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DELIVERING MORE THAN THE MAIL POSTAL WORKER ON BEAT 20 YEARS.

Byline: JUDY O'ROURKE Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - After nearly 20 years on the job as a mail carrier, Deborah Miller shows about as much career burnout as a kindergartner on the first day of school.

She darts through sprinklers on sweltering days, smells roses along the route of older Valencia homes and is cordial with a hand-fed squirrel who darts along a particular branch overhanging the sidewalk. Her blue mail satchel may weigh up to 70 pounds some days, but it makes a great angry-dog repellant when swung by her legs like a pendulum.

But most dogs and people on her route do not bite.

``She's very personable and takes care of your problems,'' said Valencia resident John Schirmer. ``She brings back yesteryear -- the 1950s -- when there was (easygoing) communication between government employees and the normal citizen.'' Miller's familiarity with the neighborhood cloaks residents with an extra layer of security, he says.

Miller's days begin about 8 a.m., sorting mail at the main office, and usually end at 4:30 p.m., after up to 1,800 pieces of mail have been laid into more than 450 mailboxes.

Santa Clarita's seven post offices are home base for 182 city letter carriers and 91 rural carriers. With counting clerks, managers and custodians, the agency employs nearly 350 people locally, 185 men and 164 women.

``A generation ago the post office was mostly all male,'' said Richard Maher, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman. ``When it was the U.S. Post Office Department, before 1971, almost all the employees went from being in the (armed) service to being in the post office.''

The public's love affair with Internet communiques, and more significantly with electronic payments, has caused a 20 percent drop in single-piece first-class mail volume since 1998, but advertisements help pick up the slack. Last year, for the first time, bulk mail exceeded first-class mail in volume, Maher said.

Miller could have told you that. Some days, she can only carry bundles for one side of the street at a time because of the sheer volume of bulk mail.

Though the carrier's movements are unseen by superiors they are tracked electronically. A device Miller wields to scan bar codes inside six boxes along the route tracks her progress on computers in the main office, and allows customers to track parcel deliveries online.

Miller, 49, who looks 10 years younger than her age, takes pride in her appearance, but downing a gallon of water is not always enough to beat the heat on 108-degree summer days. The lifeguard at a neighborhood pool invites her to dive in, but she prefers to get soaked head to toe in the park's showers.

``It lasts maybe two blocks, then I'm dry,'' she said. The mail truck offers few comforts.

``(It's) like an oven, sometimes you just feel like passing out,'' she said of the 6-inch minifan-cooled vehicle. ``I try to get out as much as I can -- it's a matter of survival.''

While the agency's new air-conditioned vans are catnip to some, she shuns them for the older models to avoid freezer-to-heat-lamp shock.

The Canyon Country resident spent 12 years on a Woodland Hills route and 7 1/2 years elsewhere in Valencia. Miller has a 26-year-old son and her husband of nearly 30 years works for another bureaucracy, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Whether she is thirsty or not, Miller buys lemonade from makeshift stands -- and she is known for delivering more than mail.

Among her many themed hand-stitched quilts, one was for the family of slain postal worker Joseph Ileto, another was for a rural route carrier who was hospitalized for months and had a leg amputated after an accident.

Miller recently stitched a pillowcase bearing images from the film ``Cars,'' for a local 12 1/2-year-old boy battling leukemia.

He may not be her supervisor, but customer John Schirmer passed judgment on Miller's job performance.

``She should train the other mail carriers,'' he said.

judy.orourke(at)dailynews.com

(661) 257-5255

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Deborah Miller of Canyon Country, who frequently buys lemonade from neighborhood kids and runs through sprinklers on hot days, spent 12 years on a Woodland Hills mail route and 7 1/2 years in Valencia.

(2) Mail carrier Deborah Miller's days begin about 8 a.m., sorting mail at the main office, and usually end at 4:30 p.m., after up to 1,800 pieces of mail have been delivered to more than 450 mailboxes.

(3) Deborah Miller, who knows many of the residents along her mail route, much of which she walks, delivers mail to John Schirmer.

(4) Deborah Miller gets a greeting from Cody, one of the dogs she looks forward to seeing on her route.

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 17, 2006
Words:803
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