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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*Name changed not to protect her identity, but because I honestly never caught it. I suck sometimes.
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.
29 thoughts on “My month at Canada Post part two: it all goes wrong”
thanks for the info. I’m in the middle of the hiring process (driving test next week). Your story is a little daunting but I figure ill test it out an see if it works for me.
Finish the hiring process and work a week on your own….then the story won’t seem so daunting. Good luck 🙂
I came across this by chance. I would like to thank you for a good laugh! Not at you at all, but at your bang on description of the hiring process, training and what actually happens when you start delivering. I’ve been an on-call letter carrier in Ontario for about a year now. Believe it or not it does get better. That said, now and again I still have days like you experienced in your first week. Personally, I love the job and the flexibility of being on-call as it truly is my side job as I run my own full-time business. All the best to you and thanks again for writing about the reality of being a letter carrier. Believe it or not folks, it’s not just “walking around for a couple of hours a day.” 🙂
Casual for almost 3 years here. I related to so much of this post from my early days. I agree – it does get better. But even after nearly 3 years I STILL sometimes have days like this! And I’m pretty sure I know all the tricks now. 🙂
Then again, occasionally I now get a sweet 4 week assignment that has me finishing early every day after the first day. So to any newbies (and with one year in, sorry, you are still new – good news it will get even better!) it most assuredly does get better the more you learn and improve. If you love any part of the job, keep at it! I truly believe it is worth it. The days in spring/summer when it is beautiful outside and you have a walk you know – you will have a moment where you appreciate the value of this job – and those moments will become more frequent the more time you put in. 🙂
Hey man, great read.
Did you get paid for your overtime?
I did, yes. Say what you will about them (and I did), but they paid for every hour.
good for you, Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers, (RSMC’) don’t get paid on red cent of overtime. NOT ONE.
I have heard that is much worse for the rural carriers. Godspeed.
Thank you Danny. I have been a Carrier for 10 years and many comments have been made from customers who really have NO IDEA how Life Consuming being a Carrier really is and put us down. I absolutely love my job and most of my customers & thank you for acknowledging our worth. <3
This story almost sounds identical to my situation, my first week was a business route, which I had zero experience in delivering. It was also a drive and deliver which means no park and loops(figured this out on day 3). I locked my keys in the truck on my day 3 portion and then it snowballed out of control! I figured i could make up the mistake, but then I didn’t get out til 1pm leaving me 3 hours to do 5 days worth of mail.
I almost had a nervous breakdown I think but I made it through so far.
Oh my God I don’t recall the last time I laughed so hard!!! I am in week one of training and start the job shadow on Tuesday. I pretty much get all of it but I can’t sort to save my life (only at 44 after a whole week already). I’m pretty sure the sorting will be my demise which will point to the exit sign…..but the way I see it, if sorting takes me out at the knees, it wasn’t meant to be. Thanks again for a great laugh. I’ll be bookmarking insane I need a laugh in the future.
Godspeed. The shadow week should give you a glimpse of what you’re in for.
I’ve been a postie for about 15 years. I doesn’t get any easier. Sadly you learn to live with it, and the customers can certainly put a smile on our faces.
I wish that many of the decision makers would spend a month doing our job. Thank you for sharing.
I related to your pain and went through almost every difficulty (I had to laugh about delivering menus to restaurants) , I have several hundred hours put in as a term, it can be the best and worst job ever, depending on the day…Toronto is the same, bent keys, hurting vehicles, scanners, poor instruction/training, starvation, dehydration, bad dreams, impossible demands…
You are right on with your story.I retired from Canada Post after 28 years and the last 5 were the worst.Supervisor that were clueless to what you’re day was like and like you said ,treating you like a 5 year old child.No respect from management put me over the top.I wouldn’t recommend any body to a job at Canada post until they change the way they treat their employees.
It’s nice to hear this story. The public should be aware of how hard it is to be a postal worker these days and That we are actually UNDERPAID and not overpaid like they think. I’ve been delivering the mail for 7 years now and I never imagined a job that cuts your benefits and wages would actually get harder. Canada Post continues to CUT CUT CUT and give us MORE work and shittier conditions (dark- I’m also on wave 2 with CPU and SLB). My route was a foot walk before restructure last September with 950 POCs, no truck and no parcels. The same route after restructure, I now have a truck, minimum 35 parcels a day, 4 daily sets of flyers, 1300 POC and 11 SLB clearances. My route went from 630 am start to 10 am start and my customers wondered for the longest time why I was showing up so late until I explained the route now starts almost 4 hours later with an extra 4 hours of work. WTG CPC, you sure know how to be ‘Canada’s “best/top” employers’. It’s a shame. This used to be an amazing job and a great corporation that cared about its customers. The only care here is bonuses for 22 VPs and management. Somehow with all the dollar signs in their eyes, they were blinded and forgot that if the people at the bottom didn’t get their job done, they wouldn’t have a paycheque.
I’ve been a temp letter carrier in a small town/city for the past 6 years and was thinking of transferring to a larger depot (Ottawa or Montreal). Done several jobs in my lifetime and people I know can’t comprehend the fact that the letter carrier job is by far the most physically and mentally demanding one i’ve had! I guess you only learn when you actually ‘walk the walk’!!
