One Time I Totaled A US Postal Vehicle
Despite what you may have heard, Mail carriers go on vacation sometimes. Oftentimes, like many Americans, they go on vacation in the summer. During the summer, the US Postal Service hires substitute letter carriers so that these hard-working government employees can relax on the beach instead of stuffing your mailbox with unwanted circulars.
I was a substitute mail carrier in Asheville, NC one summer, while home from college. It seemed like a cool thing to do. You always have nights off, you get home before most nine-to-fivers, and you never have to work on a Sunday, which left your Saturday nights wide open to do things that college kids like to do. In theory, it sounded great.
It wasn't really so great. First, you had to go through an excruciatingly boring certification class designed to ensure that the substitute mail carriers abide by all USPS guidelines, traffic laws, and safety regulations. This class is probably more boring than your high school driver's ed class, and there was not even a screening of "Death on the Highway."
I took the class with another guy -- let's call him Kyle, because his name was Kyle. We would joke around during breaks about how boring the class was, and we particularly loved one class anecdote about a poor sap who forgot to put on his emergency brake when he parked on a hill and the truck crashed through someone's garage.
Kyle and I would get to the post office each morning before the sun came up and sort mail for an hour or so -- cruel and unusual punishment for any college kid. The sooner you got your mail sorted, the sooner you could head out on your route. Every week you'd have a new route, since you were filling in for whoever was on vacation. So essentially, you worked on each route for 6 days -- routes that probably took at least 10 days to learn. You see, this was before people had cell phones, GPS, or Google Maps. And I am certain that many of the addresses did not exist in our dimension. Hopefully those folks were not waiting on an important letter that week.
There are many nice things about delivering the mail. For instance, your mind can wander, and you are out there working completely by yourself. There are also many not-so-good things about delivering the mail. Namely, the fact that your mind can wander, and you are out there working completely by yourself. If you have a question on your first day at most jobs, you can kindly ask your co-worker how to go about something. Not so when you're out there on your route. You wing it. You look for addresses above garages, in alleys, underground. Mostly you end up coming back to the station with shitloads of undelivered mail that you attempt to deliver again the next day. And the next day. Until your vacationing mail carrier comes back and wishes he never went on vacation.
One of the worst tasks a substitute mail carrier might end up performing is delivering the mail to the projects on welfare check day. I don't think I can describe it without it sounding racist. So let's just say it's like there's a Tea Party rally that is advertising a 2pm meet-and-greet with Sarah Palin and you show up at 5pm with Nancy Pelosi.
Certainly the greatest fantasy of any male US mail carrier, or at least of any male college-aged substitute mail carrier, is to knock on a door with a special delivery only to be invited in by a Mrs. Robinson for a glass of ice water. I didn't have that experience. I did, however, receive catcalls in the projects from a lady in curlers who told me that "Ooowheee, the mailman look GOOT ta-day."
When the mailman makes a special delivery, as Kyle and I learned in that class, he is to turn off the engine of his Jeep, steer the wheel toward the curb, and firmly engage the emergency brake. There are always times when we follow all the guidelines and do everything to a T, and there are times when we're so dog-tired and hot that we believe that just this once it will be ok to cut a corner or two. I know that I turned the engine off, and I'm pretty sure that I pulled the emergency brake. I may not have pointed the tires towards the curb.
Just a day prior, Kyle was fired for backing into the postmaster's truck with his mail vehicle. I had joked with Kyle about what shitty luck he had, and had laughingly relayed the anecdote to several folks.
As I was walking towards the house with the special delivery, I remember hearing a child yelling, which I mistook for the sound of children playing, until I distinctly heard the words, "Mailman! Mailman!...Yo truck! Yo truck!"
Slow motion is often employed in cinema to stress a pivotal moment in time. This was a moment in my life that I can only recall in slow motion, and I sometimes believe that time actually did slow down for what was probably only about 7 seconds. I remember turning my head enough to see this boy standing in the middle of the road, his arm stretched out, pointing straight ahead. And from the look on his face, you'd have thought aliens were attacking. The Jeep was slowly rolling down the street. I remember dropping the delivery and running with everything I had towards the Jeep. I had the idea that I would be able to catch up with it and, like Indiana Jones or something, I would slide into the Jeep in the nick of time and save the day. But those '70s Jeeps had minds of their own, and this one veered towards a yard, climbed the curb and began to descend a slope between two houses. On the other side of these two houses, in the path of the Jeep, was another house. In my mind, at that moment, I imagined a child sitting in his living room totally unaware that he was about to die.
If I were a religious man, I would have thought that God steered that Jeep right into a tree stump that afternoon. The ensuing fireworks display -- hundreds of letters and magazines and boxes expanding in all directions as the Jeep flipped over that stump -- served as a grand finale to a miserable summer job that I didn't have the guts to quit.
As the dust settled and the scene resembled a still from "Death On The Highway," an old man came out of his house and asked matter-of-factly, "Boy, why'd you go and do that for?" I said, "I don't know," and then I asked If I could come inside and borrow his phone.