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Postal City Carrier Assistant Stumbling Blocks: How the CCA Can Move the Mail Better

Mel Carriere has trained a few dozen CCAs, with varying degrees of weariness and frustration. He inexplicably remains committed to the cause

Your job as a City Carrier Assistant, should you choose to accept it, is to make these fat stacks disappear.  Don't overthink it.

Your job as a City Carrier Assistant, should you choose to accept it, is to make these fat stacks disappear. Don't overthink it.

Watching CCA Babies Grow Up

As a Regular City Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service, I have lost count of the number of City Carrier Assistants (CCAs) I have trained since the position emerged in 2013. At times this experience has been rewarding and enjoyable—who isn't for piling a significant portion of your workload onto the virgin shoulders of a newbie once and a while, after all? However, more often than not, the training experience is more trouble than it is worth, and at the end of the day, I am asking myself, "Why the H am I still doing this?"

Not that the process is always pleasant for the trainees, either. I imagine fledgling CCAs must view me like the rookie cop in Training Day regarded surly veteran Denzel, wondering when he was going to get dumped off in the hood to take a bullet from some East LA gangster. To my credit, I haven't lost a single CCA to gang violence or other means, so I can stick that feather in my Postal pith helmet.

The question remains, why? It makes no sense. CCAs take away my overtime, literally stealing food off my table. Why should I be an active accomplice in the reduction of my paycheck? Secondly, when CCAs screw up, too often, it is me that takes the heat. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard, "Who trained him?" or "Who trained her?" for CCA sins both mortal and venial. I wouldn't need overtime at all.

Which leads to my third argument against continuing as a trainer, being that three days is not nearly enough time to produce a fully functioning letter carrier. Most of the time, during this process, I fancy myself more of a glorified babysitter, making sure the baby doesn't stick their fingers in a light socket instead of equipping the CCA toddler with the tools they will need to be a productive employee.

I suppose the reason I continue is the satisfaction of watching my CCA babies grow up, make regular, or even advance into management, as a few have. I feel satisfied when they come back to shake my hand and thank me. There is a sort of Father-child relationship that develops between OJI and trainee, and although in most cases I feel like a deadbeat sperm-donor Dad that dumps them at the firehouse door and runs, once in a while, I get a diamond in the rough that makes me proud to be a Father. That's why I continue to add another gray hair to my already grizzled pate, for every newborn CCA the postal stork dumps on my doorstep.

If you follow Mel's advice, maybe you won't crash and burn as a CCA, or drive into a toll booth, as this fellow did.

If you follow Mel's advice, maybe you won't crash and burn as a CCA, or drive into a toll booth, as this fellow did.

Improving My Own Training Day

Over the course of training about four and twenty CCA blackbirds baked in a pie, I have found it necessary to fine-tune my own OJI (On The Job Instructor) game. There are concepts I formerly considered unimportant that I now have reason to emphasize, provoked by the often befuddled behavior of my CCA daycare attendees.

It is with these upgrades to my game plan in mind that I write this article. There is no way I can individually instruct the thousands of lost sheep CCAs across this land, stringing that satchel across their shoulder for the first time, but through the miracle of the internet, some desperate, late-night Google-searching lost soul might stumble across these words and learn.

Backhand that bad boy and move on.

Backhand that bad boy and move on.

The Art of the Backhand

Your main goal as a City Carrier Assistant is to get off the street and back to the office before your LLV turns into a pumpkin, which happens about 6 PM in most districts, earlier in some, depending on your bottom dweller CCA retention rate. In sunny San Diego, where our CCAs stick around longer because they do not turn to human icicles or get blown or washed off the sidewalk, our drop dead time is 5 PM. Please consult your wicked stepmother supervisor on a daily basis, however, to find out when you are expected back from the ball.

