Skip to main content

Can CCA Senior Citizens (Post-Fifties) Survive the Post Office?

Aging mailman/blogger Mel Carriere limps about his route on a cane, a device he also wields to whack people who make cracks about his age.

This old mailman still plays knick-knack on his thumb, whatever that means.

This old mailman still plays knick-knack on his thumb, whatever that means.

Am I Leaving a Bad Job for a Worse One?

I have been writing online articles about the United States Postal Service for over seven years now. I have covered the job for City Carrier Assistants, the letter carrier newbies who comprise the bulk of my audience, from every conceivable perspective: "CCA Survival," "The CCA Experience," "CCA Bootcamp," "The Daily Life of a CCA," "CCA Stumbling Blocks," "CCA Tips and Tricks," etc., forever and ever, world without end. Amen.

How many other names can I pin on the tail of the same dead donkey I've been beating for darn near a decade? From how many angles can I peek in the same window before the neighbors call the cops? In other words, after a while, you become like the gravedigger who turned serial killer for want of fresh material.

But every now and then, when you are at the height of your dry spell, the postal blogging gods look down upon you with pity. An idea literally falls from the skies and onto your lap—mail manna from heaven, you could call it. And this September 7th past, I received just such a bounty in the form of an email from a reader named John. It read:

I have worked in the paint industry for the past 16 years, grew tired of the politics and nepotism. Was just hired and start the USPS, in a few days. Read your article, now wondering if I left a bad job, for a worse one. I am hitting 50 in a few months, so I have one or two moves left in me, may I ask your advice?

I do my best to be courteous to those who are kind enough to read my words, so I fired back a quick response.

How much does your paint job pay you? Yeah I get it it's not always about money, corporate customer service jobs can be dehumanizing. If you are a hard worker and can suck it up a couple years until you make regular you might find this job enjoyable. Good luck, keep me posted.

After writing this response, I stepped into the shower, that little fortress of solitude of mine where the neurons really start flowing sometimes. There, as Mr. Right said slowly to his obtuse brother, it occurred to me: Now there's an interesting angle. Not only could I write a more detailed response to this reader in the form of an article, but I could direct it to all the Johns and Joannes, Juans and Juanas, prospective CCAs and CCettes who wonder if they are too far over the hill to deadhead back up the other side.

Will your old bones bend under the weight of the parcels you will be expected to deliver?

Will your old bones bend under the weight of the parcels you will be expected to deliver?

Postal Politics and Nepotism: Fact or Fantasy?

That last bit about a deadhead was insider mail humor, but do you, Mr. or Mrs. Fifty-something, really want to be an insider? Do you want in on the joke? In order to answer this question, I'm going to respond to John's cyber-cry for help, then add some observations of my own, a few soggy ideas that flowed from my skull while I was soaking in the think-tank of my shower stall.

First of all, let's start with John's weariness with the politics and nepotism of the paint industry. Dear John, it pains me to break you this news, but maybe you have been pigeonholed in the paint industry for too long. Perhaps you have painted yourself into a corner over there and have not peeked above the top of that paint you can drown in. Politics and nepotism are everywhere. While you are venturing down the dark path into a new career, there are many unseen things going bump in the night you cannot identify just yet. But it's a sure bet that politics and nepotism are among them.

For the vocabulary-challenged among you, Oxford defines nepotism as the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. Of course, the official party line of the Post Office, or any other government organization, is that nepotism does not exist. By law, it cannot. Applicants are judged strictly on their qualifications and selected based on test scores, with veteran's points added in to give a boost to those who served. Getting a job in the postal service is supposed to be about what you know, not who you know.

In practice, the process is not so perfect. Suppose you're a letter carrier who has a friend applying. One of the managers involved in the hiring process is an old crony of yours, so you give him or her a call with a wink and a nod. Even though his test scores were not among the best of the bunch, the next thing you know, your buddy is driving a postal vehicle.

