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Have Satchel, Will Travel: The Daily Life of a Postal City Carrier Assistant (CCA)

Although many are mystified by his mysterious moniker, Mel Carriere is a San Diego mailman who writes about the mail, among other things.

Warning - This is an actual picture, not a product of my very poor Photoshop skills. Be aware that, as a CCA, calamities can strike from above and below.  New Postal employees are advised to be wise and keep their eyes on the skies!

Warning - This is an actual picture, not a product of my very poor Photoshop skills. Be aware that, as a CCA, calamities can strike from above and below. New Postal employees are advised to be wise and keep their eyes on the skies!

I Hate to Break the News . . .

So you just got the call that you have been accepted as a Postal City Carrier Assistant (CCA), and you are really hyped because the Post Office you have been assigned to is just around the corner from your house. "Awesome!" you shout with a triumphant fist pump, thinking about all the gas money and the commuting time you will save getting back and forth to work.

But even though it never rains here in Southern California, just as British singer Albert Hammond tried to warn us about back in 1972, allow me to be the first to dump some virtual rain down on your joyful parade. So unless you are standing inside, where it is bad luck, please unfurl your virtual umbrella to protect your temporary good humor from the bad news I am getting ready to shower down upon you.

Here's the downpour that is going to flood out your Postal picnic: It doesn't matter if the Post Office you belong to on paper is on the next block or the next county. Either way, you aren't going to be spending a lot of time there. As a fledgling CCA, the odds are you are going to be part of a rotating pool that hops from office to office within your city or county administrative area. So be prepared to receive the manager's phone call every morning telling you there has been a "change of plans," and whatever you do, don't leave your satchel hanging overnight on some cozy-looking hook you find on the route you think you are going to carry tomorrow. "Have satchel, will travel" is your new motto for the time being until you move up the CCA seniority roster enough that you can opt on routes and become a semi-permanent fixture in your office.

So as the captain of the Titanic said as his first mate sat down next to him on the bridge of the foundering ship, "Don't get comfortable!"

Don't Get Comfortable

I have lost count, but since the City Carrier Assistant position was created, I have trained at least 20 CCAs, probably more. Most of these newbies scattered to the four winds after enduring their three-day training process, rarely to be seen again, although sometimes they will pass briefly, sporadically through my office like the blowing postal tumbleweeds that they are.

The reason why I get so many trainees from everywhere is that not every station has an OJI (On the Job Instructor). The rumor is that OJIs are supposed to get paid one level higher for the three days they play babysitter and kindergarten teacher for the new hire, but overburdened supervisors, more often than not, neglect to submit the higher level pay and sometimes, in the rush to change diapers and make sure Billy doesn't skin his knee, the OJIs forget to check if they are being correctly compensated. One level up on the pay ladder doesn't add up to much more money anyway, so there is no significant monetary motivation for letter carriers to become trainers. The only motivating force is a love for the Postal Service and a desire to make sure people are trained right, but most letter carriers just want to get through the day, serving their customers as painlessly as possible without headaches or breaks in the comfortable routine. As such, there are not a lot of volunteers for the OJI position.

What this means is that in order to find a certified trainer, it is sometimes necessary to ship CCAs a long way from the Post Office to which they will be nominally attached. Consequently, the fresh-off-the-street CCA should not labor under the illusion that the training station will be permanent, no matter how charming and helpful the employees are and how beautiful and sweet the supervisors are.

Do you feel like a henpecked CCA?  Don't worry, you are not alone.

Do you feel like a henpecked CCA? Don't worry, you are not alone.

CCA Pecking Order

Someone might have deluded you into thinking that all CCAs are created equal, but this isn't exactly true, at least at first. The hard reality is that there is a definite CCA hierarchy in every office, and for the beginning of your CCA career, you are going to get pecked into place by every hen and rooster in the Postal barnyard.

As a CCA, you do have the right to opt on routes that are temporarily vacated due to the regular letter carrier being away on vacation or, in the optimal CCA utopia, being on long-term sick leave status. Both of these dreamy fantasies offer a bit of a breather for the frog-like CCA, utterly exhausted from hopping from lily pad to lily pad in the Postal pond. But the distressing news I have for you is that as a freshly minted CCA, you probably aren't going to get very many of these routes. Your office will have plenty of CCAs and a Reserve Carrier or two higher up in seniority that will outbid you; meaning you will either get stuck with whatever malodorous bottom scrapings are left over after the good routes are quickly snatched up or will have to endure more of the tired old different day, different office routine.

