“In the morning it was morning and I was still alive. Maybe I’ll write a novel, I thought. And then I did.” Charles Bukowski, Post Office, 1971
After being a postal worker off and on for several years, gritty American poet Charles Bukowski wrote his first novel in one month: the largely autobiographical, Post Office. The main character of the book, a letter carrier, lives a troubled, boozy life.
Other posties in popular culture, proud Cliff Clavin and sneaky Newman on TV shows Cheers and Seinfeld, reveal that The Postman (whether he rings twice or not) takes up space in our cultural imagination.
There are approximately 80 postal workers in the Yukon and 15 letter carriers in Whitehorse. Whitehorse provides postal service as far as Marsh Lake. Further from the capital’s depot, there are eight rural routes serviced by contractors who use their own vehicles to deliver rural community mailboxes.
But what makes a postie a postie?
Over pints with Whitehorse letter carriers, comic Steven McGovern and musician Henry Chinaski, I learned more about “going postal.” I heard about the more awkward moments in a letter carrier’s life in a small community. For example, knowing where someone lives before you meet her, then mentioning it upon introduction (“Oh yeah, you live at 22 Pelly Road, right?”).
And yes, it is true that dogs bite the mail carrier. Chinaski has been bitten on the knee and McGovern on the ankle and McGovern notes that dogs charge him at least four times per year. But dogs aside, both carriers agree that the best part of being a postie is walking in the fresh air and getting exercise at work every day.
Letter carriers arrive at the depot at the top of Two Mile Hill daily at 7 a.m. After collecting and organizing the mail for the route, most hit the road between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. to undertake one of 16 delivery routes in Whitehorse.
If Chinaski and McGovern move quickly and mastermind their routes well, they’re done delivery at around 2 p.m. (they discussed their techniques for shortening delivery time, but I was sworn to secrecy on the matter).
And what about the weather? Canada Post supplies letter carriers with parkas and gives an allowance for boots and mitts. While Canada Post deems delivery optional at -40ºC, Chinaski and McGovern agree that it’s better to deliver once at -40ºC than to deliver twice as much mail the next day at -35ºC, when it’s no longer optional.
When it’s cold out, these lads layer-up, strap cleats over their boots in icy conditions – but only when absolutely necessary, as cleats make walking tricky – and hustle to get the job done. As they do everyday.
Chinaski and McGovern are tough guys, as are all of the women and men on the Whitehorse postal team. Whether they work overtime each day of the Christmas rush, or risk breaking a damn leg out there on the ice, one thing for is for sure — they will get your mail to you.
I heard that some Whitehorse residents leave chocolates or homemade cookies in their mailbox for letter carriers at holiday time. I have resolved to do the same.
And do keep in mind, Chinaski’s response to my question, “What do you most want Yukoners to know about Whitehorse posties?”
“We know where you live.”