Nepotism is exactly the reason why there are so many postal families in this organization, the whole Brady Bunch wearing blue from the top down. One of my coworkers belongs to a clan where Mother, Father, and daughter are all letter carriers. In other cases familiar to me, the wife might be a station manager in one office, and the husband is a letter carrier in another. Certainly, there are instances where two employees fell in love on the workroom floor and then tied the knot, but there are plenty of others I can number off where Mom or Dad Postal Duck was an employee already and snuck his or her ducklings through the back door. All other things being equal, if you have an in and your competitor for the job does not, you're getting the job. If that's not nepotism, tell me what is.

What about politics? Does it exist in the postal service? Heck, there are politics everywhere. I am willing to bet there are politics on the moon. We've got petty infighting, people taking sides, and enough backstabbing to keep the assembly lines for the Swiss Army working double shifts. Don't get me started. Postal politics is a rant worthy of its own article or even its own encyclopedia.

When your postal LLV is swamped by snowdrifts, will your 50-year-old body make the cut?

When your postal LLV is swamped by snowdrifts, will your 50-year-old body make the cut?

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up: CCA Wear and Tear

Let's face it. If you're starting a postal career at age 50 plus, you're no spring chicken. The tread on your tires is already going a little bald. A mail delivery job is only going to accelerate the wear of the rubber you're putting on the road.

No matter how nimble you are on your feet, you're going to take your share of slips, trips, and falls, which will pretty much finish off those threadbare joints of yours. Despite the pretty, hypnotic sermons management is going to preach to you on the subject of safety, they are still going to expect you to walk rapidly and read the mail at the same time. This is not impossible to do, but the problem is that every yard in America contains a deadly minefield. These land mines include sprinkler heads, stumps, lawn ornaments, garden hoses, and of course dog turds, to name a few. The feet of regulars on the route have an internal navigation system, so they avoid these land mines nimbly and efficiently without thinking about them. All the same, even the toughest war-horse veteran still stumbles sometimes, although we tend to land on our feet like cats.

However, as a newbie CCA, your navigation system has not been programmed yet. Your feet are not on autopilot. Therefore, you are going to have to keep one eye on the mail and one eye on the ground to point your two radar beams in different directions in order to detect things that might trip you up. Inevitably, sooner or later, you are going to stumble, maybe fall.

Twenty-year-old City Carrier Assistants just bounce off the concrete like rubber balls, but as a fifty-something, you might need to push the life alert button hanging around your neck to summon the paramedics. Help, I've fallen and I can't get up. Don't expect the supervisor to come scrape you off the sidewalk. They got a lot of things to do.

It is possible that you, gentle geriatric reader, are the exception. Maybe you've led a sheltered life up until now. Maybe your current gig is test pilot in an inflatable-mattress factory. You've literally been bouncing on air the past 20 years, so you've got the knees of a skinny 12-year-old. As for me right now, just sitting here writing this after 27 years of mail delivery, my semi-flexible right knee is aching, and my right shoulder is throbbing. Those pains come to you courtesy of the postal service. And I'm lucky. I've only had one dog bite, just a taste from a cocker spaniel 26 years ago, who fortunately found me unpalatable. In contrast, I trained one CCA seven years ago who has already been bitten three times. But she's young and tender, and I'm old and stringy.

Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!  As a fifty-something, can you survive the Postal mine fields?

Help! I've fallen and I can't get up! As a fifty-something, can you survive the Postal mine fields?

Are You Really Doing This for the Money? Postal Pay Reexamined

Thirty years or so ago, when I signed up, getting a letter carrier job was like winning the lottery. Twenty thousand people would file into the Scottish Rites Center, or whatever large hall they have in your community, to take the test. When you received that notice in the mail saying Come in for an interview, you felt like Willy Wonka just gave you the golden ticket. A postal job was a passport to financial stability, a home mortgage, and a better life in general.