A fundamental skill that will keep the boss happy without you becoming a danger to yourself or others is the art of the backhand. Tennis greats Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg, and Billie Jean King are a few of those with legendary backhands, and you can join their illustrious company with just a few easy steps on your rise to the Wimbledon of City Carrier Assistance.

When coming across a letter for the wrong street, or missing critical address information, don't stand there pondering it like Hamlet addressing Yorick's skull— backhand that sucker before you trip over it.

Must I be so literal as to clarify that I don't expect you to carry a tennis racket in your satchel? By backhand, I mean to place the offending letter, the cause of your hopefully fleeting consternation, into the back of the letter bundle in your hand. I see too many CCAs trying to stick these mail pieces down into their satchel, which doesn't work because there are too many things down there they can bounce off of. Did you know there are also evil Postal Gremlins, camouflaged in the hidden pockets of your satchel, that like to spit those letters out onto the sidewalk, where you have to bend down to get them? They delight in this; I have heard their laughter from deep in that bottomless blue bag. So you can either fumigate your satchel, which doesn't work because Postal Darwinism has made the gremlins immune to all forms of poison, or you can simply backhand the letters, which the gremlins don't like but screw them anyway; they suck.

If you waste your time finding homes for orphan letters by reading the names on these boxes, the theory of Postal Relativity guarantees that you will be frozen in time and space.

If you waste your time finding homes for orphan letters by reading the names on these boxes, the theory of Postal Relativity guarantees that you will be frozen in time and space.

No Search and Rescue Missions

This may come as a surprise, but as a CCA, you are not there to rescue every orphaned letter that was ever written. The traffic jam that keeps many CCAs from going full speed ahead is the idea that the Post Office expects them to be perfect. It could be that some CCAs put this expectation upon themselves due to a bad experience with their own mail delivery. Some Postal newbies charge in as crusading postal reformers, regular Florence Nightingales of mail delivery who are out to cure every perceived ill. Perhaps their own mailman returned a check or a package due to a bad address, and they have sworn a private oath never to let this occur to anyone else.

A very short time ago I had a trainee like this. Not once, but twice, I saw him at cluster boxes searching for the location of insufficient address mail by checking names in the boxes. Twice I told him he was wasting too much precious CCA time, but I could tell by his pained look this was a passionate issue. Either his own letter carrier had returned something at some point, or he was an obsessive-compulsive incapable of leaving anything undone. To quote a now-defunct character on The Walking Dead, he could have been a "loose ends make my ass itch" kind of guy.

Here's a shocking wake-up call: The Postal Service does not want you to be perfect; it wants you to be fast. Trying to reconcile bad numbers into the right boxes is not going to get you any appreciation; it is only going to get you angry looks from your supervisor when you get back late. The customers you serve won't reward you with any love either. When you, pride-filled CCA creampuff, have a chance to tell a resident their letter had a missing number, but you figured it out, you will be rewarded with a blank stare. Our customers believe we have to memorize some mythical nationwide address database, its enormous servers located, of course, on the lost continent of Atlantis, as a condition of employment. To them, your above and beyond is a minimum requirement.

Once again, backhand those crippled letters without a second glance and bring them home. Keep this mystery mail together in one bundle, attach a form 1571 (Curtail Slip) signed by your supervisor, and let the regular on the route deal with them tomorrow. As Douglas Adams informs us in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this mail is subject to the physics of the SEP (Somebody Else's Problem) field. Keep it that way.

Mel uses a stupidly simple system of  MSP breaker cards to keep the "mystery mail" separated from the outgoing.  Note the outgoing stamped mail is in the bucket on the floor.

Mel uses a stupidly simple system of MSP breaker cards to keep the "mystery mail" separated from the outgoing. Note the outgoing stamped mail is in the bucket on the floor.

