DOWNTOWN — On March 2, Bob Eisenhart hung up his hat at the Post Office on Santa Monica Boulevard for the last time after 43 years on the job.
His union, the Letter Carriers 1107, gifted him with a gold watch to commemorate the event, and the office gave him a plaque before he walked out the door.
He didn’t wait around long enough to get his 40-year pin.
“I’d had enough,” Eisenhart said.
Eisenhart was slinging mail and dodging angry canines in Santa Monica when it was still a sleepy beach town, with shacks on the sand where multi-million dollar homes now stand and family restaurants in spaces occupied by international hotel chains.
He worked three routes in his tenure, the third and final he held for 29 years.
“Bob was around when we were still using three-wheeled vehicles to deliver mail,” said Tim Thornton, a mailman who has been with the Santa Monica Post Office for 25 years.
Thorton described Eisenhart as “the kind of guy who would get to work a bit early just to make coffee for the guys,” when “the guys” had to be in the office by 5:30 or 6 a.m.
Eisenhart never intended to be a mailman. In fact, as he made a living working at a carpet store, he aspired to a position he felt was a great deal more glamorous.
“I wanted to be an FBI agent,” he said.
As he researched his chosen field, the 20-year-old Eisenhart came to an unexpected conclusion — to work at the FBI, you needed to be versed in accounting, and accounting was, well, boring.
Eisenhart’s backup, the Los Angeles Police Department, wouldn’t take him for another year, and the newly-married young man now had extra motivation to start his career in a hurry.
Eisenhart met Corrine, his wife to be, on a fluke. When he was in high school, a friend signed up for a dating service at the Teenage Fair, basically the 1960s equivalent of Match.com.
Unfortunately for Eisenhart’s friend, you had to be 16 to get the five names and phone numbers of the women to contact, and he was a year short, so Eisenhart collected the names and, on a whim, called Corrine.
“I didn’t tell her for years,” he said, laughing.
With his dreams of law enforcement temporarily sidelined — and Corrine less-than-thrilled by the thought of her husband joining the organization after the violent 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles — Eisenhart widened his job hunt and found a position at the Post Office. It paid 30 cents more per hour than the spot at the carpet store and came with health care, a boon to a soon-to-be family man.
Eisenhart started with the Post Office in 1968, just two years before President Richard Nixon would turn the organization from a government department to an independently-run mail monopoly.
At the time, the office was a government agency responsible to Congress, and the Postmaster General held a place in the President of the United State’s cabinet.
Postal workers delivered mail in government-issue blue Pintos, and later in their private vehicles after safety concerns about the Fords came to light.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays were particularly rough, because all of Santa Monica, it seemed, subscribed to Life and Look magazines, which added tens of pounds to the mail load that the men and women would haul about, Eisenhart said.
Letter carriers arrived in the wee hours of the morning and got off their routes when they had finished up for the day, no matter the time, and hit the road, or the bar.
Eisenhart, who didn’t drink, would enjoy a cold root beer at a bar by the Santa Monica Pier after he got off his route, which hit a series of apartment complexes on San Vicente Boulevard.
He brought his young children on the job with him when babysitters fell through, a liability that wouldn’t be allowed today, and people along his route would leave them cookies and nickels.
“People were nice then,” Eisenhart recalled. “As long as you were doing your route, it was all your boss cared about.”
Not so anymore.
With the advent of the Internet and the booms and busts of the past two decades, the Post Office took major hits, hemorrhaging money to the tune of $8.37 billion in 2010 alone.
The company cited everything from declining mail volumes to the economic slowdown for the decline, and recently began offering buy-outs and early retirement deals to its management staff.
Approximately 7,500 positions are on the chopping block this year, as are several district offices, said spokesperson Richard Maher.
“Half of our locations do not generate enough revenue to cover the cost of operating them,” Maher said.
The stresses of the financial situation began weighing on the Santa Monica office, Eisenhart said, with fewer people to cover high-volume routes and no back up when people got sick or injured.
Having achieved and passed the years of service needed to retire with maximum benefits, Eisenhart decided it was time to go.
“They cut too much,” he said. “They were carving out hours, not hiring substitutes. The regulars were doing old routes and overtime. It burns on you, mentally and physically.”
In his new-found free time, Eisenhart has begun to tackle the long list of “honey-do’s” that accumulated at his home in Gardena over the past decade, with an emphasis on a long-neglected vegetable garden that he hopes will be producing tomatoes by this summer.
He will miss his co-workers, and the city of Santa Monica in general, which he watched develop into the thriving destination city it is today through the lens of one who literally took to its streets every day for four decades.
“Santa Monica is a good city,” Eisenhart said. “They really take care of people there.”