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How to Deliver Mail in the Dark - City Carrier Assistant (CCA) Tips and Tricks

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

This after dark Mail Lady seems to deliver with grace and ease.  Can you?

This after dark Mail Lady seems to deliver with grace and ease. Can you?

Things that Go Bump in the Night

That thing you hear going bump in the night this Christmas season is probably just your mailman. It's months after Halloween, so your visions of dancing sugarplums - perchance caused by somebody spiking the eggnog bowl, are not being disturbed by restless spirits from the tomb or masked mass murderers escaped from mental hospitals. Odds are it's not Krampus sneaking in on a snowstorm to punish your misbehaving children either.

It's just your letter carrier out there in the dark, his or her mail truck stuffed with cyber Monday packages; parcels stacked so high that they restrain his or her vision to the point of veering off the road into a ditch. While you are enjoying your holiday toasts with friends and family, your letter carrier is out there in the dark - a stressed out postal Santa Claus with no wriggling belly full of jolly Christmas cheer, clad in a cardboard stained blue shirt instead of a fuzzy red suit, topped off by a sweat soaked pith helmet instead of a pointed stocking cap; looking lost, disoriented, and somewhat stunned as his or her guiding reindeer - including Rudolph with his darkness dispersing nose, long ago scattered back to the North Pole for safety.

If you are a new City Carrier Assistant hired by the United States Postal Service prior to the holiday season, you will recognize this scenario as your own and will be wondering how I could so accurately describe your average holiday workday without us ever having met. You will also be wondering how this impossibly packed load of mail you are tasked with; difficult enough to distribute under the full glorious blaze of the low winter sun, can ever be successfully dispatched after our planet's illuminating star sinks below the horizon, the blinding shadows of night descend, and you and that load you are expected to deliver are totally obscured by darkness.

The purpose of this article, therefore, is to provide you, the fledgling City Carrier Assistant (CCA), with a few tips and tricks that can help to get you through the unforgiving gloom of late fall and early winter, so that you can meet the impossible expectations of your Postal Supervisor and be home snuggling up in your warm bed at night before they roll up the sidewalks and you are left out in the unsheltered cold alone to become a trembling, brittle human icicle.

What is that thing going bump in the night out by your mailbox?  is it some ghastly ghoul from beyond the tomb, or just your lost, lonely, half frozen letter carrier?

What is that thing going bump in the night out by your mailbox? is it some ghastly ghoul from beyond the tomb, or just your lost, lonely, half frozen letter carrier?

Descent into Darkness

Daily savings time ended Sunday, November 1st, except if you live in Arizona or Hawaii, where the phenomenon does not exist. After November 1st our mother star the sun, which until then had been gradually less generous with extending its daylight into the evening hours, took a sudden plunge into stinginess by cutting off daylight around 5 PM or earlier, depending on the latitude of your home town in the Northern Hemisphere.

After the end of daylight savings time, night arrives ever more early - as Yogi said it gets late early here, until we reach the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year; which in 2015 is Monday, December 21st. Following the winter solstice, the days will grow gradually longer until at last, on January 31st, sunset occurs at a much more reasonable 5:30 PM. This will be sunset for the state of California, where I live, but if you deliver mail at the northernmost tip of the country, such as in the shadowy state of Maine, you will be in the dark considerably longer; the blazing bounty of a 5:30 sunset not falling until March 10. Until then you can expect to be delivering in the dead of night, and it won't just be a one night stand.

For this reason, you might need some illuminating pointers on how to brighten your gloomy winter work nights. Toward this end, I will be guided by the Chinese proverb "Better to light a candle than curse the darkness," which I think sums up our purpose very succinctly.

So although it is perfectly acceptable to curse your supervisor (just make sure he or she is out of earshot first) as you stumble about in the gloom of night, just remember that the mystifying astronomical movements of our planet and associated star are a natural phenomenon, and probably not a punishment from angry gods out to get you. Therefore, refrain from shaking your frozen, mitten-wrapped fist in anger at the heavens. Instead, heed the words of John Lennon, who assured us that "whatever gets you through the night" is all right, and in so doing take my generalized advice to help get you through the night, then adapt your own personalized darkness delivery strategy as you gain experience.