Furthermore, as a new CCA, it will probably take you a while to develop your skills to the point that you really impress your supervisors. So even if there aren't any long-term vacancies, the routes that are available due to sick calls are going to be given to the CCAs that your supervisors are already familiar with and trust.

If you really want to stay in your home office, my advice to you is to hone your skills and become reliable, efficient, and trustworthy as quickly as possible. Then, when morning rolls around, and it is time to choose which CCAs to slide into the few available slots and which to send elsewhere, the decision will be easy. If you have earned your stripes in your supervisor's eyes, believe me, that they are gladly going to keep you there on the farm, and that bad attitude slug six months senior to you will be shipped somewhere else.

There is a bit of cheery news to brighten your otherwise dreary life as the scrawniest and lowliest Colonel Sanders reject in the Postal hen house. This is that CCAs are regularly being promoted to regular, signifying that you will find yourself moving up quickly on the CCA seniority list. You may only have to endure the drudgery of bouncing around the Zip Code map for at most a year, perhaps much less if the CCAs ahead of you are either getting promoted or quitting, which is not uncommon. My advice is to bide your time, be patient, do your job correctly, DRIVE CAREFULLY, and before you know it, you will be the bada** rooster strutting your proud tail feathers around that Postal chicken house, looking for a newly hatched CCA fledgling to deliver a nasty peck to!

You think you have it made in the shade today, but just wait until tomorrow.

You think you have it made in the shade today, but just wait until tomorrow.

A Typical Scenario . . .

Let's say you are a relatively new CCA with just a few weeks in the service, and for the last couple of days, you have been enjoying an incredible string of unprecedented luck. Even though the senior CCAs in your office are all on opts, it just so happens that a rather slothful regular carrier with a short route he milks so hard the cow moos for mercy has called in sick for a few days running.

Even though you are the low CCA on the Postal totem pole, your supervisor has no other choice but to pencil you in on this cushy route, which has been cut so much because of the regular's rather leisurely attitude toward work that you are able to finish the route plus the extra time they are going to inevitably stick you with on another and still have time to take your lunch and breaks, for a change. This is Postal Paradise for a new CCA. There you are, kicking it in your LLV beneath a shady tree, playing Candy Crush on your cell phone, and praying to Jesus, Moses, and the Lord Buddha that the bum stays sick for a while.

Alas, renaissance poet John Milton has a thing or two to teach the fresh out-of-the-mint CCA because Paradise Lost will be your woeful motto for the next few months or so. As could be predicted by your rotten luck, the next morning, the office twenty miles up the road; where many a good CCA has thrown down his or her satchel in frustration and quit after having their vehicle broken into or after being chased three city blocks by a marauding pit bull, has just informed the Area Manager that they have 10 sick calls! Guess what; the game plan has changed! Despite your piteous protestations, that sweet peanut route is now being pivoted out among the regulars in the office, and you will be singing Elvis in a very sorrowful tone for the rest of the day. Just try to hurry and get off the street before the sun goes down and your soulful singing is interrupted by the rather dissonant music of gunshots and sirens.

Real Postal Gunslingers are not born overnight, but must pass through their trial by fire first.

Real Postal Gunslingers are not born overnight, but must pass through their trial by fire first.

What to Pack in Your CCA Gunslinger's Gunna

"Gunna" is a term introduced by Stephen King in his Dark Tower series that refers to the kit containing the essential items needed by both gunslingers and CCAs to get the job done. Because you, as a greenhorn CCA, will be traveling to a different point of the compass every day, you are going to need to equip yourself with a few essential items to stow in your own gunna, which might as well be the very satchel you keep at the ready in the trunk of your car. Don't make the mistake of dragging that satchel inside the house every night when you get off work; keep it in the trunk of your car. Your wife doesn't want that ugly, dirty thing staining her rug, the dog won't get near it, and you don't want to arrive at whichever among many stations you could find yourself at tomorrow only to make the painful, embarrassing discovery that, "Whoops! I left my satchel at home!"

There are a few obvious items you should keep in your "gunna," and a couple more that are also borderline essential but somewhat embarrassing to talk about. Don't expect that the stations you bounce around to will provide these items. Postal Supervisors are notoriously inefficient and lazy about ordering supplies and sometimes reluctant to part with them.