Unfortunately, postal wages have not kept pace with other sectors of society, especially here in California. For the last couple of Union contracts, the Postal Service has gone into arbitration pleading poverty, and letter carriers have come away with minimal wage increases. Retirement benefits have also eroded, and more money is coming out of our pockets for medical coverage as well. I am not blaming the Union for this, nor am I saying that the Postal Service is not justified in pointing to a bad bottom line as a justification for being less generous. I think it is undeniable that the USPS has fallen on hard times. What I'm saying is that postal pay is not what it used to be, it probably won't get much better either, and you need to be aware of this if money is the reason you are leaving your old job and preparing to make your death-defying leap into the postal pit.

Depending on where you live, you might just want to stay there in that paint pot. City Carrier Assistant starting pay is $17 dollars an hour. Now, if you're living down in Dixie, that might be delightful. Alabama's minimum is $7.25, and Georgia still maintains a miserly $5.15, though employers there are required to bump that up to the federal minimum of $7.25. In contrast, bluer states like California and Washington are paying $13 and up, with certain municipalities going higher. My San Diego son just switched to a grunt warehouse job that divvies up $17 an hour.

I'm not here to argue the political pros and cons of raising or lowering the minimum wage. I'm just saying that if money is your motivator, look around the block to see what other jobs are paying in your neighborhood these days. A lot of people are happy to stay home and take the increased Covid unemployment check, so some employers are digging deeper into their wallets to attract workers.

While sitting here stroking my grizzled beard, wondering what I was going to include in this article, it occurred to me that I haven't trained a veteran in a while. The Postal Service used to be a cushy haven for former service members, including yours truly. But lately, I'm coaching a lot of youngsters, wee little lads and lassies still pulling on their Momma's apron strings. Don't get me wrong, I love these kids, but the Postal Service hasn't always been a starter job. In the past, it was a reliable parachute for a double-dipper, a comfortable landing pad for a soldier, sailor, or airman who had finished doing time in the trenches.

You find yourself at a crossroads in your life. Which way should you turn?  Are you ready to sell your soul to the Postal devil?

You find yourself at a crossroads in your life. Which way should you turn? Are you ready to sell your soul to the Postal devil?

Don't Sell Your Soul to the Postal Devil Without a Good Exorcist

Don't get me wrong, despite my portents of doom and gloom, I'm not saying you're not cut out to be a letter carrier. Just because you get the senior discount at Denny's doesn't mean you can't do the job. I'm 56 years old, and if I can still deliver the mail efficiently, so can you. The difference is that my seniority means I have a really sweet route. About a third of my deliveries involve just sticking my arm out the window.

That won't be the same for you. As the new kid on the block, you're mostly going to be getting the dregs, the sloppy seconds, the stuff nobody else wants to do. Your supervisors will also be frequently outsourcing you to other stations. You'll be doing hard time in the ghetto on some days, wondering why you ever signed up for this s**t. The situation will improve the more seniority you get as a CCA because you will be able to opt for routes that are easier on the body, mind, and soul. But senior-most Senior-Citizen CCA or not, you will still get pushed to do the impossible, even when you are on a nice route. Sometimes more so, because the supervisor will assume you have extra time.

And don't forget Amazon Sundays. As a fifty-something, you're getting closer to the tomb, so you probably want to pray a lot. From now on, however, your Sunday sunrise services will consist of shoveling packages into the back of an LLV. Your new favorite hymn will be Swing Low Sweet Chariot, which you'll be singing as you slave away. There's a Sunday schedule by the time clock that shows which CCA will be doing which route, something I call the CCA church bulletin. It will become your new order of the mass.

