Tuesday, April 03, 2007

So you wanna know how the mail works?

I feel obliged to report more about work. But it's kind of hard to summarize in a few paragraphs. It's hard. The learning curve is steep. I work at least an hour overtime everyday.. sometimes two, and once, four. I learn so many new things each day. I do a completely different route or task every day. Up until today it has been pretty much all walking on foot. However, today I drove about 600 kilometres dropping off items around Burnaby, in a right-hand drive vehicle. I also dropped off a truck in Vancouver and brought another one back to Burnaby. It's when I'm driving north in 10 am traffic on a sunny day and seeing the snow-dusted mountains framed by clusters of cherry blossoms that I'm glad I'm not stuck in an office.

But there are times I envy the office folk to whom I deliver. Their feet aren't calloused and blistered. Their hands aren't all papercut, with fraying cuticles. They don't have to worry about getting lost, or circling the block multiple times, looking for an address. They don't risk back injury (though they do risk carpal tunnel and flabby flesh!)

Every day I'm more thoroughly amazed at the process the mail goes through, and how much of it is done by hand. Another new recruit and I were marvelling about this, and he said, "Whenever I saw mail carriers, I always thought the mail poured out a giant chute and somehow ended up all sorted and bundled in their bags, ready for delivery." That is SO not the case!

Every single piece of mail that comes through your mail slot has been sorted at least three times by the carrier and driver alone. First, mail is hand-sorted in piles according to street name. Then, it is sorted into a 'case.' A case has about 600 slots in it, one for each house on the route. Then, it is 'tied out,' or gathered into handfuls, wrapped with elastics, and each pile is hand-numbered. Then, the piles are put into 5 or 6 separate bags, or 'bundles.' These bundles are driven out by the driver, and dropped into the grey boxes. Then, the carrier visits the boxes and retrieves the bundles, unties the mail, and double checks the addresses before sending them through the slots. Assuming each house or business gets on average 5 pieces of mail a day, that's 3000 pieces of hand-sorted mail!

That may not include the 'unaddressed admail,' or flyers, that must also be delivered, and can really add on extra time and weight. Also, each route typically has about 12 or so 'registered items,' which are parcels or mail that need signatures, cash on delivery, or need to be received in person. When you change your address, there isn't some giant machine that redirects your mail. Instead, orange 'address change' cards go into your cubby hole in the mail carrier's case, and each day, the carrier checks the card against the mail, and takes both card and mail to the registration desk, where it is collected and redirected, and the card returned for the next day.

I don't want to be a bore with the processes.. I'm boring myself already.. but I guess my point is, the system seems much more archaic than I expected! I expected machines and robots, and all I would have to do is stroll down the street and fling paper airplanes made of mail in the general direction of houses.


Blogger Michelle said...

Wow! I didn't know it worked that way. I too thought it was much easier. I always thought mail carrier would be a cool job though, way better than an office job

8:46 PM  

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