Jimbob's Journal
Mount Airy Post Office
by Jim Harris

Now it can be told . . .
Come along with me, back to the days before FedEx or DHL or the cursed email, when the Post Office chests were fat with gold and ripe for the taking, and swashbuckling Mailmen sailed the streets wild and free. Mind you, it's not a tale for the faint of heart.

The year was 1969 and my first job carrying the mail was at Chestnut Hill - staid, stately, boring. A fresh faced lad of 21 I was, and eager to please, but after wrecking two of their mail buggies within my first week (one actually rolled off a cliff), it was decided I might be happier down the Avenue a piece with the old salts of Mount Airy Station.

The crew there was a collection of rogues, rednecks, revolutionaries, hippies, psychos, and even one or two "normal" people. They had names like Horsehead, Mad Dog, Draino, Tank, Tank Jr. (who never spoke), and Sunny Jim, who used words like some people used cannonballs. As I soon learned, our primary purpose was to find each other's weak spots and pick at them until all hell broke loose.

And make no mistake, they all had their Waterloos, their moments that they could never be allowed to live down, like the day poor George Henry got attacked by a rooster on Hortter Street, or the time Bob Murphy had too much liquid lunch at Burba's Tavern and wound up being carried back into the office slung over the shoulder of Phillies third baseman Richie Allen. Then there was the occasion of a police raid on a local house of ill repute. Several of our number were found to be in attendance, including a certain Mister Young who was wearing his lounging pajamas at the time.

Back then routes were shorter and carriers were not electronically tethered as they are today. The only testing was a once-yearly walkaround with a supervisor during which we walked as slow as humanly possible and never took any shortcuts. Right before testing day we would even mail letters to certain out-of-the-way houses on our routes to make sure that we didn't miss any time-consuming stops. Once, management tried posting a list, rating the best carriers each week, but everyone fought to be at the bottom of the list, so it was discontinued.

The drink of choice was scotch, but rum would do in a pinch. We were the reason that rehab was invented - not a bad legacy, actually. A typical morning began in the office with food fights, mail bag fights, occasional firecrackers, lots of singing and speechifying (everyone had a personal theme song or catch phrase) and even dancing. Somehow, the mail got sorted. We'd hit the street at 9 AM and were expected back by 3 PM.

Most men (there were no women yet), cruised through their routes quickly and then pursued other activities before returning. My idol was Mister Young. His theme song was, " I found a Hoooome in the post office". He had boundless cheer and energy, and was always done his route by noon at the latest. I was his protégé, and he would teach me tricks like how to cut a hole in a hedge to facilitate a shortcut between houses; "Just cut a few leaves a day, boy. They'll never notice. Then, in a month or so, you've got a hole big enough for an elephant to pass through". He was a genius.

Once, when a large wooden "Mister Zip" mannequin was positioned in the post office lobby to advertise the new zip code system, it almost immediately disappeared and began mysteriously showing up at different locations around town. When it appeared on my front porch, I had to get rid of it quickly so as not to be implicated in the kidnapping. I buried him in the Wissahickon and that was that. God forgive me.

By 1976, I was burnt out. I couldn't take the early hours or the heavy bags anymore. Competition in the delivery business was growing, and management was starting to increase everyone's workload. So, at the ripe old age of thirty, I retired and checked directly into rehab. All in all, in the seven years I was at Mount Airy, I'd say I personally probably wasted about ten million dollars of the government's money. I was certainly not at the top of the list in that regard, but it was not for lack of trying.

Having said all that, there was honor among we pirates; we took good care of our patrons, and in spite of all the bravado, we took care of each other.

Thirty years later, my debt to society is almost paid in full. I'm happy to report that, like most modern Americans, I work twelve-hour days trying to make ends meet, without any end in sight. I don't drink, smoke, gamble, eat meat or chase women. I'm sure that most of the guys I worked with back then are either retired or dead - most likely the latter. I'm wondering if they might be the lucky ones. One thing for sure, the glory days are definitely gone, but not forgotten

Back to Essays