If none of this sounds pleasing to your aging, aching body, there are other postal options besides Letter Carrier you might want to consider. Becoming a Clerk-PSE will expose you to the elements less, maybe keep your little laugh lines from turning into crying canyons carved by the sun and sweat that will weather your brow during mail delivery. But PSE is still hella hard work. You'll be getting up at 3 AM and throwing thousands of parcels, wheeling around hefty tubs of flats, pushing and pulling heavy APCs. That's not easy on the body, either. PSEs sometimes also do split shifts, working a few hours in the AM, going home a few hours, then returning in the afternoon. Congratulations, you've just surrendered whatever little bit of a life you had left here in your golden years, the precious moments of peace that remain after your children drop off the grandbabies and run. Oh, and I almost forgot, as a clerk, you're going to have supervisors barking at you all day instead of just a couple hours in the morning. So don't be thinking working inside the four walls of a Post Office is going to give your worn-down muscles, bones, joints, and spirit a stay of execution.

There is one other possibility to consider, one that will take a toll on your soul but leave your body in the just slightly aged condition it was when you signed on, meaning you might remain a fine wine instead of turning to vinegar. Dare I utter the unmentionable word - supervisor. The Postal Service loves to pull CCAs straight out of their diapers and into the command chair. This could be because CCAs are blank slates, ready and willing to be brainwashed, or it could be because they can't find any regulars willing to do it. Regulars who have been around awhile have witnessed the beatings their bosses take on a daily basis from upstairs, and they want no part of that nightmare. But perhaps you've been in management before and have developed an extremely thick skin. If so, supervision could be for you.

Welcome aboard. If I seem a little gloomy, if this hasn't been all sunshine and birds singing, I apologize. Personally, I like the job, but I am not you. I'm a crusty old-timer with a good route, and my supervisors mostly leave me alone. This could be because a lot of my bosses are CCAs I personally trained, and you don't talk back to your Postal Pop. And then the older managers back off because they look at my stooped, decrepit, broken down form and fear that I will vapor lock on the workroom floor. Whatever the reasons, I am mostly given the leeway to do my job as I see fit.

As a fifty-something City Carrier Assistant, you're going to have to earn this respect, and it probably won't come overnight. Some preschooler sitting in the supervisor chair is going to tell you to do something stupid, and man, is it going to rankle. Then you're going to be limping along some cracked, buckled sidewalk with the sun sinking fast, wondering what kind of temporary insanity possessed you. It's better for you to know these hard truths in advance because, like John up there said, you might only have one or two moves left. Don't jump in without a lifeline. Sometimes the devil you know turns out to be better than the postal devil you are about to sell your soul to.


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 29, 2020:

Devika, it humbles me that you have taken the time to read this over there in lovely Croatia, even though it has very little if any impact on your life. I am glad you liked my attempt at humor. Thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 29, 2020:

James, I had the same idea as you about the battleground states. But then a friend of mine in New Jersey told me they were having mail delays there. Then again, the East Coast is notorious for mail delays, even when it's not being done on purpose. Who knows?

Great thoughts, thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 29, 2020:

Mills, your positive vibes are always appreciated. President Cretin doesn't always get his way, in fact more often than not he doesn't. It is going to be an interesting couple months ahead. Thanks for dropping in.

Devika Primic on September 29, 2020:

Mel this is informative and so interesting to read about a Postal job. You are no amateur certainly not in your line of work I like your sense of humor makes me want to read further

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on September 27, 2020:

2 points,

1) UPS may be a better alternative. I did it last year holiday season as a then 57 years young cub. However, it's usually only seasonal.

2) Strangely enough the postal interference is happening most in so called battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. California seems like a lock to vote for Sen.Biden, so the likelihood of postal mailfeasance (get it) is lesser there.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on September 27, 2020:

When I started my job eons ago, everybody outside my department acted as if they knew more about my job than I do. I might defend my work now and then, but I usually let my work do the talking. I now garner more respect for what I do, though a person here or there thinks they are in my chain of command when they are not. I am glad, though, that I work in a position where President Cretin can open his mouth, make up something negative, and too many people will listen. We are living in a time where the rich have gotten a whole lot richer, and working class folks like you and me can only watch and wonder if their privileged bubble will ever burst. I, too, wish the carrier in this article better, and I send positive vibes your way, too - for what they are worth.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 27, 2020:

Ha ha Bill, I think you know this crusty old mailman doesn't exactly accentuate the positive, so thanks for your boost of sunshine. So far, my daily routine has not been altered by the perceived attacks on the Postal Service. If there has been any delay of mail, I haven't seen it. I think our Commander in Chief is exploiting the quote unquote mail delays to justify rigging the election to his favor. At least where I work, the ballots and everything else will go through, just like they always do.

