My month at Canada Post part two: it all goes wrong

Okay. Buckle up. This isn’t going to be fast, easy, or fun. Wait–why would you read it if it weren’t fun… think, man, think… I know! More cute animals!

Look at him. LOOK AT HIM.

Tales From Parts Unknown: working to be a leading source of derpy wombats.

Day one

I arrived at the Sunridge depot just in time for my 10:00 start, as part of Wave 2. I found the desk of Lori, the staffing supervisor, where all the relief carriers waited for their assignments. Available routes were handed out based on seniority, so I got the second-last pick. My choices were 1458 and 1472. Maybe the story would have gone differently if I’d said 1458. Probably not. At least so I’m choosing to believe.

I had help: the woman who once walked this route… let’s call her “Claire…”* was sorting the bulk of the mail for me. So all I had to do was bundle up the mail that comes pre-sorted by computers (the sequenced mail, as it is known), sort through my parcels (any package too large to be sorted in with the rest of the mail or carried in the satchel, thus requiring separate delivery), get my van, load up and hit the road, right?

As I mentioned last time, the Tuesday after a long weekend is a notoriously heavy mail day. The mail doesn’t stop moving on weekends, it just piles up at the depots, so I essentially had four days’ worth of mail and parcels waiting for me. Six containers of sequenced mail–that means little to any of you, suffice to say it was at least twice as much as I’d see any other day that week, or ever before during peer training. Forty-four parcels, again nearly twice the number I’d seen on our busiest day in peer training. And that’s before the manual sort mail and the fliers got added to the pile.

I was handed two sets of keys by the supervisors, and told I’d need all of them. Her exact words. “You’ll need all of them.” Remember that, it’s going to be important. Also, one of the keys had been bent and twisted beyond any actual use.

It was 1:45 before I left the depot to start delivering. The route contained three “park and loops,” where you park your vehicle and walk a series of loops that start and end around where you parked, allowing you to reload your satchel now and then. The three loops filled a 30-square block area bordered by 10th Avenue NE, Centre Street (all businesses), 16th Avenue (more businesses), and Edmonton Trail. There were also daily pickups: a street letter box, or SLB in postie-speak, that had to be cleared no sooner than 5:00, and a daily pickup from Albern Coins and Foreign Exchange, which was to be done by 4:20. Often packages of coins being mailed out. In other words, heavy, heavy packages. Both of these pickups were on the far side of Centre Street from the bulk of the route, and thus meant moving my van across a major hub of traffic right during rush hour. Well thought-out, Canada Post. No points for you.

After putting some gas into the van, which is never supposed to have less than half a tank but was left nearly empty, I charged into my route. I hit the houses and apartments on Centre A Street, the supposed starting point, then the businesses on 16th Avenue. “Good start,” I thought, returning to the van to grab the mail for Centre Street. Only… only the sun looked a little low in the sky. Even for November. I quickly checked the time. It was already after 4:00 and I still hadn’t finished my first park-and-loop. I decided to hit Albern Coins right away: these scheduled pickups are an overwhelming portion of Canada Post’s revenue and thus are not to be missed, ever. So I moved my van closer, using a small parking lot across Centre Street, as I didn’t know about the parking lot behind Albern Coins. If I had, I could have avoided the narrow alley to the smaller lot and I wouldn’t have hit that pole and dented the passenger door of my van.

But I did. Great first day so far.

You might say it was otter madness. Sorry, making it worse...

You might say it was otter madness. Sorry, making it worse…

I hit a few businesses, including one mini-mall, sometimes sliding mail under the doors of already closed businesses. Around 5:30, I called the end-of-day supervisor to report that I was very clearly not going to finish my route by 6:00. She said to do my pickups and get back to the depot, as all incoming mail (including the Albern packages) has to be on a truck to the plant to be sorted and sent on its way by 6:15ish, so I got the van, fought my way through traffic to the SLB, grabbed the letters and made my way back to the depot. I met up with Lisa, the end-of-day supervisor and one of the genuinely nice people I’d met during this job and will actually miss (the others being my peer trainer Greg and his supervisor, Steve). She took a look at the vast piles of mail I had left, and recommended I at least try to deliver the parcels. She’d be there until nine, so I should head back out and deliver what I could.

I resolved to try and fly through the parcels then see what residential mail I could deliver before 8:45, when I figured I should head back to be at the depot for 9:00. I managed 33 out of 44 parcels, but that was it. Everything else got put right back in the depot. I clocked out at 9:30, 11 and a half hours after I started, and limped home. I also grabbed some food, since I hadn’t eaten since 9:00 that morning, never having had time for a meal break.

Day two

I didn’t sleep well that night. For every hour or two of sleep there was one hour of tossing and turning. When I dreamed, it was of the undelivered mail I feared was waiting for me. I slunk into the depot for 10:00, and was relieved to hear that the surplus mail had been sent out, leaving me with only the surplus parcels and the new day’s mail. And the sorting went much faster: I was on my way a full hour and a half earlier. Cause for optimism, I thought.