Like someone above, I worked there for just over 30, but the last 7 were just despicably horrible. I’ve been out of that hellhole for almost 6 years, the best 6 years of my life on many levels. The stories I hear from friends still on the Titanic are beyond the hideous, closer to absurdist drama actually. And to get condesencion about something like keys from some twit who probably couldn’t deliver 2 blocks for their life is even more galling. The day they started hiring chump supervisors who knew nothing about the job was just the start of the decline, taking what was one the best jobs in Canada to the point now at which I just tell people outright that in reality, they should try all other avenues of employment before resorting to working at CP. Imagine having a CEO who sounds about as intelligent as someone who would vote for Trump or Carson.
Very realistic take on what new hires have to go through. You have the least seniority, so get the worst pick of assignments. No amount of training is going to prepare you for what you will face when set loose on your own. Good for you for hanging in as long as you did. Back in the day, the regular employees tried to help the temps, now there just is no time to help anyone. Good luck in your next adventures.
It is interesting to read your take as a new hire. I would assume you have youth on your side. Many clerks have lost positions over the last decades and crossed over to letter carrier positions. We have all lived the difficulties you describe, add to the insult the injuries. Older you get the tougher the going. Takes more than a month to become the tuned up athlete the job requires a body to be. My kudos to many an old gal that has the tenacity to tackle a cross over. Then factor in the slips trips falls and wear and tear on the joints. Loss if sick time, screwed up disability, return to work policies, and forced over is a burden that is crippling the aging work force. So instead of filling vacancies and hiring permanent staff, the Corp. continues to abuse workers old and new. The goal to reduce the corporate liabilities (workers shielded by contract) and increase assets, vehicles, CBM’s and facilities with robo technology is in the bigger picture. Having a system that is failing to provide a standard of service that Canadians expect is setting us all up with a do as you want attitude. Here’s hoping the new Year and the contract negotiations will provide some relief, some security and fair and equal contracts. I retired last April after 34 years. as the tenacious old gal that crossed over. Injury did get the better of me as a carrier, but it was the antics of the Corporation that drove me out.
Worked for 3 months. Similar issues. Brutal supervisors and support. Got better as you get used to a route day 10 on a route is for sure easier than day one. But then your onto a new route same issues. Best of luck. Loved the animals
33 yrs and I couldn’t stick it out for the 35 due to the stupidity… The last 3 years were the worst and I don’t hear anything better is happening right now… The job used to be great, enjoyable, everyone helping everyone….but now the place is a mess.. If I was a new term I would look at something else and get out…the job is more stressful than anything I have ever done(the last 3 yrs before I retired)… there is no reason to cut your life short due to stress over delivering mail…you will eventually go to work hating your job and I have seen so many screaming matches with incompetent supervisors… No one listens when you have valid questions or solutions… They are wasting money on supervisors checking the new 3 day delivery model on fliers, supervisors hiding in bushes to see if you locked your door… Treating people like 5 year olds… Just let people do their jobs …everything got done before their new system and employees actually had smiles on their faces and loved their work… I don’t hear that anymore…. CPC is the worst employer ever and doesn’t care one iota about their employees… Bottom line it’s not worth it
I came across your blog, after it was reposted by someone in the CUPW group on FB.
I hear your pain man….the first 6 months was a bit of a blur. Somethings to consider, the corporation failed you in two major ways, training, and empathy. Bad on them.
You, however, didn’t have to do any overtime that you didn’t want to do. I understand though, that…we all want to prove ourselves, save our job, feel accomplished… But, I tell you…the terms we have in my station right now…they’ve got the attitude of, “Listen…I’m new, and I’m doing the best I can…deal with it.” Granted, we have really empathetic supervisors…it sounds like you were dealing with some real assholes.
I’m 8 years in right now, and really fortunate in that I’ve been at the same depot for 5 years, and I’m a fast sorter…always have been.
Thanks for the shout out at the end, it was nice to hear you give credit to the hard work that posties do!
ps, I’m also an actor/postie… 🙂
This was good info. Sorry for ur troubles. Lol. I was a carrier and it sacked at first. It was great after 6 months. I left to goto transit ad i was hired with benefits from date of hire. I was with CPC for about 3 yrs without benefits working full time.
I’m retired after 35 plus years as a carrier and I want to thank you for the extremely well written account of your experience. Believe me, you made the right decision to quit. If you had pressed on, you would have regretted it. When I first started it was certainly tough but nothing compared to how the newbies have it now with they way they have you deliver the mail is completely ridiculous and on top of that they make about $7/hr. less than others who are typically working half as hard. I’ve had all of those bad days that you described and then some. I remember feeling like I was trapped in some twilight zone of dead endness around my ten year mark and when I look back, I have really no idea how I made it through to the end. If I could have done this part of my life over, I would have stayed in school for business and worked for myself. Good on you and go enjoy your life!
You did the Right Thing:
Keep Your Sanity – or else You
May have Gone POSTAL
Have been Retired 8 years & Loving It
Loved your post….I about to take the physical and I am nervous….my heart rate has always been high and my medication for depression does not help. Im wondering if I tell my “hiring” supervisor this or not before my physical. Ive been on this medication for over 10 years and has not posed any other problems-other than the elevated heart rate when exercising. I go to the gym three times a week and it has never left me winded or out of breath. (maybe im not working hard enough). But thanks again for the post, much appreciated.
Now I get the motivation for “going postal”…
Yeah, I can absolutely relate. I’m a pretty big, fairly in-shape guy…I was in tears at the end of my first solo shift. It has improved, and depending on the route and the volume of mail, you can actually have some pretty good days, but it’s taken YEARS to get there. It’s a way tougher gig than most people think it’s going to be.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. Great read!