Have Satchel will Travel - The Daily Life of a Postal City Carrier Assistant (CCA)
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 to. 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.
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 he or she is 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, 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!
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 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 ghetto 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's In the Ghetto 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...
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 travelling 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 everyday, 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.