As another bonus, on day two one of the customers in my first 16th Avenue mall told me that there was a group mailbox, so I didn’t have to run from store to store so much. Turns out the other malls had group mailboxes as well. And I found the parking lot behind Albern, which was handy, for they had so many more packages going out that day. So, making good time, right? I hit the second park-and-loop with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm somewhat tempered by the fact that everyone I met on the route said it had been weeks if not months since there’d been a regular mail carrier on this route.

But the enthusiasm faded. The sun was hanging low again by the time I reached the van to reload for the second half. I sped around, delivering what parcels I could before 5:30, but it was again time to hit the SLB and get back. I was lucky, in a way: someone from my training class was on her first day, and brought her SLB letters back too late, meaning she had to drive them to the plant herself. But it was now almost 7:00 and I still had a fair amount of mail left. I’d done my fliers for the day, that was something.

On that note. If you want to really feel like an idiot, deliver a flier for Domino’s Pizza to a restaurant. Or to a rival pizza delivery place.

This time Lisa said I should just call it a night, and I was grateful for that, because I was already late for Reservoir Dogs rehearsal. I staggered in, half an hour late, aching all over, starving from not eating all day, half-dead from exhaustion, and did my best to work the day’s scene. During the run, I was mostly okay, but between runs hunger and exhaustion hit me like twin sledge hammers. At least I slept better that night.

Getting grim again. Koalas! STAT!

Getting grim again. Koalas! STAT!

Day three

The guy who’d delivered my surplus mail hadn’t had any keys, so he brought back everything that had been meant for an apartment building. I, too, had been having trouble with apartments: the two keys I had that looked like door keys didn’t work on any apartment buildings. On any doors I encountered, really. I mentioned this, showed that the bent and twisted key was now breaking, and was met with nothing but skepticism from the supervisors, who seemed confident I should be able to open any door I encountered.

But the other effect of the other guy not delivering to apartments is that his extra mail got lumped in with mine, leading the staffing supervisor to assume that I once again hadn’t delivered past the businesses on Centre. I was tired, sore, frustrated, and in no mood to open day three with a scolding, but there was no way around it. Lori made it clear that today I was to deliver everything, no matter what. She also found someone else to do my pickups, and to deliver about half of my parcels, so she managed to be my new worst enemy and best friend in one conversation.

With no need to be back at the depot to drop off outgoing mail by 6:15, my path was clear: deliver everything. Every letter, every parcel. My sorter helped by suggesting I take a more logical approach to the route than the assigned path and do all of the businesses first, instead of saving half of 16th Avenue for the end of the day. After all, residential mailboxes don’t close at 5:00. I got an even earlier start, out on the road before noon, no need to buy gas.

However.

That doesn't sound good. Make with the wombats!

That doesn’t sound good. Make with the wombats!

At my first mall, I had some issues with my keys, then learned that one of the two keyrings I’d initially been given was missing. I called Lisa, drove back to the depot, got a replacement set, much to the chagrin of the daytime supervisor (also to the chagrin of me, who’d hoped to be done with businesses by the time Lisa started at 1:00), and headed back out. The sun began to set around the same place in the route, halfway through my second park-and-loop.

There is something inherently demoralizing about delivering mail in the dark. Watching the daylight fade, feeling how much mail you have on you, knowing how much is still waiting in the van. It also didn’t help that while using my phone as a flashlight to read addresses off envelopes I dropped my phone on the sidewalk, smashing the screen and leaving me phoneless with no time to deal with it until the weekend.

I tried to keep my spirits up. I thought of the words of Winston Churchill (or at least the version of Winston Churchill from Victory of The Daleks): KBO. Keep buggering on. My remaining door key did not work on a single apartment building, but despite the route taking some zigs and zags my training had told me it wouldn’t, resulting in me hitting a couple of blocks with fliers and then having to come back to give them their actual mail, I walked the whole route. I delivered every parcel. Well, okay, in some cases I just left the slip saying the parcel could be picked up the next day. And by 8:45 or so I was just dropping the slips off without knocking, figuring it was too late to be ringing doorbells with parcels anyway.

Yes, on day three I brought everything I hate about UPS to Canada Post. Not a proud hour.

I returned to the depot, mentioned the key issue, and was on my way home at 10:00. A full 12 hours with no pausing, no food, only one bottle of water to last me the whole day. I limped home, took some muscle relaxants I’d borrowed from Ben the night before, and managed one episode of the Blacklist before crawling into bed.

Day four

I barely slept again, so I was not off to a great start, but I did eat the healthiest breakfast/meal I’d eaten all week, so I felt good about that.

With no mail returned, I instead had to deal with scoldings about apartment buildings and claiming I didn’t have enough keys. It was only now, on day four, that Jackie the supervisor bothered to tell me that the two key rings I’d been given, saying “You will need all of these,” were actually duplicates. That the one key ring I’d taken out yesterday and assumed to not be enough in fact held all the keys I needed. At no point did she explain why she’d given me two sets without saying they were identical. At. No. Point.

