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Six Snow Shockers for Former Fair-Weather Mailmen

Once known as the Palm-Tree Postman, author Mel Carriere now pines beneath the pines, trying to hack out wisdom with frostbitten fingers.

Are you ready to exchange your Southern California surfboard for a snowplow?

Are you ready to exchange your Southern California surfboard for a snowplow?

Palm-Tree Postman Pines In The Pines

It was mere months ago that I smugly referred to myself as the Palm Tree Postman, being rather haughty about it too. I never thought I would leave Southern California, a land of near-perpetual sunshine and a mailman's utopia, where only three or four rainy days per year required me to put on my raincoat and watch my step. Other than that, the same balmy working conditions prevailed every day.

Then an upheaval in my life had me pull up stakes and move to Colorado. Only my second working day in my new locale the first snow I have seen as a mailman fell - my first snow shocker. Yes, of course I knew what I was getting into, so it shouldn't have been a shocker, but thinking about snow theoretically, or even looking at it outside the window, possibly while sipping cocoa in the comfort of one's living room or office cubicle, are very different than having to slog through it to deliver the mail.

I am probably not the last fair-weather mailman or mailwoman who will be subjected to snow shockers. People are moving out of California at the better part of a million per year, and I am certain there are plenty of boys and girls in blue among them. Many of these letter carriers will be relocating to snowy states. As long as a displaced postal worker doesn't mind giving up seniority, such a transfer can be a quick and easy process, at least it was for me. Shockingly quick, shockingly easy, I could say. Therefore, I decided to share my snowbound and down experience here in Colorado, in order to give you sun-baked letter carriers with itchy feet an idea of what you are in for. Better to think about it before you make that giant leap over the hurdle of the Rockies, where you could be frozen in place past the point of no return.

The former Palm-Tree Postman now pines in the pines

The former Palm-Tree Postman now pines in the pines

Snow Shocker 1 - No, The Trees Are Not Dead, They're Just Sleeping

Many of you reading this will think the title of this first capsule is just me being stupid. I can hear the collective Duh rising out of cyberspace right now, even as I apply frostbitten fingers to keyboard. Now, I grew up in a place where trees lost their leaves in fall, then grew fresh ones in spring, so the change in seasons was not a shocker for yours truly. But my own darling wife is a California native, and when she first laid eyes upon December's defoliated landscape here in Colorado, she thought all the beautiful trees had withered up and died. What happened, when we used to visit your Mom here in spring it was so green? To her, it looked as if agent orange had rained from B-52s overhead and killed everything with leaves. Every time we crawl out of our igloo to go get groceries she makes the same observation, and every time I have to reassure her - No honey, the trees are not dead, they're just sleeping. They like to sleep in the nude. They'll wake up in Spring and put their clothes on again.

So those of you Palm-Tree posties who are accustomed to the perpetual greenery of well-watered streets and yards, don't be shocked as you slog beneath bare branches and across yellow lawns. The only thing green you will see until spring is goose poop, which those human-adapted honkers litter everywhere (watch your step). But don't fear - the plants are only in hibernation, they will rebud and rebloom in a few months. Then your colorless existence will regain its beauty once more, at least between April and October.

The only thing green you are going to see until Spring is goose poop.

The only thing green you are going to see until Spring is goose poop.

Snow Shocker 2 - You Will Grow New Muscles and have other Physiological Changes

Your new normal of tip-toeing daintily upon the ice, for fear of sliding upon that slick, frozen, unyielding surface, is going to get aggravating. The post office expects you to move the mail efficiently, and who can do that taking cautious, timid baby steps? The quicker your body and the super-computer controlling it can adapt to the icy conditions, the better.

Then again, if you are a SoCal letter carrier who moonlighted as a Hollywood super-model in your previous plane of existence, the bad news is that your sleek, sexy legs are going to get muscles in places that will make them less photogenic. In other words, you are going to get a little thick in the thigh, and your appearances in the pages of the Victoria's Secret catalog may be over.

While the trees lay dormant all around you, your legs are going to bud wonderful new muscles, specially engineered for ice-gripping power. With the passage of mere weeks, and perhaps the assistance of Yaktrax cleats, you will be bounding over that ice like a polar bear.