Keep a good supply of ink pens of the retractable variety. Pack some band-aids because you will be cutting your hands open on mailboxes, especially when delivering to the centralized mail receptacles found in apartments. Believe it or not, I once had to staunch a pretty bad wound with a roll of duct tape I keep in my own gunna, because I had no band-aids. You might want to keep some antibiotic creme with you as well because those mail boxes are filthy and you don't want to get infected when you slice your hand open on one, which you will. If you are the type that is overly paranoid about touching filthy mailboxes, also try to heist a box of Postal-issue disposable gloves from the supply room of one of the stations you work at. Feed one of the clerks working there, and you'll see how fast they will procure a box for you.

There are a couple of other items I am sort of embarrassed to talk about, but as an orphan CCA learning a new zip code every day, you are not always going to know where the local bathrooms are, and this could cause problems. Therefore, you might also want to pack a fresh set of underwear because accidents can happen while you are driving around desperately looking for a toilet. Although I do not personally endorse this practice, some rather unhygienic letter carriers also carry a plastic jug with them for urinating on the go. This is rather disgusting, but if you are going to do it, make sure you get one that is opaque and not see-through, so no one will be able to identify what sort of strange fluid is sloshing around in there.

You are going to have to personalize your own gunna, because your needs and experiences will be different than my own. Whatever you decide to stow away in your saddlebags, make sure you put everything back after use, keep the whole kit and kaboodle together in your satchel, then leave it in your car, so it is ready to go the next day. For more information about what you might need in your gunna, see my video below.

Homeless CCAs Do Not Despair

Your homeless status is only temporary, so keep your chin up. If you are serious about a Postal career, just try to accept the routine that there is no routine, and once you get yourself into this philosophical mindset, it can only get better from there. You will be forced to jump through hoops, be told that nothing less than the impossible is expected from you every day, and at times will truly believe that the malevolent Postal Universe has singled you out for cruel and unjust punishment. But before you know it, the marvelous, miraculous day will arrive when you wake up a regular. Then you will be able to bid on your own route, get into a consistent routine at last, and from this serene, sweet spot, fling the proverbial bird at those cruel Postal barnyard chickens that so relentlessly pecked on you in the past.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is a mail handler assistant job better than a city carrier assistant job? I have been offered both. If I do the mail handler can I switch to city carrier after I make regular?

Answer: I have never been a mail handler, but if you want my opinion city carrier assistant offers you the opportunity to get out of the office and away from your supervisors.


Chris on December 05, 2017:

Need to ask. I got a call to get if I was still interested in doing RCA at Helotes, but I have a bad situation. My grievance is at Pre-Arb and I'm worried after calling my Arsenal postmaster, I might not be able to go through. I've been out of work since August due to being removed for bad conduct because I had a bathroom situation (out of office) as it was an emergency. I dunno what to do? I think I made a mistake telling them that a grievance is on file. I really want to continue working but...

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 21, 2017:

Hey Chris. There's nothing else for you to do at 6:30 AM except case mail, unless they want you to run parcels, but seems weird that they would have you come in so early for that. You guys must get a lot of flats, if carriers are starting that early. Good luck on making your probation.

Chris on March 21, 2017:

Been a while. I know recently I restarted my probationary period in San Antonio and right now I'm close at my 90 day probationary period but I got word that I am reporting in at 630am after coming in earlier than 730am. What's an indication? I know regular carriers come in to case mail.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 18, 2016:

Chris, I'm delighted you didn't give up and you fought to get your job back. I hope things go well for you from now on. Your story should be an example for other CCAs.

Chris on November 18, 2016:

It's official. I got my job back. However, I will have to restart my 90 days because this was during probation. Also, lost wages might be a no go unless noted. I might get a call this saturday to where I will report. I just hope I don't need to go back to my home installation. One supervisor believes I am arrogant when I'm pumped up to start work. I am from San Antonio, though, and we have a bad situation: high turnover. It could get worse during Christmas.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 15, 2016:

Screwy indeed. Keep trying, hopefully the Union can get you reinstated. Keep us posted, Chris.