Pay as You Play

How many times have I seen CCAs standing at the back of the LLV at the end of the day, the sun sinking quickly below the horizon as they separate the outgoing from the "mystery mail" that accumulates daily on every route, as if spontaneously generated in the clammy, earwig infested innards of mailboxes, like people used to think mice spawned from a recipe of wheat and dirty shirts. Hopefully, these forlorn, hopeless, and hungry CCA waifs are being compensated for this interminable drudgery, but due to the clock having struck the Postal witching hour, I am guessing that they are in violation of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in the several states. In other words, THESE PEOPLE ARE OFF THE CLOCK AND NOT GETTING PAID!

Mel wants you to comply with the Constitution. He wants to get paid, and he wants you to go home because you smell and you need to bathe. So instead of sorting through that endless pile of paper all at once, separating the wheat from the chaff, looking as gloomy as if you were breaking big rocks into little rocks on a chain gang, process that mail on a "pay as you go" basis. When you finish a swing, sort out that crap at the back of your bundle, lather, rinse and repeat all delivery day long. This way, when you do return to the old PO, tinted red by the glowing clouds on the horizon, you can dump off everything into its appropriate receptacle quickly and seamlessly, then haul ass home before they tell you to go help somebody.

I will not micromanage you on the method to do this. My only advice is to keep it simple. Basically, you should have five separations: Metered outgoing mail, missorts (wrong route), mystery mail (first class letters being returned), stamped outgoing mail, and UBBM (Undeliverable Bulk Business Mail). Keep all of these partitions within close throwing distance so you don't waste time bouncing back and forth. I keep my UBBM in a 775 tub within easy reach of the other dividers because I have an apartment route, and I toss an awful lot in there.

The Postal Service provides you with a tool called a Sculch Tray to help you with this task. You can buy fancy ones online, but why should you if the PO gives you one free? Personally, I call it a Squish Tray because with the limited room in the LLV, mine was always getting squished by the back rolling door. After several unsuccessful attempts at trying to make this bulky space hog work, I came up with my own system, using bundle break cards as separators, which functions just fine for me. Find something that works for you, but don't get caught in the dreary twilit evening hours, slaving away, singing "Swing Low," sorting that junk out for free because you couldn't keep it clean as you were going along. What would old Abe Lincoln say?

You call it a Sculch Tray, I call it a Squish Tray; either way it can help you keep organized for a quick getaway in the evening.

You call it a Sculch Tray, I call it a Squish Tray; either way it can help you keep organized for a quick getaway in the evening.

It Ain't Rocket Surgery: Don't Overthink

Why is there no MSP scan on this box?

Why didn't this house get any mail?

How come this mailbox is on this side of the driveway, and the one next door is on the other side?

A customer gave me back some letters for some people that don't live there anymore. What now?

In order to be a successful or at least long-lasting OJI for CCAs, one has to develop an infinite amount of patience for questions such as these. Although such queries may be the subject of interesting academic discussions, along the lines of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?, they really have no bearing on the CCA's goal of emptying the pile of mail in the back of the truck and clocking out before the vampires crawl out of their coffins.

My advice for all present or aspiring City Carrier Assistants is to remember that this ain't rocket surgery. Avoid thought paralysis. Your goal is to get those stacks of mail and parcels to the correct residences. Yes, you are required to make a few superfluous scans along the way that don't seem to make much sense in the age of GPS, which can track you down to the precise toilet stall you are currently squatting in, but you don't need to worry about questions starting with why, because there is no why. The closest thing we can get to a why is that there are people in Postal HQ who have to justify their paychecks. Just scan the MSP stickers that you see, or have cards cased in for, and don't be sniffing around for ones that are not there.

In the same vein, deliver the mail you have, and don't worry about mail that is not with you. If the regular who cased and pulled down your assigned route forgot a bundle of flats or letters, this is once again subject to the physics of the Somebody Else's Problem field. It is upon management to fix the problem. If the fix involves you, a supervisor will get in touch, but in the meantime, let it go. Don't distract yourself with invisible mail.