Unfortunately, as your balance mechanisms adjust to snowy conditions, other physiological changes are going to occur as well. While delivering mail in San Diego, I used to grow a painful callus on the ball of my left foot I had to shave off every three months or so. Now that callus has disappeared, but I have grown a painful callus on the ball of my right foot, that I am probably going to have to shave off every three months or so. My typical winter earwax deposits are now also freezing in place, requiring a doctor's visit to clear that clog.

In the frigid Colorado climate, my earwax clog is frozen in place like this pile of dirty snow that won't melt until spring - on top of other physiological changes.

In the frigid Colorado climate, my earwax clog is frozen in place like this pile of dirty snow that won't melt until spring - on top of other physiological changes.

Snow Shocker 3 - The Long Life Vehicle (LLV) Sucks In The Cold

Up until recently, I was an avowed proponent of the Postal Long Life Vehicle (LLV), that lovable old dinosaur that has been chugging along for the last three-plus decades. At the same time, I was an equally vociferous opponent of the new Promasters. Yes, the old clunker LLVs would occasionally break down, sometimes in the most awkward of places (like busy intersections), but ninety nine times out of a hundred the old girl sparked into life when I did my morning vehicle check. Once she cranked up, driving the LLV was a pleasure, due to her easy turning radius and compact body style, designed for quick entry and even quicker escape.

Then I arrived in Colorado. Of course, none of the postal service's current menu of delivery vehicles were built to handle well in the snow, but the LLV is particularly cursed by cold weather. On those frozen January mornings, the fickle b**ch can be hard to get out of bed. She just doesn't want to wake up. I have two LLVs on my T6 string of five routes, and I would estimate that around 75 percent of the time they are non-starters, meaning I have to write them up and wait for the mechanic. Even if they can somehow be prodded into action with a jump start or perhaps a human sacrifice or two, getting them to maintain that charge requires a heavy foot on the gas and a lot of prayers, or swearing. Pick your method. If I park the LLV at one location for three swings, I have to go back and start it after every swing, or risk stalling the lifeless lump in place.

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Our local mechanic makes his living defibrillating the pulse back into these jalopies on frigid morns. When I threw my cold-weather theory by him as the cause for the LLV's reluctance to rev up, its timorousness to turn over, he confirmed that chill is the Achille's heel of these rustbuckets.

Previously, I was reluctant to break off my LLV love affair by swapping her for one of the long-delayed right-hand-drive replacements. But now I am anxious to get these worn out mules off the road as soon as possible, to exchange them with something that wakes up and does its job every morning, like I have to do.

The LLV doesn't handle well in the snow either, but then again neither do I. That first snow day I took one out for an early morning parcel run, and made the mistake of rolling her atop a few inches of fresh powder. To nobody's surprise except my own, the mail truck began sliding around, and I nearly ran it into a parked vehicle. Once I had somehow extricated the stubborn mule from the snowbank, I crawled back to the post office and demanded chains. My Union Steward here told me I could ask for tire chains if I needed them. Well I asked, but I did not receive. The supervisor looked at me like I was an ugly pimple that had sprouted on her chin while she was busy slapping makeup on her other cosmetic deficiencies. The message I took away from that sour expression was this is nothing, stop whining, get back out there and do your job.

Message received. Since then, I have started to learn what the LLV can and cannot do, where it can go and cannot go. I don't drive it through snow, and I don't park it on snow either, lest it lose its fickle footing when I try to drag it out of the trough. But in all fairness to the outmoded old ox, the new Promasters don't do much better on ice. Yes they are imminently preferable, only because they start in the morning, but the jury is still out on how long the reliability of any Chrysler-Fiat vehicle can be relied upon, and their agility on ice falls far short of Olympic figure-skating standards. Even the slightest slope in the Promaster leaves you slipping and sliding, at least until you learn how to master it, like a pro.

Can you dig out, de-ice, and make the DOIS grade in time in your frostbitten LLV?

Can you dig out, de-ice, and make the DOIS grade in time in your frostbitten LLV?