This letter carrier appears to be quite serene and untroubled by nightfall, having most certainly taken the Chinese proverb "Better to light a candle than curse the darkness," to heart.

This letter carrier appears to be quite serene and untroubled by nightfall, having most certainly taken the Chinese proverb "Better to light a candle than curse the darkness," to heart.

My Technique

After uncounted hours of cogitating upon and experimenting with the subject of after dark mail delivery, I have come to the conclusion that the secret lies with knowing when to light that proverbial Chinese candle, and when not to.

Admittedly, here in California, we don't get as much practice manipulating mail in the night time hours. Some years I don't even use my light more than three or four times, so I was in the dark myself for quite a while about how to deliver mail when the light is lacking.

For many years, while zipping frantically about, racing the sun in my postal vehicle, I viewed the approach of darkness with fear and trepidation, not really knowing how to deal with it. Yes, I was equipped with a head lamp to light my way as the darkness surrounded me, but I didn't know how to use it properly. I was stumbling and tripping over my own size fifteen feet, trying to finger the mail in the blinding glare of my head lamp as I traveled between mailboxes, and this turned out to be a mistake. Not only was it an unsafe practice, but it was also inefficient and slow.

Then one evening the solution finally dawned on me. Although letter carriers are required to finger the mail between deliveries in order to have it ready before reaching the next mailbox, this is virtually impossible to do in the darkness, unless you were at some time bitten by a radioactive cat and in the process imbued with superhero feline night vision. We mail carriers do have cat like reflexes that help us stay on our feet after innumerable slips, trips, and stumbles, but most of us do not have glowing, reflective, dinner plate size eyes that concentrate and focus the weak, scattered, unorganized photons that are all that is left after Dandy Don turns out the lights and the party is over.

To get to the point, the light bulb finally went on in my head and I figured out to do it. It seems embarrassingly obvious now, but I will now pass along the secret I stumbled upon.

Instead of taking cautious baby steps beneath the blinding glare of your head light, turn off your lamp completely after completing a delivery, then walk briskly to the next mailbox. Once there, you can safely turn on your light, sort out the mail, and put it in the box. Another benefit of this particular strategy is that many customers have their porch lights on already, or a suspicious, accusing, automatic security light will come on as you walk up a driveway. You can use all of these to read addresses without having to turn on your own light and waste your batteries. Also, during Christmas season there are Yuletide lights hanging everywhere that you can employ as a source of substitute sunshine.

No matter how skillfully you make use of artificial daytime to shed some light on the subject of dark delivery, you are still going to lose a step over the pace at which you make your appointed rounds when the sun is overhead, running at full steam. But you will still be able to complete your work at a reasonable pace and get back to the Post Office before your impatient, frustrated supervisor locks the gate, goes home, and does not leave the light on for you.

This carrier does not seem to be hindered by leaving on his light between deliveries.  Everyone is different.  Don't be afraid to try your own technique.

This carrier does not seem to be hindered by leaving on his light between deliveries. Everyone is different. Don't be afraid to try your own technique.

Whistling in the Dark? - You HAVE an Emergency Light

But if you do find yourself stranded in the dark without a light due to: A:) Improper Planning B:) Ignorance of job conditions C:) Dead Batteries D:) Other, then do not lose heart. There is a way to help you finally see the light, and there is no point in keeping you in the dark about this any longer, even though few experienced letter carriers with years on the job are aware that they have this emergency light at their immediate disposal.

The answer is either in your back pocket, inside or hanging from your satchel, or sitting on the mail tray of your postal vehicle. I am talking about your scanner. The new scanners are equipped with a flashlight feature that, while cumbersome, may help you get through your darkest hour on the night that the lights go out in Georgia, Texas, Washington, New Hampshire, or wherever you carry mail.

On the bottom center of your scanner is a blue button, circled in red in the photo below. Hold down the blue button, then simultaneously hit the button on the upper right hand corner of the device, also circled in the picture. When you do this, the flashlight will illuminate on the back of your scanner, and you can tuck the contraption into your waistband to light up the mail as you sort it into mailboxes. It's not the easiest or most efficient technique, but it will do in a pinch. You won't be whistling in the dark anymore, and I'm not just whistling Dixie here. Try it.