I also took grief for claiming I couldn’t get into the apartment buildings. She asked, repeatedly and condescendingly, how hard I’d tried. I replied firmly that the key did not fit and telling me that it should have didn’t change that. After this ugly opening to the day, while I was wondering how to contact Ian to get video footage of the key not fucking working to review with Jackie and, if necessary, the union’s shop steward, Claire, while finishing the sort and tie-out of the mail, told me that there was a keyhole in the buzzer panels, and that was how to get into apartments.

Took her about five seconds. Five whole seconds to fix all of my problems with apartment buildings. Yet, simple as this was, at no point did either daytime supervisor or Lori think to look at the key I was claiming didn’t work and say “Oh, that’s the wrong key, there’s a keyhole in the buzzer panel, use that.”

At. No. Point.

Argh. Manatees, please.

Manatees don't lie.

Thanks, calming manatee. They ARE jerks.

So, as I start my fourth day, I’m already in a mood, but I remain determined. Only 15 parcels, up five from yesterday but six of them are right at the start of the route, the least sequenced mail I’ve seen all week. No key shenanigans, no driving back to the depot, no zigging and zagging on 10th Avenue, all easy. Yesterday I finished, today, I thought, today I finish on time. Every letter, every parcel, back by six. Seven at the latest.

I was back at the depot around 9:30. If anything, even later than the night before. On a traditionally slow mail day.

To say I was disheartened would be a dramatic understatement. I was crushed. The thought of having to deliver to this route for a second week was giving me anxiety attacks. All I’d had to eat since 9:30 in the morning was one apple I’d bought while delivering to a 7-11 that I’d munched on when the opportunity arose.

Inside I was screaming at myself to give it another week. Give myself time to improve. Keep at it, KBO, damn your eyes. I might even move to another depot on Monday and get to take a break from Jackie, Lori, and 1472. But, just so I knew… I asked Lisa how, if necessary, I would go about resigning.

She said, in gentle tones, that if I was going to resign, now would be better than mid-next week. I said that I felt I should at least try to get my time down from 12 hours to eight. She said I probably wouldn’t, that 20-year veterans were taking 10 hours to finish a route, and that it would actually get worse before it got better.

I was starving. I was exhausted. My shoulders, back, and legs were sore, nearly to the point of agony. My fingers were covered in tiny yet excruciating wounds. I’d worked 45 hours in four days. And I was being told this was as good as it was ever going to get. So I did the only thing that made sense. I turned in my ID card, satchel, work shirt and unopened headlamp, and left Canada Post behind.

Aftermath

In the harsh light of day I, of course, wondered if I’d done the right thing. It turns out I would have moved to Bowness the next week if I’d stayed on, but I have no guarantees that would have been better. As I said last time, I don’t like failing, and leaving after one week felt a lot like failing. But at rehearsal the next afternoon, our Nice Guy Eddie said the most reassuring thing I’ve heard: “You on Wednesday versus you today?… You made the right decision.”

It was a bad fit. That’s all there is to it. I can deal with 12 hour shifts, but five of them in a row? With no meal breaks? That’s too much. It’s just too much.

This was supposed to be a part-time day job to help pay the bills while some other projects come to fruition, something to support me while leaving evenings free for my passion projects, but instead it was turning into a job that would swallow my entire life, sucking up every available moment from Monday to Friday and leave no time or energy for anything else. I’m playing Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs. After that I’m directing a Doctor Who tribute play that ties into this month’s fiftieth anniversary. I’m launching a webseries next spring. I write this blog when I can. And I still write plays. And I am not prepared to give up all of those things so that I can spend my days delivering mail in the dark of night then arriving home just in time to eat something unhealthy but quick (there was no way I was ever going to have time or energy to cook) and crawl into bed in time to do it all again.

And that’s what it was becoming. Twelve hour days with no breaks to eat, buy better shoes, go to doctor’s appointments, book doctor’s appointments, let alone write, rehearse, or do any of the creative things that give my brief existence meaning. My stomach turned every time I drove past Centre and 16th. I wasn’t sleeping. I swore I could feel my health deteriorating. And on top of all of this, I was talked down to like a child and accused of being either lazy or incompetent because I didn’t magically know something they should have been explaining. And everything I heard said it wouldn’t get better.

I don’t feel great about quitting so fast. Not everyone has made it an easy choice to justify. But I’m getting less sore, my fingers are starting to heal, and it’s been three days since I last fell into deep despair because the sun was setting, so it’s a choice I stand by. There’s a job that’s right for me. Just need a little more time to find it.

Thanks for bearing with me on this, if you managed to do so. Next time I’ll get back to talking about old plays, then I’ll yell about pop culture and superheroes some more. That should be fun. Take us home, Calming Manatee.

There, there. They can’t hurt you anymore.

*Name changed not to protect her identity, but because I honestly never caught it. I suck sometimes.

UPDATE:
A huge thank you to all the posties who have commented with thanks, reassurances, and horror stories of their own. If there’s one thing I’d like people to take away from all this it’s that you guys work extremely hard to perform an important service and don’t get the credit and respect you deserve. Stay strong out there.

Also, when I mentioned the few nice people I’d miss, I should have mentioned all of my classmates from training. It was good to know you guys. Hope you’re doing better than I did.

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About danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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