Mel Carriere does not have a Masters from Vanderbilt, he does not have three rambunctious labs, he is just an oddly erudite mailman.
Confusing New Gadget From Out of the Blue
After the third day of training, when they roll back that stone and the newbie City Carrier Assistant (CCA) or Rural Carrier Associate (RCA) is expected to rise from the tomb of his or her pre-Postal life and function independently as a fully fledged letter carrier, these newborns can feel a little groggy. Three days of training is not enough time to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time, which is essentially what the act of delivering mail is. Accordingly, coordinating their motions into a smooth, efficient delivery flow while trying to keep track of all the other job functions, this while navigating around a confusing grid of unknown neighborhoods, can be overwhelming to the newly hatched.
To compound this already full plate of CCA and RCA worries and woes, a menacing blue box—the Mobile Delivery Device (MDD)—is also thrust their way, with expectations that they will know exactly what to do with it.
Not only does the gizmo possess a bewildering interface, it also appears to be possessed! The first time the gadget squawks at a new hire, there in the supposed solitude of the driver's compartment, it is enough to make him or her mow through a row of mailboxes. Yes, like one of those devil dolls in a creepy horror film (or GEICO commercial), the inanimate has come to life; the presumably insentient thing speaks!
At this point the trembling, freshly stamped CCA or RCA is ready to throw down the satchel and run home in terror. But do not lose heart, my freshly minted readers! In time you will get used to these intrusions upon your seclusion—the little voice might even lessen the loneliness and isolation you feel with that heavy weight of mail upon your shoulders, and no one there to help ease your burden.
In order to smooth over the daily transactions you will be conducting with your new little blue friend, this article will provide some pointers on a few important but less obvious functions of the MDD scanner. I am assuming here that after day three you at least know how to scan a package, so we will skip that part. But there are other essential, or sometimes merely useful scanner operations, that can help you sink or swim in your new letter carrier job. Keep in mind that if you sink, the MDD scanner does have GPS, so at least the coast guard will be able to locate your body out at sea.
The four topics covered here will help you stay off several of Postal Santa's lists, all of them naughty, none of them nice. They are:
- Using the scanner to keep track of your MSP scans.
- Scanning Prepaid Acceptance items.
- Accessing the MDD's Package Look Ahead Feature.
- Properly responding to a sampling request.
What's on the Menu?
Your point of departure for all scanning adventures is the MDD Menu, accessed by pressing the escape key—ESC, in the upper left hand corner of the device. All of the scanner functions discussed in this article can be carried out by using the items on this menu. There are additional obscure, rarely-used tasks entered through this list that are beyond the scope of the present discussion. Since your head is spinning already, I'm trying to keep it as simple as possible, so that your skull doesn't come unscrewed from your backbone and splatter on the sidewalk.
Sticker Shock - Tracking Your MSP Scans
Now that Postal Management can literally track your "bread crumbs" using the GPS inside the MDD scanner, meaning they can monitor where you are at all times, it is a marvel they keep the archaic MSP system alive. Although I can understand the continued purpose of the DEPART TO ROUTE and RETURN TO OFFICE scans, the street MSP bar codes seem pointless. The only thing I can think of is that some cubicle-jockey's job depends upon the continued proliferation of these messy, faded labels, about as functional as those Chiquita stickers you peel off a banana and stick on your forehead to walk around the supermarket with, except not as much fun.
If you are an RCA you scan skim over this part. I may be wrong, but I have been told that the only MSP scans rural carriers make are DEPART TO ROUTE and RETURN TO OFFICE. Easy enough to count to two.
I wish I could remember what the MSP acronym even stands for, but because the program is about 20 years old now, its meaning has mostly faded from everybody's memory. Nonetheless, because the brittle fossil is still on display in the museum, meaning you are going to be held accountable for making these scans. Because the process lingers painfully, I'll teach you a little trick for keeping track of how many MSPs you have made while delivering along your way.
A typical postal city route has three office MSP scans, HOT CASE, DEPART TO ROUTE, RETURN TO OFFICE, and usually between 9-12 MSP street scans. Ask your trainer or some less-cantankerous-than-usual old-timer where the office bar codes are, to make sure. HOT CASE will probably be inside your route's letter case, where you make your final pull before hitting the street, and the other two are typically somewhere by the time clock. Sometimes there will be a DEPART TO ROUTE sticker inside your postal vehicle, but don't depend on it.
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Certain hard-bitten veterans will try to troll you by claiming there are also DEPART TO RESTROOM and RETURN FROM RESTROOM scans, but although Postal Management has certainly bounced this idea around, it has never been implemented. DO NOT fall for this trick. It is as tired as the old go get me the case stretcher gag.
