Slice of Life: Delivering mail with Daniel Giles

D.C. mailman Daniel Giles has been delivering mail the past 25 years. He says he\'s in favor of the U.S. Postal Service stopping mail delivery on Saturdays, but it could cause a lot of financial problems for his co-workers. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
A special delivery

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 5:36 pm

Natalie Plumb, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – With the U.S. Postal Service planning to cut Saturday delivery in August, WTOP caught up with mail carrier Daniel Giles to reflect on the Postal Service’s decision to curb Saturday deliveries.

Ending Saturday delivery would save about $2 billion for the Postal Service, but also leave many mailmen and women without overtime benefits that the weekend delivery day offers.

Giles, 47, has been delivering mail for the Postal Service for 25 years. Originally from Northeast D.C., Giles started delivering in Anacostia in 1988. He has since delivered at the National Capitol Station and V Street Northeast post offices. For the past nine years, Giles has worked for the post office’s Friendship Heights station. He works alongside about 120 mail carriers 40 to 60 hours per week. On “long days” — about once or twice a week — Giles works 10-hour days.

WTOP followed Giles during a “long day,” a route Friday afternoon to two Northwest high-rise apartment complexes along Massachusetts Avenue — The Berkshire and The Avalon — and a handful of residential blocks on Macomb Street. Giles estimates he delivered mail to about 3,500 people on Friday alone.

Giles talked about his pet peeves, his beef with dogs and the mail sorter and his favorite customers.

Would you say this the best place you’ve ever worked?

Yes I would. I like the way the houses are spread out away from each other as opposed to the row houses. Those can be strenuous on your knees, crossing banisters and things like that.

How many miles do you walk in a day?

Now, not many. Maybe about a mile throughout the day just walking building to building and delivering parcels within the building.

And previously, what’s the most you’ve ever walked?

I would say probably close to 10 miles.

Wow. Every day?

Every day.

Were you in incredible shape then?

Yes, I definitely was. I’m a military veteran so I pretty much kept in shape.

Where were you stationed?

Camp Pendleton, Calif., Okinawa, Japan, Camp Lejeune, N.C…. I was never in the war, thankfully. From 1984 to late 1987, I was in the U.S. Marine Corps. I was honorably discharged from the Marines. Then I came into the Postal Service.

What’s your favorite house to deliver to? The pretty ones? The ones closer to the sidewalk?

The ones where I don’t have to dismount from the vehicle (laughs), which is rare in this area because pretty much all of the mailboxes are attached to the houses.

Do you have a family?

Yes, I have a beautiful wife named Geneva. And I have a 25-year-old daughter who will be getting married in July of this year. And I have an 11-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son.

Does work ever prevent you from going to any school events or things like that?

Fortunately and unfortunately, because we work on Saturday, that hinders some of the things that I would like to do with my family on Saturdays.

What about stopping delivery on Saturdays? How do you feel about that?

I’m in favor of it myself. But for my fellow co-workers, I feel for them because I have a business that I do outside of the Postal Service. So no matter what happens in the Postal Service…for me, I’ll be OK. I’m in favor of it for myself, but for them it could be a problem.

How would it be a problem?

Because a lot of them come into work on their day off, making Saturday overtime for them. That’s one thing they’d miss.

Why are you in favor?

It gives me a chance to do some things with my family that normally, if I’m at work on Saturday, I wouldn’t get a chance to do. A lot of the things that the kids like to do are on Saturdays. That’s the day that I would consider family time. I can’t be with them if I’m here.

How often do you work on Saturdays?

I use a lot of leave now because of my business that I do on Saturdays. So I use leave so I can be off, but when I can’t use leave, I have to be here (laughs).

What’s your other business?

It’s a telecom business. It’s multi-level marketing, which some people are against. But it’s proven to be pretty lucrative for my family, and I hope to be retiring early from the Postal Service because of it.

When do you plan on retiring?

My goal is to retire by the end of this year.

So that makes 26 years of work?

That’s right. Twenty-six years.

That’s not bad.

Not bad at all.

Have you seen the impact of the loss of revenue in the Postal Service?

Yes, I have. For a lot of people, the overtime pay was one thing that was attractive with the Postal Service. With the overtime going down, it’s causing a lot of people to look at other options, which is why I did what I did with my other business.

(A Postal Service truck drives by and its driver honks. Giles waves at the driver.)