I appreciate you dropping in with a much needed dose of positivity.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 27, 2020:

Sheez! I need a boost of sunshine! :) All kidding aside, I'm pretty fed up with the attacks on the Post Office at the national political level. Hopefully things will change at the top and filter down to the grunt level. I doubt that will happen, but I'm trying to put a positive spin on it for you.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 26, 2020:

Thank you Linda for the kind comment. I try to entertain while informing, and I'm glad you recognize that.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 26, 2020:

You've shared interesting and useful information in an amusing way, as you often do. It was good to read that you're enjoying your job. I hope things continue to go well for you, Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 26, 2020:

Thank you Pamela. I guess humor is my way of coping with the grim reality, which is nothing to laugh at. Medical science claims laughter is a stress relief mechanism. Perhaps you should study that in one of your articles - "The Therapeutic Effects of Laughter."

I am always thrilled when someone who does not have a horse in the race drops by and still finds something of value, even if it's only to laugh for a minute. That's how I try to construct these articles, and it pleases me when I succeed. I appreciate you dropping in!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 26, 2020:

I love the way you wrote this article with humor. After all these years it seems that the best thing anyone that is not just starting out can do is look for another line of work. I wish you the best Mel, and I always enjoy your articles.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 26, 2020:

Thank you Road Monkey I am glad you made the choice to steer clear of anything to do with mail, no matter how remotely. I think everybody should have pitched in, bought 200 stamps, and dumped them in a mailbox. I really appreciate you dropping in.

RoadMonkey on September 26, 2020:

Oh, am I glad I don't have to look for a job as a mailman! A couple of years ago, the community centre chairman asked me to deliver "just" 200 leaflets in a particular area of our town. It wasn't far away from where I live; carrying 200 leaflets is (still) not a problem for me, the roads and footpaths are good and there were no vicious dogs but it took me two afternoons and I swore, never again! We give our mailman a good tip at Christmas. One go at that job was enough for me, so I am glad there are people willing to do it.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 26, 2020:

Eric, that's too many questions for my postal pinhead to handle. As far as your handicapped plates are concerned, you won't need them. Mailmen are allowed to park in any red zone, and also disregard whatever other laws are inconvenient to speedy delivery.

True story. A few months ago I was getting ready to jaywalk a busy street when a San Diego police officer stopped in the middle of it. I prudently went back to the curb but the cop said to me "Dude I wasn't going to get you, I stopped to let you cross." If that's not Nepotism on some level, what is?

I agree with your point about not using Nepotism privileges to sneak family members in. The place is a death trap. You sign up thinking you'll do the job a few years and move on, but you get comfortable and the next thing you know you're 56 and the time you claim doesn't exist has ticked past you.

I really appreciate your existential analysis. Hope you are buckling down for our next heat wave.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 26, 2020:

Well aside from the wonderfully Mel humor. This dissuaded from being a writer turned Carrierre. What blows me away is that my lady can watch out for hazards, read whatever she reads and catches us with a smile and a wave. I would suggest she is has a Masonic 3rd eye but that would be silly.

Isn't there a sorter's job that is real easy? ;-)

If I get a job with USPS at this late date can I still use my handicapped plates? Can I put them on my luv bug postal jeep?

Now I just cannot believe that about nepotism. Why would someone who knew put a loved one there. Unless it was because without the help the kid could not get a job? Oops does that suggest....

Off to read a personal handwritten letter and respond in kind. Hey thanks for that.

Is this a metaphor for life?