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Monday, January 9, 2012


Along with most other employers, the United States Postal Service stresses SAFETY. We would have regular "stand-ups," during which we'd have to take time off our time-pressured jobs to gather around and listen to our supervisor give a safety talk. It was never new; we had heard it all many times before; but it was required by upper management for us all to waste the time.

When I was first hired on with the Postal Service, I had to last through a probationary period before being assured my job was secure. During probation, nothing bad was to happen. We were also given initial instructions in safety---among them: Never drive the jeep in reverse unless it couldn't be helped; and watch out for dogs waiting inside the door, hoping to nip the fingers of the postman poking mail through the mail slot.

It was while on my very first time around a route on my own, a walking route, that I came up to a house door with a mail slot in it. I carefully pushed some letters through the slot, pushing open the metal flap hinged inside, when my imagination took over and I feared a dog smiling and licking his lips behind the door. My fingers were exposed enough inside to be snagged by dog fangs, and when I thought I heard a growl, I jerked my hand back so hard that the metal flap caught my fingers and sliced them to the bone. There was no dog; the mail slot bit me! I started bleeding huge drips of black blood, so badly that I knew I needed medical attention. But, we were not, especially during probation, to divert from the route. I took the chance and dared to venture a few blocks away to the nearest store, where I bought band-aids and tried my best to bandage my wounds. Then I continued the route, and never told my employers about the incident.

Another route, during probation, took me in a jeep out into the suburbs and along a country road. I noticed I had overlooked a piece of mail for the previous stop, and so wanted to back up to the mailbox. But we were not supposed to drive in reverse, and I wanted to obey their safety rules. The road was fairly wide, and I was driving a small mail jeep, so I went forward instead and made a U-turn. It turns out that the front of those little mail jeeps sticks out further than I thought, and the right front wheel went off the road and into a deep ditch. The jeep suddenly stumbled to a 45-degree angle, spilling some of the mail inside as packages tumbled. Thankfully I didn't roll it over. And thankfully I did this silly move right in front of a house. First I got down into the ditch and tried by myself to heave the jeep up onto the shoulder. I had enough of an adrenaline rush almost to do it, but not quite. So with my tail between my legs, I went up to the door of the house and knocked. A young man answered who quickly and mercifully followed me out and helped me physically push the jeep out of the ditch. I told him how much trouble I'd be in if my boss found out about this, and he assured me he'd keep my secret. There was no damage to the jeep, and no one ever knew about the (taboo word:) accident.

Remembering past experiences such as told about in my last post, and now with this, it soon dawned on me that one can be too safe. It wasn't long before I poo-pooed the safety talks at work and decided to live dangerously so as not to get hurt. Over the years I became notorious for driving without a seat belt (big no-no) and even driving with my postal truck door open (another big no-no). Occasionally I would get caught, even by the postmaster himself, and have received several reprimands and more than one letter-of-warning concerning these crimes. Fortunately they occurred more than six-months apart, which is as long as they stayed on file and in effect. It got to the point that most all my co-workers knew I was this careless, and during stand-ups the supervisors and postmaster would even make little derogatory comments about my neglect of safety. But no longer did I slice my fingers to the bone or drive into ditches, and I was known for being fast at carrying my route.

I had one official accident in my 24-year postal career. It took place in a very quiet neighborhood filled with retirement duplexes, where there was virtually no traffic to speak of. I stopped at a stop sign, looked both ways, then pulled out to turn left; but just as I pulled out I saw a van come right in front of me! I couldn't stop in time, and I hit it broadside. What happened is that the mail trucks, built for safety, are cluttered with outside rear-view mirrors, so much so that, at the speed we were going, the van stayed the whole while behind the mirrors. My vision was blocked and I didn't see it coming.

I felt terrible and assured the people in the van that I was entirely at fault. Fortunately no one was hurt. Both the postmaster and supervisor came out to see what happened and fill out paperwork, and the police came also. I insisted to the cop that it was my fault, but he gave a ticket to the OTHER driver! The reason? They couldn't provide proof of insurance. It seemed so bizarre, and I felt sick. As we stared at the dangling headlight and broken corner of the mail truck, the postmaster just looked at my supervisor and shook his head, never saying anything negative to me. I finished the route driving my busted truck.

Later, at work, my supervisor was finishing up the mass of paperwork regarding the accident, then had me sign it. Under "Cause of Accident" he had written: "Faulty equipment design." I thanked him for this, and for "being a friend to me out there," (because he hadn't been a friend to me until then). I never got in trouble for the accident, never heard about it again afterwards. Usually a mail carrier involved in an accident, whether or not it's his fault, is required to go to a safe driving course all over again. I didn't. The reason is that a fellow carrier, Bob, had gotten into the identical accident just weeks before, having the mirrors block his vision as he pulled out onto a busier street and ran into somebody's car. But since he was about to retire, they just let it go; and that provided a precedence for me to get away with it, for the sake of fairness. If the truck makers weren't so safety conscious with the many mirrors, neither accident would have happened.

And after 911, the whole Postal Service went nuts. They began locking doors at our workplace, making it extra difficult for us to do our jobs; and since terrorists could gain access to many secure places if they were driving a stolen postal truck, it became a much bigger deal to keep them locked whenever we were away from them at all (it used to be policy that we didn't have to lock them if we were out of sight of them for less than a minute). But think about it. If you were a terrorist who thought nothing of murdering thousands of civilians simply to make a point, would you wait silently around the corner in hopes of stealing an unlocked postal truck while the driver is momentarily away and quickly able to report it stolen? Or would you simply walk up to the driver in a quiet area of his route and shoot him where he sat, throw his body in the back, and take his truck and his uniform? Ever since 911, I have, with an irritated sigh, let people know that the terrorists won. They made America fearful and paranoid, and that's what "terror"ism is all about.

I have gotten hurt more by being too careful than by being careless. It's more important to me to know how to respond when bad things happen, than to try worriedly to keep away anything bad. Maybe it's the gunslinger in me. Maybe it's the American in me. Or maybe it's something much deeper, that remains from the root of mankind, something in the soul that grips onto what freedom it can. Life, has no proof of insurance.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy the following: Too Safe.
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  1. You're lucky you made it to retirement!

  2. I sure am! Lucky I found out how to keep from getting cut and running into ditches!