accounting of any packages expected.

And, if you don’t get a particular mail piece, you let them know that through a single click on a box in the email: “I didn’t receive this piece.”

We have found this service to be very helpful and reassuring in helping you to know that you are receiving the mail pieces that have been sent to you.

It is free, painless, and very useful — how often can that be said for a service of any kind?

D.R., Bainbridge Township

A: This relatively new service from the Postal Service definitely can provide some reassurance to consumers whether they’re getting all of their mail or not.

After testing it for a while, the USPS rolled out Informed Delivery in April 2017. As you said, Informed Delivery provides notification by email every day there is mail delivery. It’s totally free for residential consumers and eligible personal P.O. Boxes, said David Van Allen, spokesman for the northern Ohio and Ohio Valley regions of the USPS. Informed Delivery is not available to business customers.

The email you get provides scanned images of the exterior of a letter or postcard. It shows the side with the address, so presumably it would show a return address or you could otherwise tell from the letter who sent it.

The images of your mail are scanned right before it’s transferred to your local post office, Van Allen said. In most cases, you should receive the mail in the next couple of days.

If you want to sign up for Informed Delivery online, you should be prepared to answer questions that are public record type data or would be on your credit file.

When I tried to sign up, it gave me multiple-choice questions about the names of past streets I’ve lived on, and past cities and counties I’ve lived in. Another multiple choice question asked for the last four digits of my Social Security number. Other multiple-choice questions asked about the sale price of my home, the year it was built, my maiden name and a past phone number on file.

I was not able to create my account, most likely because my credit files are frozen with Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. I know the third party service the USPS uses relies, in part, on information that may appear on your credit file. Van Allen said the third party controls the questions asked.

The good news, he said, is consumers can go to a participating branch for identity verification when identity cannot be confirmed online.

There has been some criticism of the USPS for using identity verification questions that aren’t terribly secretive. This is even more of an issue following last year’s data breach at Equifax, which resulted in the theft of personal information for half the U.S. adult population. What would keep someone else from creating an account for you and then using those daily email digests to steal important mail from you that could compromise your personal information or finances?

One thing the USPS does as a backstop is send a verification letter to everyone for whom an Informed Delivery account is created.

“This letter contains instructions for disabling any account that a recipient believes may have been created fraudulently,” Van Allen said.

If you have used Informed Delivery, I’d love to hear how it’s been working for you.

To reach Teresa Murray, email or call or text 216-316-7064.

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