Chris on November 15, 2016:

Well, Mel, so far I finally got a call from my union saying the supervisor of the office where I was working (I was helping them out by orders of my home installation) said she made a mistake. The charges was not adhering to job requirements, not following directions, unsafe manner, and not promptly reporting the incident, despite the fact I report it after my route was done. However, she won't put me back into the office I was helping out, so the union is going to take it up to the postmaster. Also, I am working to get into RCA as a backup because I love the job, yet it's very unfair that many of the factors got me into this mess. I live in San Antonio, and jeez, I hear that that area is a bastion of high turnover rates. Also, this might be a rare case because this was during my probationary period. And I'm still active on my LiteBlue. Something tells me it's kinda screwy in my opion.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 30, 2016:

Chris, I sent out a plea for help on this to my letter carrier friends on Facebook. The only possible answer I could come up with is to find out if there are other CCAs in your area who did not get fired after having an accident, then file an EEO complaint if this turns out to be the case. Good luck.

Chris on October 30, 2016:

Well, bad news. Friday was the day after two weeks I end up getting a letter of separation over that minor accident I had, but I had four charges trumped into me, but after that, went to my local NALC chapter and they said it's not right. I didn't work for two weeks straight, well only twice after interviews and got the boot that Friday. They said I had no recourse of grievance or arbitration (I was on my sixtieth day of probation), but I am going to fight the charges. I started liking the job, but one manager thinks I was arrogant and cocky and think I am a bad asset and said I lost them much money...for what?! a small driver mirror? They took my livelihood away and I don't want to go backwards. I suffered hard and I begged myself can't they give me another chance and promise not to endure an incident again? I need advice.

Chris on October 20, 2016:

I don't know if I can hold up. I have been going well. Just been doing some work at another post office, all mounted routes, and I ended up with my first but very small accident. Tree branches struck the right bottom pane glass mirror, shattered. I had reported it before being sent off for a split route. Then, Monday, was told my privileges are on hold before the investigations over. They called it a "wreck." It wasn't a bad wreck. No people hurt, no home property damaged, me not hurt, etc. I know I want to go back to work. Friday is where I get to talk about it. If it's a small incident, why make a big fuss?

Jimmydewrag1 on July 15, 2016:

Thank You Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 14, 2016:

I honestly don't know if the Postal Service will frown upon your diabetes, Jimmy. I know you do have to take a physical. I'll look into it for you. Thanks for reading.

Jimmydewrag1 on July 14, 2016:

Hey Mel, just found your articles and I love them. I need some advice please. I have diabetes and foot problems and kinda on the old side of things 50+. I cannot run but walking I can do, will I make it if I apply for a CCA job as a career change. Thanks for the info you provide.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on February 12, 2016:

Except that, during holiday season 2015 we totally kicked butt on free enterprise FedEx and UPS in terms of on time delivery, which is why Amazon has transferred even more of their business to us. Yes there are a few bad apples in the bunch, but I for one am not incompetent and the majority of my coworkers are very conscientious about how they serve their customers. Thanks for reading.

Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on February 12, 2016:

Yes, USPS sucks. It employs the most incompetent people ever. The clerks and carriers don't do their jobs at all. They work at the post office because they are too unintelligent to work elsewhere, particularly in private industry. USPS should be either dismantled completely and have a private enterprise establish a competent mailing and delivery system. I have encountered the post office and there is nothing but woefully mentally challenged and incompetent people that make Forest Gump look like a genius....

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on February 12, 2016:

I don't agree with your conclusion that the Post Office sucks big time, gmwilliams, you just have the misfortune of living on a route that nobody wants to deliver for any length of time, perhaps an auxiliary route that has no regular assigned to it. thanks for reading.

Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on February 12, 2016:

Now I see why my deliveries are jacked up, there's a new substitute carrier almost every day. The post office really sucks big time!!!!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 09, 2015:

Tips and Tricks kind of got halted in production Boise CCA, but you have given me the idea that maybe I should revisit it. It's just a very broad topic. Thanks for reading!

New Boise CCA-cole on October 09, 2015:

I am anxiously waiting for your next topic..." Tricks and Tips for CCAs"

Very informative information. So glad I found your reading before I started this job! I have been banking all of your excellent info. and it is

all dead on! I've been prepared for everything they have thrown at me.

I've even brought donuts for my fellow carriers, very big hit! I 've even learned to "Accept The Routine that there is no Routine" Very great full

for your insight! Thanks! Keep writing!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 06, 2015:

Same back to you HeyEng and good luck on taking the postal plunge.