Before you depart for the street, ask your manager, supervisor, or 204B to give you a DOIS list of your MSP scans. If they don't know what that is or how to do it, they might as well give you the clipboard and go home. Next, add up the number of scans on this list. Then, as you are delivering and making MSP scans, keep track of them on the MDD scanner, as follows:
- Press escape - ESC
- Select item D (Database Info)
- View the number next to MMD. These are the total MSP scans you have made, including the route you are assigned to that day and any other routes you might be carrying bits and pieces of.
- If the MMD number does not add up to the DOIS MSP list, either go back and scan the one(s) you missed, consult your supervisor, or forget it and hope your boss will be too busy the next day to beat you up for it. Sometimes you just need to live to fight another day, and not sweat these details.
MDD Pickup Line - Prepaid Acceptance
Unlike the dusty, moldy MSP scans you will be needlessly burdened with every day, another MDD Scanner feature that is useful in the modern, real-time scanning environment is Prepaid Acceptance. Prepaid Acceptance is used to scan packages that customers hand you on the street for mailing, to enter them into our system so that recipients waiting downstream can be assured their items are on the way. It is a dangerous reef we swim upon, and uncountable postal competitors abound in the coral, waiting to pounce upon us like sharks. Therefore, accurate scanning is essential to swim among the postal predators, and Prepaid Acceptance is your speargun.
There are a few things you should be aware of before scanning Prepaid Acceptance, however. First of all, the item being handed to you by that hurried customer, slamming on the brakes on the way to the Post Office as they conveniently run into you, must have a printed label on it, with a bar code. Secondly, that bar code must be a POSTAL barcode. Never accept packages from our competitors, unless those competitors provide a postal shipping label for items that are being returned, something that is common. Finally, do not accept stamped packages weighing over 16 ounces. These must be submitted to a clerk in a Post Office.
Once you have decided to accept the package(s), the rest is easy.
- Press escape - ESC, to access the menu.
- Select item H - Prepaid Acceptance.
- Scan the item(s). No other steps are necessary.
Time Travelling - Package Look Ahead
In addition to being a scanning device and an electronic tattle-tell that constantly snitches your location back to management, the MDD Scanner is also a time machine. Although it won't yet allow you to travel into the past to fix your eff-ups, the MDD can let you peer into the future, to see what is going to happen around the next corner. In this way it is like a crystal ball, except you don't have to dish out your scarce, hard earned dollars to some sketchy palm-reading madam in a ghetto storefront.
The time machine I am referring to in my roundabout way is the Package Look Ahead feature. As clerks sort incoming packages through the PASS machine (that big one-armed bandit in the parcel-throwing area), these are absorbed through magical voodoo vapors into the memory of your little MDD. As a result, when you head out to the street, your scanner already knows most of the packages you will be delivering that day, and will allow you to access the list without demanding an eye of newt or a drop of virgin's blood, like the palm-reader did.
We old-timers have a built in Package Look Ahead inside our thick skulls, a legacy of times when we didn't have any electronic cheating devices and had to rely on our now quickly fading memories. Quite frankly, prior to writing this I didn't use the Package Look Ahead feature at all, I just lined up the packages in order inside my the LLV's rear compartment. However, because some of my older coworkers found it useful, particularly those in the advanced stages of Sometimers Syndrome, I decided to try it.
For you, the new CCA or RCA still struggling to integrate these processes being thrown at you from all directions, Package Look Ahead can help you avoid the deadly, dreaded, time wasting practice of the BACKTRACK. It is not an exaggeration to say that in racing toward that dreaded postal witching hour, the arbitrary drop-dead time after which you will turn into a postal pumpkin, every click counts. Backtracks are click killers, they munch away time that you will never retrieve, because the MDD time machine is currently engineered to go forward, not backward, as I said. Bad things also seem to happen on backtracks, such as accidents, because you will be probably be driving fast, doing U-turns, double parking, and whatever else you need to do in your futile quest to regain this lost time.
In your battle against the backtrack, use this Package Look Ahead feature. For research purposes, I began to investigate it in the past few days, and find it helpful, because it shows all packages the clerks have sent through the PASS machine that delivery day.
As you scan these assigned packages, they will disappear from Package Look Ahead. Any unscanned packages for segments of your route you have already delivered will be highlighted in yellow, indicating you missed one somewhere.
Therefore, in your battle against the backtrack, I recommend that you use the Package Look Ahead feature after every relay, to avoid having to retrace your steps when you are already on the other side of the route and you find a missing in action parcel, hiding in a dusty corner of your vehicle. Better a small backtrack now while you are still on the block, rather than having to cross several busy streets later, in rush hour traffic, to deliver that skulker.
