Looking back at the Postal Service

If you’ve read my bio on the “About Joe” page, you know that I retired from the U.S. Postal Service – actually in June of this year.   I started in April 1983 as clerk on the MPLSM (a mechanical letter sorting machine with a piano-type keyboard), and left 33 years and 2 months later.

I first heard about the MPLSM job in 1977 when some of my high school classmates got jobs there a year out of high school, told me about what it was like to key mail going by, and said they were making almost ten dollars an hour (I was working at Arby’s making the minimum wage of $2.30 per hour).  But the catch was, they had taken the test for the job when it was offered earlier that year, and I would have to wait until it was offered again

It took three years before the test was given again in Columbus, on a miserably hot and muggy summer day in 1980, in a large building at the Ohio State Fairgrounds with no air conditioning.  Talk about tough conditions.  Plus,  I was nervous about the part of the test that required you to memorize names and address and which boxes they went in.

But, I was determined to do well, and I was in the zone that day – so much so that when the girl sitting next to me fainted from the heat and slid to the floor, I simply leaned down to make sure she was breathing, waved to the test monitor, and went back to my own test …….

Did I say I was in the zone and determined?  Yes, I was!  And I remember the girl was helped up and was taken for treatment by the test monitors.  I hope that didn’t seem too callous of me, but it shows you how focused I was on passing that test.

Even with a passing score of 89%, it took me three more years to be hired.  But when the letter came on a Thursday telling me to report for orientation the following Monday, I was ready.

That decision irrevocably changed my life.  On the delta side, as a new clerk, I knew I was going to work either the afternoon/evening shift or the night shift.  That meant saying goodbye to the “regular” life schedule I’d had for the past 24 years.  Goodbye to seeing my buddies on a regular basis like I had been doing.  Goodbye to a carefree life.

On the plus side, I began maturing – every so slowly, you understand – but it did happen.  I had a full-time job, with good pay and benefits, and once I learned how to key mail, I actually enjoyed it.   And I learned the importance of showing up for work each day, on time, and resisting the urge to call in and play hookey on the days I just didn’t want to get up.

I also enlarged my circle of acquaintances by a factor of maybe 100, maybe more.  I also began to appreciate there were other folks in the world who didn’t look like me, think like me, or act like me.   And I began socializing with them – usually playing in the postal softball leagues and hanging out afterward, or going out to breakfast with my crew and co-workers after working the night shift.

In that time I met a LOT of interesting people – some of them more interesting than others, shall we say.  And maybe they said the same thing about me!

I thought I would be keying mail for 31 years, and then retire.  Little did I know that barely six months after hiring in, I would be detailed to the training department to learn to work there as a relief for a few months.  The months stretched to three years, a full-time position in the training area came open, and I was selected for it.

Two years after that, I was assigned to teach the orientation classes that were given every two weeks (the Postal Service did a LOT of hiring back then, and still do today), and it was there that my speaking voice began to develop, and the germ of an idea to do voiceover began to take root and grow, way down deep in my subconscious, where I wasn’t aware of it for a while.

And so, I just kept showing up for work each day, building on the day before and the day before that.  I didn’t really start marking time, until 1998 when I got a promotion from the clerk craft as a training technician to management as a training “specialist”.  Then it dawned me that I had reached the halfway point of 15 and a half years as a postal employee, with another 15 and a half years to go before I was eligible to retire with full benefits.

Had my life changed during that first half?  Boy, and how!  I had traveled to several cities for the Postal Service,  purchased two houses, vacationed in Hawaii once and Israel twice, married and had two sons, and become a PA announcer for my high school.

And the milestones seemed to come more often – ten years to go, five years to go.  I finally achieved a promotion to manager that seemed to cause more wear-and-tear that it was worth.  But I kept showing up.

The longest period of time was that last year before retirement eligibility.  I made a 365 day calendar with a small square for each day, and marked it off one day at a time.  In retrospect, that was probably not a great idea, since it made the time drag mentally.

But I kept showing up.  And one day I marked that last box off and said, “I made it” – and then I decided to stick around a while, since the mental pressure was off.

So I kept showing up.  When I reached that fatefuly day in February of this year, the day my co-worker Ester Steele introduced me to Ron Allan, my future voice-over coach, I realized I could bring a close to my postal career, and direct my life’s journey in a new direction.

Was it hard?  At times.  Were there times I doubted myself?  A plethora of times.

But I kept showing up.

The Postal Service is quite a bit different today than when I started, and so is its workforce.  Three things that have driven the change are technology, the economy, and the Internet.   But we both fulfilled our ends of the bargain we each made in 1983, and I’m thankful I had a job that could support me and my family, keep us fed and clothed, and keep a roof over our heads.

Today I can look back at my career, and take some small pride that I helped move people’s mail, and that I helped fellow postal employees along the way by being a part of their training.  But I’d have to say it was a team effort all the way.

Voiceover seems to be very similar.  I had determination and focus to succeed in VO, and it’s been a team effort, starting with me and my coach, and all the other people I’ve met in this profession that I have learned from.   This may be hard to believe, but I’ve been shocked to learn that there are people in voiceover who don’t look like me, think like me, or act like me.  They are interesting people – some of them more interesting than others – and I hope they’re saying the same thing of me.

How about you readers?  What strange twists has your life’s journey taken?  Feel free to reply to this post by clicking on “Leave A Comment” and share your story, I’d love to hear from you. (NO spam or advertising replies, those WILL be deleted with extreme prejudice)

As for me, I’m making another mocha cappuccino to enjoy on this somewhat chilly October morning, contemplating my voiceover performance as my high school marching band’s halftime announcer for the final week of the regular football season here in Ohio tonight.  Next week I transition to my gig as a college basketball announcer – and I need to start preparing my notes and charts for that sport.  How the time flies.

Until next time, take care and have a great weekend.  As always, keep your best voice forward – and just keep showing up!  One day you’ll look back, and be glad you did!




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