I was dreaming of a basement bedroom and the dim light dribbled through the window at the top of the wall. Trying to get up the steps, I felt an evil hand tugging my shirt, pulling me to the carpet. My grasp on the rail kept me from falling. Though wanting to get up those steps, I resigned myself to the reality of being stuck in the room underground.
The scary dream was great in that it was part of the second nap I had today. For some reason, I didn’t sleep well last night. It was a disappointment, as I had a rough and long week. I had been looking forward to a day off and went to bed assured that it would be a good night.
Too much to eat? Restless head? Cares and worries? Who knows.
But I do know one thing: I wasn’t worried about having to work today. For almost a year and a half, I worked every Sunday but two.
I remember being in the USPS regional headquarters, looking at the bare walls in a large conference/reception room. I sat a small table and a kindly woman who looked weary and a little ragged on the edges came in and took the chair across from me. She had a sheaf of paper and a pen.
“This is the interview, as it were,” she told me, adjusting her glasses. “You’ve passed the background check and the drug screen. It’s obvious you’re fit for the job. After we get done with this paperwork, your next step is orientation. After that, you’ll be working 50 to 60 hours, six days a week. You’ll work Sundays and holidays, except Christmas and Thanksgiving. Every day, you’ll walk ten to 15 miles. How do you feel about that?”
“It’s something I’m willing to do,” I said.
“By the way, why do you want to work for the Post Office? I’ve read your resume and it’s one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. Why here?”
“Well,” I said, conjuring something reasonable to say, “when I was a kid I wanted to be a mailman.”
“Uh-huh,” she said doubtfully, looking over her glasses at me. “Let’s get started.” She clicked the pen.
What I didn’t tell her was that I was desperate. I had been looking for a job for over a year but came up empty-handed again and again. We faced a very uncertain future. Financial ruin had suddenly reared its ugly head. I needed a job. This one was as good as any.
After orientation, I started working those 50- to 60-hour weeks, except they were more often 65-70 hours. Monday through Saturday, I walked 15-20 miles a day. I spent Sundays and holidays delivering Amazon packages all over the Kansas-side suburbs of the city. I didn’t just work six days a week. I more often worked seven and eight days between days off. It was all tedious, very hard work. Days seemed endless.
But it was Sundays that were a constant bother. Granted, package delivery did not tax me as much as carrying mail. In fact, I began to look forward to Sundays as a break in the week. Several times, I worked a Sunday when my manager wanted to give me the day off. It was easier working one light day during the run of work between days off. If I worked Sunday, the manager had to give me a regular day off from carrying someone’s route.
I sit here now, reveling in the fact that I don’t have to work today. From this chair, I feel a sense of depression when I think of working those Sundays. The day usually began in a station Overland Park. If we got a good start, the packages would already be sorted into routes and sequenced with numbers written on them.
On those days, we raced each other for the case with the truck keys. Everyone, it seemed, was jockeying for the most desirable vehicle—the large van a sliding door on the side and shelves inside and plenty of room to stand up in. Everyone who didn’t get one of the larger vans had to make do with the smaller minivans and the iconic postal trucks.
Keys in hand, we took the large carts piled with packages out to the vehicles. There, we arranged upward of 120-140 packages into an order we could understand, and each person had a different method. For me, I’d put the smaller packages into white postal totes in sequence starting with #1. In the back, I ordered the larger packages onto the shelves, 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, and so on. I carried a postal tote with me in the front of the van, trying to remember what numbers missing from the tote were in the back.
Then, I’d start. A program on the scanner showed the way on a barely decipherable map on the 3’ x 3’ display. It would tell me to “turn right” or “turn left” on the way to the delivery. But those commands only came exactly at the moment I should have turned. So, I learned to read the display and somehow keep my eyes on the road. When I arrived at a house where I had a delivery, the scanner would say, “You have reached your destination.”
Tedious, boring, repetitive. I had come all this way in life in order to drop packages on front steps. All that education and experience and I was faced with impossible deliveries at confusing apartment complexes. At some apartments, I had to walk several hundred yards to deliver a package to a door. At others, the apartment numbers were so illogical and counterintuitive that I drove around for 20 or more minutes to deliver one package.
“How did I get here?” I’d ask myself.
(Oh, by the way, they expected us to deliver 20 packages an hour no matter how long the walk to the apartment door or how far we had to hike across Leawood estates.)
And those were the good days. Most Sundays, the packages were still in heaps and needed to be sorted to route and numbered to sequence. We’d pass a package under an overhead scanner and the computer would give us the information we needed. Sometimes, I didn’t leave the station with my loaded truck until 10:30 or 11 a.m. And, then, on most Sundays, when I completed my run, I had to go out and help someone else finish their load or there would be more packages waiting for me at the station.
The result was that Sundays were most often 10- to 12-hour days.
I think about that now—that time when I was an assistant—and am damn glad I don’t have to deal with the tedium of package delivery. I also think that most people don’t know what it really means for them to receive their material goods at their front doors. There’s a lot of work there, a lot of human exploitation that goes into online ordering.
I also wonder how I did it. I mean, I know why I did it—I have bills. But I wonder where the fortitude came from. If I was forced to do it again, I might decide to say, screw it.