Do you get to know everyone well who works in the Postal Service?

I pretty much know carriers and clerks from other post offices because I’ve been around for so long.

You’re not wearing gloves. Aren’t your hands freezing?

Yes, they are. But my father always had rough, rugged hands from what I’m told. My hands are the same way.

What’s your least favorite piece of mail to deliver?

I would say the circular mail, the advertisements. They can be very sloppy at times, very thin mail. If the wind blows it can actually blow it out of your hand.

Then you have to go chasing after it.

Pretty much.

Have you ever had a moment where you dropped a whole bundle of mail, and it goes everywhere?

I think if you’ve been carrying mail for a while… (Giles pauses and begins to slide some mail through a house’s mail slot.) There’s actually a dog here… (Pause. Giles retreats.) Good. (Dog begins to bark.) Oh, it just came to the door. Um…Actually, what were we talking about?

(Laughter.) Have you ever dropped a whole pile of mail?

Oh, yes! Yes. As I was saying, if you’ve carried mail for any length of time, for at least a year or more, you’ve had the opportunity to trip. Sometimes you’re concentrating so much on the mail that there may be an uneven sidewalk and you’ll trip. To break your fall, you, of course, need your hands. So the mail is the last thing you’re concerned about at that moment (laughs).

Cause you’re trying to sort the mail while you walk.

Yeah. Exactly. It’s something that you’re not supposed to do. But a lot of times we have a pace that we’re going at, and you find yourself actually figuring the mail while you’re walking.

Getting back to what interrupted us before — don’t like dogs?

I don’t have a problem with dogs. It’s just the owners sometimes. They know their dog’s temperament, so it would seem to me that if you had a dog with a certain temperament, maybe you would want to have the dog stay in the house or have him on a leash when you know the mailman is around. The folks around here are pretty good with that. But sometimes you have folks that let their dogs release themselves, and when you’re not paying attention, it might actually be on the sidewalk.

You ever…

Yes. Several times.

Oh no.

Yes.

How many times?

I would say, throughout my career, probably 10 times.

Anything serious?

There was a lawn that hadn’t been cut for a while, and there was a dog that had relieved himself in that area and with me walking through the grass, I didn’t see it ’til I had actually stepped in it. It got on my pants, as well. So, all day, I was having to explain that it’s not me (laughs). So I would say that was probably the worst when it actually got onto my clothing.

Has a dog ever attacked you?

Actually, yes. I’ve been attacked about three times. Nothing serious. Two times it was a small dog. One of them actually bit my ankle. Another time there was this huge German Shepherd… But I read up on dogs. Thank God. That’s what saved me that day.

What’s the worst delivery season?

Probably now. Never knowing whether it’s going to snow, and when it does snow, you have to worry about the customers cleaning their walkways to avoid slippage.

Have you ever slipped?

I’ve slipped numerous times. But I’ve never seriously injured myself, thank God.

What do you do to prevent that?

Just pretty much follow the guidelines that the Postal Service set. They said pretty much when it’s icy or (there’s) snow on the ground, kind of…walk like a duck. You know, spread your feet open and just take choppy steps. Take your time.

Does anyone look at you funny when you do that?

Yeah, occasionally. Especially the kids, but it’s proven to be pretty safe to walk that way.

Do you have a connection with any customers you see day to day, like those kids?

You get pretty close to the older folks.

Is that cause they’re home more often?

We’re probably the best news that they get all day. A lot of them come to the mailboxes several times a day to check their mail. That’s pretty much what their connection is to the outside world. A lot of them are elderly to the point where they’re actually using walkers. It’s pleasing to give them their mail knowing that that’s their light of the day.

Anyone specifically told you that?

A lady used to sit by the window and she was to the point where she could barely walk. So she used to sit by the window, and I would actually hand her her mail through the window so she wouldn’t have to go to the door to get the mail and she actually told me that that was her highlight of the day to actually converse with me. I was giving her as much conversation as I could without delaying the mail so I would actually sit there and talk to her for a while and ask her how was her day going, and she would just give me a little bit of her day and she used to thank me a lot for just standing there and talking to her.

Have you always liked people?

Yes, I would say I’m a people person. I get along with pretty much everyone. I like people.

Is that the reason you got involved with mail?