And definitely do not be derailed by customers. They will want to stop and pester you with questions of the "Where's my Check? Where's my Package?" variety. Some of them are just lonely people who will use a letter to a former resident or deceased relative as an excuse to strike up a conversation. You will know the answers to very few of their missing mail questions, and you are not a door-to-door therapist. Give them a 3849 (notice left) with the 1-800 number on the back, then politely make your escape.

Keep your feet moving is the advice I was given some twenty-something years ago, in the pre-cell-phone age when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, but in spite of the exponential leaps in technology mankind has enjoyed since then, the words of wisdom still hold true. A moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one, so don't be that sitting-duck CCA carnival bulls-eye getting pelted by postal customers or by that pitchfork-wielding, demon-horned supervisor who has smoke spewing from their nostrils because you got back late.

I want every CCA to pass probation. I do not condone throwing desperate job-seekers to the wolves by suggesting management fire them for not cutting the mustard. It's really hard to gauge long-term performance during training, anyway. I have witnessed some miraculous CCA resurrections that occurred after three days, and one way that you, dead and buried postal newbie, can roll back the stone on your own postal career is to streamline and simplify your work habits using the tips here or by taking advantage of other advice given to you by competent co-workers.

Here are some ancient words of wisdom toward this goal that you can ponder each morning as you shave with Occam's Razor:

"Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem"

With my crude Latin skills, I read this roughly as "Keep it simple stup-, I mean silly."

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.


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 14, 2018:

Nice to see a new face here Mr. Moore. The corporate world is rather unforgiving about bleeding the productivity turnip dry. Thanks for dropping by.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 14, 2018:

Thank you Mr. Mills. During my blessedly brief stint as a supervisor, I was often putting in 15 hour days without being compensated for it. I think I might be dead now had I continued that grueling schedule. I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 14, 2018:

Thank you Linda. There's a line in a Smiths song that says I can laugh about it now but at the time it was terrible. I think that applies here. I really appreciate your visit.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 13, 2018:

Thanks for another interesting and enjoyable article about the postal service, Mel. The incidents that you describe may not have been amusing when they were experienced, but the descriptions certainly are!

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on November 13, 2018:

I can't blame you for declining a salaried position. The only way I'd ever consider a salaried job is if I moved up in pay to the point that the salary exceeded all the overtime I could make. May you always be a moving target.

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on November 13, 2018:

I would summarize your hub's message to rookies is "move the mail, and move the mail fast." I say with most jobs they want fast not perfect. That's been the case for me regardless if it's call center, grading standardized test, or quality control.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 12, 2018:

Thank you Mizbejabbers. Delightful to hear from you after my long hub pages sabbatical. Unfortunately, the Post Office makes up ridiculous rules like that to cover all possible accident eventualities, yet accidents still occur. Real life has this funny way of sneaking in and kicking your butt when you're not looking. Meanwhile, a large percentage of the accidents occur because the newbies are pushed to the limits, but this elephant in the room is never acknowledged.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on November 12, 2018:

Hi, Mel, thanks for giving us private citizens a look at what goes on during training for postal workers. You really are an under-appreciated group of government employees (but aren't all government employees?). I have the misfortune, uh, good luck, of living on a training route in the country. This postal district does not allow its carriers to back up if they miss a mailbox with a letter because some poor carrier did that and caused an accident. We are kind of a country subdivision, not really a rural route, so we residents have learned to just walk next door or across the street and deposit the wayward letter in the proper mailbox. Now, a piece of mail mis-delivered several streets over gets put back in the box the next day with a note that it was delivered to the wrong box.

I like your style of writing. You have a great voice.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on November 12, 2018:

Thank you Bill I can always count on your visits. He cracked me up the other day because he blames the California wildfires on forest mismanagement. He should come out and see what a powder keg we're sitting on.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 12, 2018:

Just ask our President for advice. He's full of it. LOL...I'll be laughing the rest of the day over my silliness.