Mack was born and raised in Galveston, where he has been a U.S. Postal Service employee for 28 years. As the local union president, he helped coordinate letter carriers’ efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
To be honest with you, I never believed in my wildest dreams that I’d be a letter carrier. I served in the U.S. Army; later, I had a job with the city doing street maintenance. But when I needed a good-paying job with benefits, I applied to the postal service and was hired. I fell in love with it, and now I’m the local union president. My first day on the job was March 13, 1980.
Even before the hurricane, Galveston was a unique place to be a letter carrier because the Island is filled with half streets: M1/2, N1/2, and such. Alley and rear addresses complicate the simplest deliveries. Sometimes the people in the front of a house have a mailbox in a different location from people who live in the back of the house. Thankfully, I deliver mail in the neighborhood where I grew up, in the central part of the Island—I still live there—so I know the territory well. That helps.
It wasn’t until I got my own route that I realized how sweet this job can be. Like all carriers, I had to work as a “part-time flexible” for a few years, which means I relieved the carriers with regular routes. I had no routine; I didn’t know where I was going to be from one day to the next. Now that those days are over, the job is easier. I love it. I leave the post office, and I’m on my own. I don’t have a supervisor looking over my shoulder. I work from eight to four. I deliver mail to about six hundred houses and twenty businesses.
Interaction with people is the best part. Sometimes they get upset when you bring bills, but a lot of times you bring good news. I like to deliver packages—that always brings smiles. Sometimes, on my ten-minute breaks in the mornings or in the afternoons, I’ll sit on someone’s porch and talk with them. You’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t communicate with anybody during the day except the letter carrier—especially older folks who don’t have a family member around. I knock on their doors and check in on them every day.
I really know the neighborhoods. I know the routines. I’m practically a one-man neighborhood-watch program; I know when someone in the area looks suspicious. I’ve even had to call the fire department to put out a fire. Of course, there are hazards, namely pit bulls. I’ve never been bitten, but I’ve come close. One time a dog grabbed my mailbag, and I was so nervous I dropped my spray. I had to fumble around to get it while fighting off the dog.
Before the storm, we had a few basic goals: Never misdeliver and work at a good pace. We have a standard that measures speed called the eighteen-and-eight rule. What that means is you should be able to deliver either eighteen letters or eight magazines in one minute. Magazines are harder to stuff into mailboxes—especially those old ones from the forties—so those deliveries take longer.
But when we heard about Ike, we realized that life was about to get a lot more complicated. The mayor called for a mandatory evacuation of the Island, and the postal workers moved the trucks to the third level of a parking garage, to avoid flooding. We secured mail in the post office in waterproof trays on top of tables. We didn’t have time to move everything off the Island. Then we all headed for safety to different destinations inland. Most of us drove to Houston, but some went to Austin, San Antonio, or elsewhere. As local union president, I had the letter carriers’ cell phone numbers, and I stayed in touch with them while we waited for instructions.
A week after Ike hit, we were told that those of us in the Houston area were to report to a post office on the north side of the city, where Galveston’s mail was being held. When I arrived, I was shocked. I had never seen that much mail at one time. The workers there were overwhelmed. But most Galvestonians didn’t think about picking their mail up until a few days later. By that time, we had put together a whole new post office in La Marque; we set it up there so that we could start getting ready to deliver mail again in Galveston. We told folks that they could pick their mail up at the La Marque office if they needed their letters right away. The lines were horrible. They snaked out the front door, so that customers had to wait for three or four hours in the heat.
We started delivering the mail to houses in Galveston on September 29. Now, I’ve been on this Island for 54 years, and I’ve been through a few hurricanes, but I’ve never seen the type of destruction that I saw this time. I mean, houses, businesses, cars just blown all over. The stench from the wet carpets and mold and rotting food from iceboxes was horrible. It smelled like a junkyard or something. A lot of people are allergic to the mold, so we wore masks; the air intake was out of control. You have to worry about upper respiratory infections. By the time the city let us back in, the streets were clear, but you had to be careful of sidewalk debris. All the letter carriers got tetanus shots.
While I’m on the route now, I’ve got to figure out who is picking up their mail and who is not. Some residents have given us a change of address, which helps. I’d estimate that half of those on my route are able to live in their homes. The other folks’ houses were either completely or partially destroyed. People get pretty excited when they see us. They love us. I think we bring a sense of normalcy to an abnormal situation, though conditions are getting better every day. Most everybody on my route has electricity again, and the Internet is back up. I’ll admit I hate e-mail—one of these days it’s going to knock me out of a job!
Work has been chaotic, but I’ve never been more proud of my carriers. Letter carriers are a different breed. We don’t let too much get us down.