In a pinch, your scanner will work as a makeshift flashlight

In a pinch, your scanner will work as a makeshift flashlight

Making Light of Dark Delivery

So lighten up, already. The darkness is not as bad as it seems. Yes there is an element of danger involved, but this job is hazardous enough when the high beams of good old Sol up there in the sky are shining down upon us at full blast.

Of course, there are some overly persnickety Postal malcontents who will insist that you should not deliver mail in the darkness at all. They will tell you that dark delivery is an unsafe condition and that you should bring the undelivered mail back to the Post Office once the proverbial "gloom of night," referred to by the postal poets and philosophers descends upon you. Attach a form 1271 curtail slip to that stack of letters, they will tell you, clock out and get your Cinderella butt home before your carriage turns into a pumpkin.

This may sound tempting, but most of the people who disseminate these words of misguided Postal wisdom are career eight hour only types who have never delivered a letter after darkness, and wouldn't know the business end of a headlamp if it was shining directly into their delicate eyeballs. Although you might get away with bringing the mail back after you make regular and cop an attitude, as a CCA walking on the thin ice of probationary status, if you try this the only light you will need is a reading lamp to light up the phone book as you are searching for the number of the unemployment office.

I hope my brief words of wisdom here have given you some light at the end of the deep, dark, Postal tunnel that seems to go on forever. Although you feel like you are light years away from getting over the CCA hump and achieving regular status, that day will come if you keep your head on your shoulders and keep your feet firmly planted beneath you. A bit of enlightenment about the darkness will most certainly help you in this pursuit

Your humble author is a regular Postal Diogenes, using his head lantern to search for an honest CCA.

Your humble author is a regular Postal Diogenes, using his head lantern to search for an honest CCA.

Songs for Dark Delivery

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.

Comments

Scarecrowe on October 10, 2018:

I cannot find in any manual where a headlamp is an spproved iten for delivery.

Connor on January 25, 2018:

Hi!

I'm a new CCA who has yet to start orientation. My Post Master said our town has mostly walking routes.

How does one deal with lunch, bringing water, and going to the bathroom on a walking route? Are these likely short routes where you finish one by lunch and back to the office before starting another route in the afternoon?

Thank you!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 30, 2016:

San Diego, where I am, is number one in dog bites Houston. Good luck out there. Watch your back.

Houston CCA on December 30, 2016:

I wish I'd ran across your forum back in October before I took the position. Man these dogs here in Houston are horrible.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 31, 2015:

Thank you Devika. Always great to hear from you. I hope your New Year's celebration is festive and I wish you success and happiness in the year to come.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 30, 2015:

An awesome read! You shared useful ideas here. A Happy New Year to you.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 26, 2015:

I have yet to use it, Deb, but there is always a first time. Thanks for reading!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on December 26, 2015:

A light on the scanner, eh? Good thing, if those batteries die!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 23, 2015:

This holiday was crazier than ever Larry. Parcels were up 60 percent. Everbody is shopping from home, so why does my son have to work Xmas? Thanks for reading!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 23, 2015:

Thank you Dana Tate little things like that go a long way with letter carriers. Sometimes one little bottle of water is the difference between going home in one piece and getting scraped off the sidewalk. I appreciate you dropping in. Merry Christmas!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on December 23, 2015:

I haven't worked for the postal service, but have worked as a delivery man through the private sector. The holidays get quite crazy.

Great hub.

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on December 23, 2015:

This is was a very enlightening read, Mel Carrier. I'm so friendly with my mail carrier that I offer him hot chocolate in the winter and water on those hot summer days. He is always so grateful, and of course, I appreciate all that he does.