HeyEng on September 06, 2015:

Hey Mel, many thanks for your "no holds barred" account on CCA life. After 20 years in the military I'm about to take the plunge into the CCA career field. I hope that I can hack it! Take care out there and Happy Labor Day!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 04, 2015:

Ashley I personally know two hearing impaired carriers who do an excellent job. That should not be an obstacle in the age of text messaging. Bathrooms are dependent on the route you are carrying. You need to ask the local carriers, but that's not generally a problem either. Please join the Union because they raise the standard of living for all of us. Thanks for reading!

Ashley Graham on September 04, 2015:

Hi Mel, thank you so much for your various articles on CCA life. I'm thinking about accepting the position and am grateful to know what to expect. I do have a few questions: I have hearing impairment- will this mean that I am more than likely going to get fired? I can't sleep with my hearing aids in 24/7 or I would get ear infections and no sleep. I wanted to also ask about bathrooms- how do you plan them? Local gas stations? Also- can you tell me more about the union? Is it worth joining and how much does it cost? I'm in Oregon if that matters

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on June 15, 2015:

The Internet and Facebook grapevines are full of woeful CCA tales, Deb. No trade secrets here. Thanks for reading!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on June 15, 2015:

It sure can be hell out there, huh? Funny that you never hear about any of this through the grapevine, or is it, "Confess, and you're dead?"

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 16, 2015:

Thank you Jodah. Trying to make stale postal topics interesting is a challenge, but I do my best. I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 16, 2015:

Thank you Dana Tate. I never thought it would be helpful to the postal customer as well, but I suppose it does offer some insights. I appreciate you dropping by.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on April 16, 2015:

Wonderful hub Mel, especially for anyone considering a career in the postal service. I can relate to most of this from my time as an employee with the railway dept. for 17 years...five of which were as a relief clerk working in different offices/stations all over the city. I always love your sense of humor which makes your hubs so readable too.

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on April 14, 2015:

So this explains why I seem to get a new carrier every few weeks! Just when I get use to one another one comes and I have to adjust to the time all over again; not to mention my poor doggie, who barks his head off every time the mail is dropped in the box. This was a very funny and interesting read.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 14, 2015:

Yes Larry Rankin, to the point where these poor newbies are flipping their postal vehicles over highway medians. Thanks for reading!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 14, 2015:

Thank you Linda. I was trying to improve my hub placement with that video. I need to get to a million views like you. I appreciate you dropping in!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 14, 2015:

Sounds like they keep you goes on your toes.

Fun read.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2015:

This is an informative and very entertaining hub, Mel. I enjoyed your video, too!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 14, 2015:

Thank you Eric. You might actually be one of the unfortunate postal customers who lives on auxiliary route, which doesn't have a regular assigned to it at all but gets split up every day. Either that, or your route is so long and tough that the regulars drop like flies. Whatever the case, we appreciate your kindness.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 14, 2015:

An excellent read as always. I must live in one of the undesirable routes as I have a new carrier every few days. I will try to be extra kind to those folks as now I have an insight as to what they are going through. Thanks.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 13, 2015:

Yes Barbara Casey I am fortunate enough to be one of those, though that security is being threatened on all sides by corrupt politicians. Thanks for reading!

BarbaraCasey on April 13, 2015:

What I don't want to be when I grow up. Though for those who finally get regular routes, this is one of the few employers left with some job security.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 13, 2015:

These days Poolman the USPS has to tell more than a few "fish stories" to sell the job because the newbies are not paid as well and it is just not as desirable a job as it used to be. As a matter of fact, I have sort of developed an Internet niche with these CCA hubs and have received quite a few comments from aspiring postal employees who were thankful I had given them the hard facts before they took the plunge. As always I thank you for your visits.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 13, 2015:

Hey Bill, these kids are taking away my overtime, lol. Not really, I'm past that now, I just want to make sure people know what they are getting into before they make the leap, because it's a definite cultural shock. Thanks for reading.

Old Poolman on April 13, 2015:

Mel - Thank goodness I am not looking for work or I may have fallen into the trap set by the USPS. I would hope that at least some of those dreaming of being hired as a CCA would read your hubs before they sign the paperwork.

This kind of reminds my about how badly I swallowed the lies presented to my by the Army Recruiter so many years ago. Not much of what he told me about life in the Army turned out to be true. I'm sure the USPS tells the CCA applicants a few whoppers too.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 13, 2015:

Kind of like being a substitute teacher, which is one reason why I swore I would never be a substitute teacher and I never was. I'm not keen on those early morning phone calls disrupting my peace of mind. :) Nice job, Mel. You are single-handedly cutting back on postal job applications.