It's Alive! The Sampling Request
The first time I heard my MDD Scanner speak to me I thought the Rapture had finally come and Jesus was calling the faithful home. Then I realized there were no trumpets blowing, and that Jesus's voice was somewhat nasal and robotic, like that anti-smoking poster boy speaking through his feeding tube. This was not at all what I had expected from Jesus. I gave up thinking about joining my grandmother in glory that day, and focused my attention on the direction of the sound, which emanated from the little MDD chatterbox, hanging in its holder on my LLV dashboard.
During your all too brief on the job training period, you might not be lucky enough to be exposed to one of these divine visitations, so you need to know what to do. You might be tempted to shrug it off, skip it and move on, like you did with that last text from your wife that said, "It's nine PM, are you really still delivering mail right now?"
But please do not do this. If you do, if you leave the sample to ferment there in the sticky innards of your MDD, your Postmaster will threaten you with dire consequences, ranging from a public caning to taking away your birthday (although you will probably be working your birthday anyway, BTW). Perhaps these are idle threats—I have yet to encounter anyone who was busted for ignoring a sample request, but why tempt fate? If you laugh off the danger the Postal gods will certainly punish you for your hubris, silly rookie.
Yet sometimes you just cannot answer the call right away. Sometimes, like Jonah, who deferred denouncing the Ninevites until a more convenient moment, you need to get away a little while, so you defer sampling activity until a more convenient moment. The MDD Scanner is mostly to blame, being a fickle bitch who likes to assert her authority at inopportune times. For instance, you might be in the process of driving, or delivering a package. You might be on the next block over from where the sampling address is. Just yesterday I had a sample go off across the street and half a block away from a house I had already delivered, an hour earlier. But what happened while I was actually delivering over there? Nothing. Dead silence.
Fortunately, if the sampling request catches you in an awkward moment, you can put it off until later, simply by hitting the ESC key in the upper left corner of the scanner. There it will be stored in the 'Work Orders' section of the Scanner Memory, which can be accessed by pressing ESC, then W. But don't leave it sitting there all day, simmering in its juices. You cannot postpone the inevitable forever, sooner or later it has to be dealt with, or you will be guilty of the unforgivable scanning sin of an IGNORE. Your MDD Scanner is also an attention whore, she will not be ignored with impunity.
As a best practice, at the end of the day hit ESC-W to see if there are any nagging, narcissistic samples lingering in your scanner, begging to be looked at. If there are, remove them before they get infected.
In the event that you are on a perfect Postal Planet where everything happens in exact sequence, meaning you are ready to deal with the sample right now, here is what you do:
Sampling Request Steps:
- You hear the voice - Sampling Request at (Insert Address here). Please scan flats then letters (Spoiler - nobody dies if you scan letters first)
- Hit enter (ENT - green button upper right)
- You will be prompted whether the sampling address is for your route. Select YES. Why the NO option even exists I don't know, but selecting it is called a DENIED, and it is as great a sin as an IGNORED. You aren't even given the leeway to deny three times before the cock crows. It's one and done. Once you deny, the sample does not go back into the Work Order hot box to fume and fret, it is completely obliterated. No do-overs.
- After selecting YES, the scanning screen comes up, prompting you to scan 15 mail pieces (There are hardly ever 15).
- Aim scanner at intelligent mail bar code (see photo below). A successful scan is answered with a beep.
- Press ENT again when finished. Select the option that reads Nothing Further to Scan.
For those scans you left to chill on ice while you went about your business, here is how to thaw them out. Press ESC-W to retrieve all work orders, then select the appropriate one. Now scan the mail pieces via the procedure outlined above.
The MDD GPS being imprecise at best, you will very often receive a sampling request after delivering the mail for the indicated address. DO NOT GO BACK to sample the mail for it. Your primary mission as a CCA is to keep your nimble, fleet feet moving forward, not backwards. You are not held accountable for the inexact navigational skills of this blue beast, which had it been Columbus would have sailed you right off the edge of the planet. So instead of moving in a retrograde fashion, acknowledge the request up to the point of the sampling screen, but instead of scanning bar codes hit ENT immediately, then select ALREADY PASSED ADDRESS.
Conclusion - Will You Soar, or Sink?
Good news to your loving spouse, your scanner has now replaced him or her as your ball and chain. The MDD scanner will be welded to your body for whatever is left of your postal career. There, joined at the hip, it can either weigh you down or lift you up. Learn to understand and utilize all of its hidden features, so you can soar with the Postal Eagle up there in the cloud, or ignore its intrusive presence and sink to the bottom of the deep Postal blue, where you will be consumed by the scanning sharks. The choice is up to you.