Vagabond Laborer on December 23, 2015:

Mel - You absolutely use your college degree! You inform us with your great writing!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 23, 2015:

Thank you Jodah. Nothing like those balmy Christmas sunshine days down under. While we are hanging our stockings by the roaring fire, you are pinning yours to the sir conditioner. I wosh you and your family a Merry Christmas!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on December 23, 2015:

This was an enjoyable read Mel. I am sure the advice is very helpful to people new on the job or doing night deliveries, especially using the scanner as emergency back-up lighting. We do not get night time deliveries here in Australia. Heck we only get deliveries three days a week where I live and always before 11.30am. At the moment the sun isn't setting until about 7pm here. Merry Christmas.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 21, 2015:

Thank you Mills it has been a pleasure corresponding with you here in 2015. Merry Xmases back to you and your loved ones.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on December 21, 2015:

I might see a postal carrier after dark around here, but I'm more than likely going to see some other parcel carrier. I'm glad to see you're so resourceful when it comes to this issue. Now it's on to six months of longer days. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 21, 2015:

The Us mail is alive and well Mona. I have 3392 pieces of just letter size mail just today, not to mention 150 parcels. The US mail is still a very viable communications medium. I really appreciate hearing from you after such a long time.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 21, 2015:

At time and a half and sometimes doubltime Linda your pity is probably misplaced, but I appreciate the sentiment. Thanks for dropping in, and Merry Christmas!

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 21, 2015:

I dont know what your Mailmans trip is, but I have never looked askance at a tip, as long as it didnt have strings attached to it.

As for my education, I have a college degree that I am obviously not using. This job pays a lot better than a lot of jobs that require degrees, which is its curse. Thanks for reading Vagabond Laborer.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 21, 2015:

Thank you kimbesa for sharing your own illiminating opinions. They do come in handy.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 21, 2015:

That was the best thing you never did in your life Bill. Thanks for reading!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on December 21, 2015:

Hello Mel, it is certainly nice to get to read you again. I love how you share the life of a mail carrier with such humor and with so many interesting facts. Never occurred to me that those Christmas lights serve more than a single purpose. And the scanner in the cell phone was interesting.I wonder what people send these days by snail mail, now that email is being used so often?

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 21, 2015:

This is an entertaining and informative hub, Mel. I pity people who have to deliver mail in the dark, but you've shared some helpful tips for them.

Vagabond Laborer on December 21, 2015:

Hi Letter Carriere--always a good read with you. I have a couple of questions: 1) How come my mail carrier won't accept a tip? When I lived in New York City, mail carriers loved tips! 2) If you don't mind me asking, could you tell me what your education is? I have been around a lot of educated people, and you strike me as very intelligent/educated.

Carry on, so to speak!

Best,

Vagabond Laborer

kimbesa from USA on December 21, 2015:

I have one of those headlights, that I got when I was operating my online store. The inventory was stored in the basement, not the best light to find things. I love those things, and have thoroughly worn it out.

As always, thanks for your enlightening thoughts!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 21, 2015:

Thanks to you, I am now grateful I never became a mail carrier. Whew! That was a close call!!!!!

Old Poolman on December 20, 2015:

And a Merry Christmas to you also Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 20, 2015:

Letter carriers actually sort a portion of their mail for delivery, Mike, but most of it is already put in sequence by a machine. In certain parts there indeed are bad creatures that come out at night to feed. Over a year ago one of our brothers in the Baltimore area, I believe, was shot at night as he was doing his job in the darkness. It can be frightening and dangerous.

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas to you, friend.

Old Poolman on December 20, 2015:

Mel - I can't say I would be looking forward to delivering the mail in the dark. In my area of the world, there are all kinds of creatures that come out at night to feed, some animal and some human creatures.

I have often wondered who actually has to sort all the mail so that it is in the proper order for the carrier's route? That would have to be a very time consuming thing to do.

There was a time in my life when I thought I would like to be a mail carrier. But after reading your hubs I'm glad that never worked out for me.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 20, 2015:

Thank you Svetlana. I always try to entertain the non-postal people as I explain the tedious minutiae of this mundane job. It truly can be an epic hero's descent, in the true Joseph Campbell tradition. Thanks for the well wishes.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on December 20, 2015:

Thank you Eric. Always glad to lighten up your day with dark thoughts. The day that the streets of the Sprung Valley ice over is the day we know we've really displeased our maker and we need to just kiss it all goodbye. Thanks for reading!

Lana Adler from California on December 20, 2015:

Entertaining, even for non-postmen such as myself. You have an interesting job, Mel! This almost sounds like an epic hero's descent into the underworld. Be careful out there!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 20, 2015:

As always a very illuminating read. Never though of the poor poor souls out there after dark. Glad I have bright lights near my mail slot. At least we got no ice here.

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