CCA Tips—How to Follow the Mail When the Mail Won't Move
Follow the Mail
"Follow the Mail!" is the presumably useless, meaningless advice often given by grouchy, tired, jaded old letter carriers such as myself when we really don't feel like giving directions to the confused, disoriented newbie. Follow the mail seems to be more of a soothing, spiritual mantra than real guidance - something like praying a rosary to the postal gods; designed to soothe the troubled postal soul rather than help a lost sheep find his or her way.
Of course, this is the age of instant access to GPS via smart phone technology, so constant pestering for directions by greenhorn letter carriers is not as prevalent as it used to be. When I first started, I lugged along a hefty, cumbersome volume of Thomas Guide maps which would only beat my present smart phone by crushing it beneath its mostly dead weight. Then, not too long ago came the Garmin-type stand alone GPS gadget, which was a lot better - but even those gizmos are mostly museum relics after being supplanted by the multi-purpose smart phone, which can do everything maps and Garmins can do plus exponentially more, while occupying less space.
Yet, even with the unlimited availability of old school, battle tested cartography and high tech direction finding wonders, many people continue to be befuddled by maps and mesmerized by phone screens. Some just want to be pointed in the right direction using the age old technological method of verbal instructions. No judgement on anybody's mental acuity; some folks are just built this way.
Unfortunately, if you are one of these aspiring CIty Carrier Assistants (CCA) or Rural Carrier Associates (RCA), who desires a perpetual helping hand along the postal path, then I regret to inform you to get it out of your mind right now that there will be someone constantly available to offer you directions via the spoken word. This job requires a measure of independent thinking on your part, so if during your 90 day probation you are constantly on the phone asking your supervisors to point you in the right direction, you are not exactly going to endear yourself to them.
Therefore, the purpose of this article is not so much to provide you navigational guidance as to provide you with guidance on how to truly follow the mail. As with every antiquated aphorism, this postal old fart adage does have a grain of truth to it. Of course, the mail is not a sentient entity that can give you turn by turn directions as you drive, but the numbers in the addresses have a certain magic of their own that can get you where you need to go if you can figure out how to read them.
Street Numbering Odds and Ends
If you are one of those really green CCAs or RCAs, fresh off of training wheels or your Mother's child safety harness, you might really interpret the adage follow the mail literally and stand behind it to see where it goes, if anywhere. But unless you venture too far from those DPS mail trays you stacked on the sidewalk to follow and the tweaker in the rusty 80s Chevy vwho has been stalking you comes and jacks them out from under your naive nose, you will soon discover that the mail is not going to move on its own. Therefore, if you wait for the mail to literally move so you can literally follow it, you are not going to move much either. Depending how long you remain in the this state of bewildered immobility, sooner or later you might have to explain to your supervisor why you haven't made any progress, and afterwards spend a few unpaid days at home as they ponder what they are going to do with you.
Let's start with the basics. Face it - the American public school system is no longer the envy of the free world. Therefore, before we start you possibly need to hone up on a concept they were supposed to teach you around the second grade, but you were busy passing Pokemon cards underneath the desk to your friends and missed it.
So let's begin with even and odd numbers. Relax, you don't have to be a math major to be a mailman, but even and odd numbers are very important in helping you follow the mail. This may seem a no-brainer, but as a trainer of CCAs I can no longer assume that my trainees understand basic evens and odds. I once observed a trainee of mine standing stupefied at a street corner, scanning the house numbers that taunted him from all directions and looking up anxiously at the street sign for hope. His even numbered letters had run out and it didn't register that the switch to odds meant that he had to cross the street and work back down the opposite side. I didn't explain it to him beforehand because I thought it was obvious, but I guess it's not obvious, after all, so I'll walk you through it.
From a Letter Carrier's perspective, even numbers are 0,2,4,6 and 8. Odd numbers are 1,3,5,7 and 9. In most municipalities, including where I work in San Diego, Addresses ending in an even number are on the north side of the street, while those ending in an odd number are on the south. As far as east-west running cross streets are concerned, the west side addresses end in even numbers, while those on the east side end in odds.
Here's a little device to help you remember: According to ancient superstition, bad things came out of the south. Invasions of undesirable people have arrived from that direction since the times that the Greeks were being invaded by the Persians and Spain was being overrun by the Moorish hosts. This fear of bad things coming from the south lingers over to the present day. We still see it in terms like southpaw, or left-handed person, a designation stemming from a time not too long ago when lefties were thought to be the spawn of the devil. Also, rivers running through cities typically go north to south, so in the days before waste treatment plants you can imagine what kind of stuff flowed downstream from the fine folks on the north side of town. These are reasons why odd numbers, being the bad, unclean, incomplete numbers, are often used to assign houses on the south side, while the even numbers, being clean, neat, rounded, divisible and finished, are used for the north.
As for east-west running streets, just remember a little ditty that I came up with, which is west is the best. This signifies that the best numbers, being the even numbers, will be on the west side of the street. West rhymes with best. Conversely, odd numbers will be those on the east.
These rules apply to most municipalities, but maybe not all. The point to remember is that even if your community uses a different numbering convention for odds and evens, it is probably a consistent scheme and applies throughout the entire town. Learn it quickly, to your benefit.
This is not simply an intellectual exercise in the origin of esoteric numbering schemes, but information that can help you find your way. For example, there will be times when the letters in your hands switch streets completely, and you will be left standing there befuddled on some unknown street corner, wondering which way to go, wondering why the mail is trying to drive you crazy, and wondering why you took the job in the first place. This still happens to me on occasion after 22 years. Perhaps you just finished 2240 Elm Street, which runs east-west, and the next letter in your hand reads 783 Spruce. 783 ends in 3, an odd number, which tells you to cross over to the south side to do your next delivery. Don't worry, you won't find any evil, invading hordes or raw sewage over there. That's just a legend.
