Saturday, February 6, 2016

My new life after radio

It has been awhile since I provided an update on my job search and where life has taken me, and in fact it has taken me quite far over the past several months.  So this weekend I'll take a break from covering the arts as I usually do in this space to update you on my career status.

Several months ago I posted on Twitter and Facebook I had a choice of several job offers all in the same day, and I chose carefully and with both my heart and head to make what for me seemed to be the best choice.  I decided to hold off writing about my choice until now for a very simple reason.

I worried I wouldn't make it.

You see, the second career path I chose turned out to be the hardest job I have ever done, both physically and mentally.  After about a year in banking, over 20 in the retail music business and over 40 years in radio, I was ready for a new challenge, and I found it in something I do pretty much every day.


Not just any walking, but walking a mail route, delivering the mail for Canada Post.  It is physically demanding work that has resulted in my losing at this writing over 17 pounds since early November, and at last count, at least one large toenail from all the wear and tear on my feet.

Such is the life of a postal worker.  It is not an easy job, and this week I'll explain why.

First, let me explain the hiring process is long and not particularly easy.  Not everyone is cut out for this kind of work, and the hiring criteria is in place to determine those who can and those who can't.
If you make it through the online assessment, in-person interview and physical abilities testing, you have only just begun.

In late September when I got the call I had passed the hurdles and was ready to start training, I was both elated and skeptical I could even then make the cut.  Oh, I believed in myself, certainly, but I knew it would not be easy.  Turned out I was right.

Almost three weeks of classroom and on-the-job training pretty much tells you whether you will make it or not, and for me, until I got that final mark on the written test and successfully performed the mail sorting test, I always had some lingering doubts.

Now, the job I applied for is as a casual, on-call letter carrier.  That means you can work any day they need you, but not necessarily every day.  There are full time and part time staff with much more seniority than I will ever have, so the likelihood I will ever become more than a casual on-call carrier is limited, as they warn you up front.

That being said, I got my first call just two days after I completed training in mid-October, and since the first week of November I have been working steadily almost every day.  So right now, the work is plentiful and I have learned a tremendous amount about the business.

But come the spring, I'm told, the work will be less frequent as the regular carriers carry the load for the most part until the next round of vacations start up in the summer months.  I knew that going in and along with the colleagues I trained with, we knew we were gambling there would be enough work to sustain us over the winter months.

For me it certainly has, and I am so very grateful for that.

However I still need to find other work to cover the times when I won't be called in to Canada Post regularly, as the mortgage still needs to be paid.  So while this is great work and I am thankful to have it, my job search has not ended, at least not yet.

What's the life of a postal worker like?  Interesting to say the least.  I am happy to say I have found myself surrounded by a pretty dedicated and friendly bunch of colleagues who understand the difficulties encountered when first starting out, and are more than happy to offer help when you need it.  In fact, although my radio family was great and tremendously dedicated, this group I work with on a daily basis take it to a whole new level.

The sense of camaraderie amongst postal workers is more than just paying lip-service.  They really care about one another and will jump in to help at a moment's notice.  It is almost breathtaking to see how readily they will jump into the breach to fill a void because simply put, they know the mail has to be delivered.

Oh sure, as in every job there are those you meet who grumble about one thing or another, but overall they are a pretty happy bunch who know how to have fun and also get the job done.

I don't mind saying I leaned on more than just a few of these dedicated individuals while I was learning the ropes, and am grateful for the help.  I still do, in fact, as they say it takes about a year to fully understand and master the job.

That's good to know, as there are still days I wonder what I've gotten myself into.

A letter carrier's day starts about 7 or 7:30 in the morning depending on the route, as you enter the depot and begin sorting the mail for your assigned route.  Most of the regulars have their own routes but as an on call carrier, I can be on a different route every day, which brings with it a unique set of

If you do the same route day in and day out, you get to know it like the back of your hand and can sort the mail and hit the route much faster.  For someone like myself, you have to get familiar with the route, so usually the first time I am on it I take longer, as I learn where the mailboxes are and just how the route works.  The more I am on a particular route, the better it goes, so I can see where being on your own route day in and day out would make you much faster and efficient.

Most carriers are out of the depot by about 9:30, although I am usually later than that and on heavy mail days later still.  The average walking route is about 15 kilometres, and four, five or more hours is usually needed to complete the route I find, depending on how many points of call you have to make.

No wonder you don't see many portly letter carriers.  Walking 15 or more kilometres a day burns a lot of calories.  I should get a tracker to see how many steps I walk on a daily basis, actually.

This winter has been largely benign as far as bad weather is concerned, at least so far.  I've been out on some pretty cold days to be sure, but if you dress warmly and keep moving, you generally don't have a problem.  Ice presents a problem too, but so far this winter I have only slipped a few times with no apparent damage, except to my pride.

Walking that much does take a toll on your feet, though, and mine look now as if they have been through the war, bandaged as they are, discoloured toenails and all.  I just took my first pair of walking boots in to the shoemaker for new heels as they are completely worn down after only about four months.

Yes, you walk a lot in this job.  But that is usually the part I most enjoy, getting out and meeting people while trying to better your time from the day before.

Two weeks ago I passed my first milestone with Canada Post, as I completed the required 480 hours of service required for your probation period, and now I am entitled to order my full uniform, which I will wear proudly as I represent the company on a daily basis.

Some things I've learned along the way?  Well, people have a strange sense of humour when it comes to what constitutes a mail receptacle and where it is located.  That's assuming there is one at all.

The mail box is one of the most visible aspects of your house as people approach, and it would not take a lot of money to invest in one that looks like it has not been in use since the turn of the last century. There are several companies that specialize in some pretty snazzy boxes that would help make your house look great and make the letter carrier's life a little easier.

House numbers are always a challenge, and you would be surprised how many people don't have one on their house.  Or if they do, it is not easily visible from the street.  Think about it.  You may know where you live and even your friends and family members know, but what if an ambulance is called to your house and they waste valuable seconds trying to determine which house is which?

I cannot stress the importance of a highly visible house number, especially at night.  It could someday save your life.

Apartment dwellers present other challenges, as I discovered over the holiday season.  You might think that wreath or holiday decoration on the apartment door is nice, but for a letter carrier looking for the apartment number, it can be a frustrating exercise.  Once again, keep the number visible if at all possible.

I've also learned the public perception of just what goes in to delivering the mail is not quite accurate.  There is a tremendous amount of respect for letter carriers on the whole, I find, but most people have no idea how much work goes into delivering the mail every day.  If they did, they would realize the $1 charge for a stamp is not that outrageous after all.

So that is where I am at right now.  I am busy, I am working, and I am happy most days with my performance.  There is always room for improvement on my part, of course, and I am still learning.  But I don't for a moment regret my decision.

Now, I have to build on this momentum and find more challenges to cover the slower periods of the year when I won't be called in quite that often.

In the meantime, smile at your letter carrier the next time you see him or her.  And if it is a gentleman you have not seen on your route before, it might just be me.

Have a great weekend!

February 6th, 2016.

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