Snow Shocker 4 - Lower Gears Are Not Just There for Decoration

When I delivered mail in San Diego, sometimes I would look at my LLV's gearshift dashboard display and wonder what those extra letters were for. The superfluous symbols seemed ridiculously redundant, a waste of space in the already cramped interior. This was especially true since I only used two of them, Drive and Reverse. Sometimes I would curse when the enfeebled, ancient transmission accidentally slipped into Neutral, but I really had no need for any other gears.

So why are they there? I would wonder, like an archaeologist pondering hieroglyphics in a musty ancient cave, long abandoned by anybody who could explain their meaning. Unable to decipher the riddle, I forgot about the mystery and moved on to warmer thoughts.

When I arrived in Colorado, however, I came into contact with the ancient race of Atlanteans who were responsible for those mystic runes associated with the gearshift lever. Although the cryptic letters are certainly attractive, the locals informed me they also have a useful purpose that goes beyond mere decoration. I was informed that if you shift into one of those slots they called "lower gears," you can get better traction on the snow. Had I achieved this moment of Nirvana on my first day motoring through that icy mire, I might not have come within six inches of banging somebody's bumper. As it was, it took me 1,138 miles and about 5,000 feet in elevation to finally arrive at this epiphany.

First Colorado snowscape for a Palm-Tree postman.

First Colorado snowscape for a Palm-Tree postman.

Snow Shocker 5 - Snow Makes Mud Too

Thankfully, since that first rough week or two spent struggling for balance as the icy world moved under my feet or wheels, we had a relatively snow-free winter here in Colorado. There have been a few brief overnight flurries now and then, but the next day the sun comes out, a heat wave of 50-plus degree temperatures strikes, and the drip of melting snow becomes the soothing soundtrack of my delivery day.

Which led me to still another epiphany, something that seems pitifully obvious to you Eskimos hatched here at high altitude, but is a senseless study for those sired at sea level. Snow turns into water when it melts! I marveled at this revelation as I listened to the trickling rivulets washing around my feet.

Then I did something I have managed to avoid since last winter in San Diego, where rain, not snow, is the infrequent mailman's bane. I slipped in mud! In that Eureka moment it occurred to me that snow is just frozen water, and when the sun comes out to sever the molecular bonds that change it into a solid state, it reverts back into its original form. This form is water, and when water flows over dirt, that dirt transforms from the firm footing of solid ground into a mucky, slippery substance that can upend a mailman and cause a potentially painful landing.

Luckily I only slipped, but did not fall into the mud, as I have done on several occasions in San Diego. In fact, despite the icy and slippery conditions here in snow country, so far I have managed to land on my feet like a cat, every time. So far. But a slip where I don't stick the landing is inevitable. Falling on ice, snow, or mud is a question of when, not if.

Enjoying your Rocky Mountain HIgh? Long's Peak from Northern Colorado.

Enjoying your Rocky Mountain HIgh? Long's Peak from Northern Colorado.

Snow Shocker Six - Prepare to Pee

As a letter carrier with a zest for moving the mail, you have always sworn to yourself - I'm going to finish this route come hell or high water. Being a postal employee, the meaning of the hell part in this phrase has always been self-evident. But basking in your balmy beach town, with sparkling beads of sweat rolling down your tanned body, you never got the significance of the high water portion. Then you moved to Icicle, USA.

Once you arrived there in the dead of winter, you immediately realized your sweat pumps had powered down for winter hibernation. Excess H20 was no longer being secreted out of glands in your skin. Your body coolant, no longer necessary because it's frickin' negative 2 outside, was instead being sent directly to your bladder, held there in very temporary cold storage.

Unfortunately, that briny bag beneath your belly was only designed to handle so much. With not even a microgram of perspiration leaking out of your pores, your fluid tank reaches the bursting point really fast. Now, instead of one possible pit stop before lunch, you're having to break off five or six times a day for homeostatic emergencies.

Your kidneys ache with the unrealized anticipation of release. Your shepherding supervisor drums his lonely fingers on the desk, wondering why it is 5 o'clock already on a light mail day and that one sunshine-state sheep is not back in the fold. You start to consider carrying a jug, and if you decide not to, have you investigated how much time the laws in this town get you for peeing in public? Furthermore, if you do choose to whip your parts out in an extreme emergency, are they subject to frostbite? Will the liquid even make it to the ground before freezing solid, or will you be left with an unsightly yellow icicle dangling from your zipper?