How to Read and Heed a Street Sign
Street signs are potential allies in rescuing yourself from the Postal Land of the Lost - where angry, scaled, reptilian Sleestak taking the form of your impatient supervisors wait to pounce on you from the slimy shadows. Just like the municipal numbering systems I explained in the last segment, street signs vary from town to town. Some are strictly ornamental and won't do you much good, but these are usually located on the major thoroughfares. If you find yourself wandering through a hopeless maze of aggravatingly similar side streets, however, the simple green corner street sign can be your friend. It will try to be, anyway, but you will have to open up your heart and mind and let it talk to you.
As you can see in the photo above of Well Drive - hopefully signifying all's well that ends well and not well now look at me I'm hopelessly lost, street signs have a couple really nifty and useful features. First of all, they tell you the name of the street you are standing on or are about to stand on, a characteristic that should not lightly be taken for granted. They also usually have a suffix, as in Dr (Drive), Rd (Road), Ave (Avenue), Ct (Court), St (Street), Blvd (Boulevard), etc. This is important if you are looking for Well Dr, but there is a Well St just around the corner, and a Well Ct tucked away in a cozy little cul-de-sac nearby as well. If you mistakenly deliver Well Drive's letters to Well Street by mistake your boss is likely to get some angry phone calls. Calm down - you won't be the first, you're not as stupid as you feel, everybody does this once or twice, and hopefully you can fix it before you go too far. It is far better not to do it in the first place, however, so heed the suffix.
This particular sign stands on an intersection of two residential streets. Notice the number 1660 at the right center. This number is the sign's way of practically screaming at you, knucklehead, that this intersection is located at 1660 Well Dr. Below that number is an arrow pointing to the right. It is usually not polite to point, but your mother is not around to slap the street sign, so it gets to do what it wants. In any case, the pointing to the right indicates that the numbers increase as you turn to the right. The arrow always points to increasing numbers. Therefore, if you are dropping off a package for 1670 Well Dr. you turn right; or if you are looking for 1580 Well Dr. well, you better go left. Simple, right? - or should that be a left? Heed the sign.
Triangulation or Discombobulation?
Triangulation is a real word that describes a technique to establish distance between two points. Discombobulation is an unlikely, though real word too, which means to be in a state of confusion or frustration. A little bit of Postal triangulation can help you to prevent discombobulation, so I am going to attempt to describe it for you here. Be aware that I am taking a lot of liberties with the term triangulation, but I cite postal poetic license.
Let us return for a moment to the street numbering system discussed previously. A bit of cursory research reveals that United States cities generally have a street numbering system in which all addresses proceed from a common point of origin, or base point. People generally do not know, or perhaps will not admit in a court of law who picked this base point, and how much they had to be paid to pick it. The city founders may have held a popularity contest, for all we know, but that's beside the point. The important thing is that the numbering grid for north-south and east-west begins at this arbitrary point and there is nothing you can do to stop it, so embrace it. Learn it. Feel it in your bones intuitively; let it penetrate your being.
Numbers both north-south and east-west begin at either 0 or 100 from this base point, then advance upward, generally by 100 for every block. A standard city block is approximately 260 feet, but this number varies according to municipality. As a rule of thumb, however, If you have rolled your sparkling postal Long Life Vehicle (LLV) from the 1000 to 2000 blocks of Elm Ave, you have traveled about half a mile. Being able to calculate this distance could be important, so keep it in mind.
Now we come to the technique I rather haughtily refer to as triangulation, designed to rid you of your navigation disorientation. The instructions hopefully get better but the poetry woefully does not.
There you are standing there in the middle of 2100 Charming Avenue, looking rather despondently at the mail you still haven't delivered because you have absolutely no clue where to go next. You just finished delivering Charming, and the next letter in your DPS tray says 2402 Teller Ave. Your town's street numbering system advances upward from west to east, meaning that you have to go about three blocks east to get to your next delivery, but do you go north or south? Keep digging through that tray of undelivered letters, they are trying to speak to you.
Aha! You took my advice, and after skimming past the 2400 block of Teller you find the 1100 block of Morrow sandwiched between the even and odd sides of Teller. The closest cross street to your current location is 1400 Sutter Dr.
Compare the 1100 block of Morrow, your destination, with the 1400 Sutter, the closest north-south running cross street to where you are now. Since street numbers increase from north to south in your community, this means you have to go three blocks north, then three blocks east to get to Teller. Feeling a little woozy? I'll draw you a map to help demonstrate the concept of Postal triangulation.
Postal Navigation Summation
Confused? You better be. As another time honored postal adage goes, If you ain't cryin' you ain't tryin'. There are days when you will be so utterly flummoxed that you will feel like bawling like a baby; but as I tell all my trainees, please don't cry on postal time. They don't pay you enough to cry on the clock. Wait until you get home, then you can cry yourself to sleep on your pillow all you want.
All of the tips and tricks described here were really neat and useful in an era before a man named Alexander Graham Bell came along and revolutionized technology forever. Since him, society has moved on, and you would be wise to move on as well. Therefore, in closing the best advice I can give you is to forget about pestering your supervisors and coworkers for directions, turn the page into the 21st century, get a smart phone and learn how to use it.
More Tips and Tricks by Mel
- How to Deliver Mail in the Dark - City Carrier Assistant (CCA) Tips and Tricks
The Winter Solstice is upon us. If you are a letter carrier for the USPS, you are probably already delivering at night. Here are a few dark delivery tips for the fledgling City Carrier Assistant.