Actually no. At the time I got involved with the Postal Service, this was one of the jobs that a lot of military veterans were transitioning into because it was government-related. When I came back, that was the way to go.

Does this get strenuous on your body? Walking around, carrying heavy things?

It used to, but fortunately now that I have an apartment route, mostly everything is actually delivered to the building. I’m not walking up the steps like I used to.

Do you prefer this to a nine-to-five job?

Actually, yes. I liked it more when we came to work earlier. When I first came into the Postal Service, the carriers came in at 6 a.m. and our day was done between 2:30 and 4:30 every day. So we were kind of ahead of the traffic, so to speak. Now you’re right in the heart of it with the times we get off. It’s just about a nine to five when you figure 8 to 4:30.

And today you’ll work until 6:30 p.m.

That’s right.

How long does it take you to sort the mail?

Sorting used to take about four to five hours, but now it might take two with the machine doing it. But what that means is that we now spend more time outside than we do inside. Some of us like it, some of us don’t. A lot of us prefer sorting the mail ourselves as opposed to the machine doing it.

Is it sometimes wrong?

Yeah, sometimes it’s wrong. Especially when you have an apartment route or a business route. The machine will read it one way, but it may actually be for another business. So you end up resorting it anyway.

So it takes twice as long then?

At times. You try to avoid delivering to the same address twice in one route, for example, but you may have to do that if the machine sorts it wrong.

What’s most frustrating when delivering?

The machine sorting the mail wrong. You may have your entire route running backward. So you would have to resort the whole thing before you even went out to deliver. What you have to watch out for now is the machine may sort it right, but the letters may be upside-down. The other frustrating thing would be delivering the mail at night. A lot of carriers have to deliver at night. That can be a safety hazard.

Why’s that?

You can’t see animals at night. You may walk on or into something because it’s dark and you can’t see it. Trying to read the mail in the dark can actually be a problem, as well. How often have you delivered the night shift?

Before I had this apartment route shift indoors, I would say I did three to four night shifts.

Can you pick the times you work?

I had the seniority to bid on this route and get it. That’s one thing that can take you off of what’s called a foot route, where most of your route is delivered outside of the vehicle. It gives you the opportunity to bid on something that’s less stressful on your body. This route is less stressful. (Pause. Giles honks twice.) We have to honk when we reverse.

Just to warn people that you’re backing up.

Yes.

How is your job misunderstood?

I think a lot of people think we just grab the mail and go straight to the street. Especially before the sorting machines, I think a lot of people didn’t know that we had already been working four to five hours before we actually came out on the street where they could see us.

Do you have to wear this uniform all the time?

Yeah, but they have shorts and polo shirts now that you can wear when it gets hot.

Do you have multiple clothing sets?

I would say I have probably five to six sets of each. You have cold weather pants, what’s between wool and acrylic, and then your regular thin pants. The shirts are pretty much the same.

What item do you have to replace the most?

I always need shoes. They’re the thing that wears out the fastest with all the walking we do.

Is there anything special about these shoes?

They’re supposed to have the type of inner support that you need for constant walking. Whether they’re any better than any other shoe, I can’t say for sure. I can’t tell the difference.

What would you say to customers if you could?

I would remind people we’re human. We make mistakes. A lot of times we get it, and the address is totally wrong. A lot of mail comes with no apartment number. The street may be wrong. But because we may be familiar with you, we can look at the name and know that it’s you without even reading the address. I can say ‘I know who this person is.’ And you get your mail. So we get a lot of grief when we misdeliver, and they remember that. But what they don’t remember is when we get it right when the address was totally dysfunctional.

How often does that happen when you base a delivery on names?

Oh, man, a lot. A lot. Today I may go through maybe 13 or 14 letters where the address is totally wrong, but they’ll still get their mail. It’s just part of the job.

What does it feel like to put a face to a name? Sounds like that doesn’t happen very often.

It feels pretty good. Especially when that individual patron gets a lot of mail, but you’ve never actually met the person, or sometimes you have a person who’s really nice to you at certain times of the year, but again, you haven’t met them, so you can’t really give them a visual thank you for remembering you at certain times of the year.

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Editor’s Note: Slice of Life is a Sunday feature, in which WTOP Living talks with people in the community to find out their stories, passions and what motivates them every day. Nominate someone to be featured in a Slice of Life by emailing Living Editor Stephanie Steinberg at ssteinberg@wtop.com.

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