All important things to think about, when contemplating a move to the frozen tundra.

Your humble author Mel salutes you from the frozen tundra.  In his glasses you can see the reflection of the snow. His shades are not required for Socal's persistent sunshine anymore, but the glare from Colorado's constant ice.

Your humble author Mel salutes you from the frozen tundra. In his glasses you can see the reflection of the snow. His shades are not required for Socal's persistent sunshine anymore, but the glare from Colorado's constant ice.

A Chilling Conclusion

I apologize for presenting you, gentle reader, with only problems here, no solutions. Truth is, I don't feel qualified to provide remedies that will keep you and your postal vehicle on solid ground while you learn to master the chilling complexities, now that your normal life is on ice. I haven't received my PHD in Snowology yet. Maybe it's in the mail.

So until the time I achieve a working knowledge of the subject, until I get a grip on that snowball that gains in size and momentum as it rolls dangerously toward me, I can only advise you to trust the experts. Don't get your snow advice from the windbag who just moved here from Laguna Beach. He's a snake-oil salesman, you'll only wind up in traction if you listen to him. Instead, take your tips from the guy or gal who grew up in Loveland, or Longmont. Those snow bunnies can steer you around the slick spots, keep you de-iced while you defrost, there beneath that deep white blanket that has you snowbound and down.


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 14, 2021:

Thank you Mills. February did indeed make me shiver, but I think March will turn out to be our snowiest month by far. Looking out my window at a rut left by whatever automobiles have dared to drive in this stuff, there appears to be a foot and a half on the ground already, and no signs of stopping. I love that Don McClean quote. I appreciate you dropping in.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on March 13, 2021:

I guess it's safe to say that February made Mel shiver with every letter he delivered. I'm not in the postal game, but February was a snow-filled one by me. Oh, the joys of working out in it,

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 11, 2021:

Just when we thought the planet was warming up, with springtime temperatures along the Front Range, here comes another storm over the hump. Thanks for dropping by Oscar.

Oscar Jones from Monroeville, Alabama on March 09, 2021:

Oh no! the planet is warming up!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 07, 2021:

The snow can be a shocker Davika. I'm sure you learned that. I hope you keep nice and warm for the remainder of this winter. I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 07, 2021:

I haven't hit 20 below yet, Bill, but we did get to about negative 10 one day this winter. They said that was the coldest it has been in five years or so, but I'm convinced meteorologists lie.

Thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 07, 2021:

Thank you John. Bad part is, as it gets warmer here, it gets colder down under. Maybe that's a good thing for you though. Thanks for dropping in.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on March 07, 2021:

Sounds like a real learning experience, Mel. I found it all very interesting as I have never even experienced snow so I would also be totally at sea if thrown into the middle of it. Hang in there, it will be warming up soon.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 07, 2021:

I had lived in Washington for the first thirty years of my life when my new wife and I decided moving to Vermont was a good idea. 20 below and five feet of snow that first winter. I've had a love affair with Washington every since. :)

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 07, 2021:

Hi Mel Carriere this is well written and reminds me of when I first moved to Croatia. I feel extremely cold during. the winter. During the summer I feel it is too hot. Maybe I need t make some changes for a warmer home.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 07, 2021:

Thanks for that, Eric my fair-weather friend and former neighbor. You certainly know how to rain on my snowy parade. You probably could use a little of this frozen rain, I heard it's a dry year down SoCal way. I appreciate you dropping in with your snow snark.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 07, 2021:

A pure delight. You make me pine for the pines. Isn't it cool how you have to let them warm up. My fifty three chevy half ton taught me well in snow. Speed baby through the snow banks. I am surprised a bit that you do not have an engine warmer.

Sorry that is all I have time for as I am off to beach with my kids.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 07, 2021:

Thanks Pam. I have adapted to the cold by growing additional layers of blubber, so I have mixed feelings about Spring. This week it actually hit the mid-60s for several days, and after so long hovering somewhere around freezing, that weather feels hot. I appreciate you dropping in.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 07, 2021:

It seems you will have to adjust to your new climate, Met. This is an interesting article, and I grew up in that type of weather. I know it can be miserable.

The description of your supervisor was also very interesting. LOL

I have enjoyed reading your article, and I hope spring comes soon!

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