Linda Carter, a Santa Monica mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, begins sorting and casing letters and packages for delivery at 7:30 every morning. Hastily, she grabs the mail for her route and quickly looks through it. Deliberately, Carter runs her finger tips over every piece of mail before she divides it based on its intended address. Carter knows that the faster she finishes her work in the office the more time she can spend outside in the field.
That well-known fact is one of the main reasons she has worked as a mail carrier for the past 15 years. Among other things, Carter enjoys the crisp air and the friendly people she meets along her route.
The sorting room where the carriers collect and comb through the mail is characterized by organized chaos. The cavernous room is filled with several cubicles, one for each worker, with numerous dividers. As carriers gather and disperse the mail, several personalities emerge. There are the lively jokers who awaken the room from its slumber. There are the quiet introverts who keep to themselves, barely saying a word. And there are those who are a mixture of both characters. They talk freely and work efficiently throughout the morning, casing mail with the distinct purpose of getting outside. According to the carriers, the culture of each post office is unique.
Amidst the cluttered space there is a distinct structure. At exactly 9 a.m. a mass exodus from the work room signals the beginning of a 10-minute break. Nearly every carrier leaves their station for a trip to the restroom and a snack. Minutes later they begin to trickle back in and return to the business of categorizing the letters and packages that will fill mail boxes throughout Santa Monica later in the day.
After the last of the parcels and advertisements are divided and arranged by address, Carter and her colleagues cluster larger packages and “accountables” (certified mail and keys) and begin loading everything into trays and bins to be taken to the car and eventually delivered.
On a recent Wednesday, Carter began her route on Montana Avenue around 10 a.m. As she collected the mail for her first block of deliveries, she took a deep breath of the morning air and smiled.
“I’ve been here for 15 years and my favorite job is delivering the mail and being out there with my customers,” she said.
With great care and pleasure, Carter dropped off letters to businesses and apartments. She traversed alleys and streets and climbed stairs to locate various addresses. Several times she stopped to ask about people’s lives and reminisced with locals including dog-walkers and parking attendants that she sees daily. Everyone Carter encountered emulated her easy demeanor and kindness. At a local real estate office, she even asked the administrator about the economy and housing markets, hoping to learn more about the issues that effect homeowners.
Carter’s confident stride, however, does not mask her concerns about the economy. Even USPS has told its employees they may cut workers.
“They said if you haven’t been working for the post office for six years, you may be fired,” Carter said. “But it hasn’t happened yet, so I don’t think it will.”
Like most, she is happy to have a secure job. However, she has seen the mail volume drop and with it so have her hours. In the past, she would rack up overtime, but now she works only eight hours a day.
“It’s still good to me because I get a paycheck,” Carter said.
In addition to her paycheck, Carter receives generous benefits. As the cost of health insurance continues to sky-rocket and coverage continues to worsen, she enjoys reasonable prices for both her medical and dental needs. When considering her 401K and her union, there are many advantages to Carter’s position as a mail carrier. However, daycare for her two children was never one of them. Carter said that daycare was always her responsibility, which made her position more difficult when she was first starting. Now that her children are grown, she no longer has to worry about that. But, each day brings a new challenge.
Carter, who jokes that her name is the same as the actress who played Wonder Woman, has dealt with both terrifying and frustrating situations. On her first day, Carter could not find her customers. Eventually, she had to call for help after spending several hours both lost and confused. Once she had to jump on top of a car to avoid a hostile dog. (She hopes never to have to use her last line of defense, her Mace.) Carter said one of her colleagues had her nose mangled by a dog and had to have plastic surgery.
Despite the challenges, after 15 years she cannot imagine doing anything else.
“Personally, I love carrying the mail,” she said.