Sunday, March 22, 2009

Delivery Accommodations

A few of the customers on my route are disabled; therefore they request special delivery instructions to make retrieval easier. One customer asks that the paper be delivered to a side door. When I was trained on the route, my district manager pulled down the driveway, opened the window and threw the paper over the roof of the car landing it perfectly on the threshold of the door. Once I was on my own I quickly discovered that landing a newspaper where you want it is a talent I do not possess. The first day I shot it too lightly and it landed on the top of my car. The second day I missed my target completely and landed the paper squarely in the customer’s beautifully planted flower box. The third day I smacked the window of their door so hard that I was shocked it didn’t break. So on the fourth day, I parked the car, got out, and gently placed the paper on the threshold.
I continued to get out and deliver the paper this way until the weather got nasty. The customer’s gravel driveway quickly became an ice-skating rink as the snow fell and the temperatures dropped. After one day of nearly ending up on my head when my feet flew out from under me, I decided that maybe I ought to try my hand at throwing the paper again. I managed to get my car turned around in the driveway so that the door was on the driver’s side of my car. I pulled over as close to the door as I could and was able to toss the paper precisely on my mark. WOO HOO! No more death defying trips to the door by foot.
As the winter months rolled on, I continued to turn around and shoot the paper that way. There were a few days when there was a car parked in the area where I turned around making it difficult for me to get close to the door. If the weather wasn’t bad and the driveway appeared not too slick I’d go back to getting out of the car, but if I couldn’t turn around and the driveway looked like it might kill me… I’d toss the paper out the passenger side window and hope for the best.
One day I was running late and got to this house quite a bit later than usual. I pulled up to find a man walking a little dog in the driveway. I handed him the paper, wished him and the dog a good morning and went happily on my way. Then I started thinking about the mornings that I nearly broke a hip delivering that customers paper. Life has taught me that it’s important to never make assumptions, but I couldn’t help but wonder why this customer requested special delivery accommodations when he was able enough to walk a dog. Being a person who likes to think the best of everyone I can only figure that there are extenuating unseen circumstances that are truly none of my business, so I continue to deliver to the back door. But I will say, I’m not nearly so concerned about precisely hitting my mark any longer.
Yes, I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be a professional paper tosser. If it were a sport, I wouldn’t even be invited to play on a bar league. But if a medal were awarded for pure intention and great effort, I’d like to think I would be a contender. Come rain or sleet or nasty driveway conditions… I always try to deliver the paper in a way that pleases my customers!

Reflective Dots

When I first started my route, I needed it to be dark when I delivered the papers. There are reflective dots on the boxes indicating who gets a paper and how often. Blue dots mean Monday through Friday, Yellow dots mean Sunday only, Green dots mean Friday through Sunday, and Red dots indicate a customer that receives the paper every day. In the light of dawn the dots are hard to see, and some of the older red dots that have faded over time appear yellow. In the bright sunlight it is very easy to spot the white press tubes, but the tiny reflective dots are practically unnoticeable. For someone unfamiliar with the route, this could make accurate delivery difficult to impossible.
To complicate things further, there are boxes everywhere. When a customer stops getting the paper, they don’t necessarily lose their box right away. It is up to me as the carrier to take down, put up and move boxes as needed. In all honesty I am pretty neglectful when it comes to taking care of my boxes especially now that it’s winter. I prefer to move around the boxes that are bolted onto metal posts by pulling the whole post out of the ground rather than taking the boxes that are bolted to the customers’ mail box support. This is for two reasons. First, not everybody has their mailbox on a wood support – some are plastic and some are metal making it impossible to secure the box to them. Secondly, it is really hard to get the boxes unbolted from their current locations due to age and rust. While it’s not too difficult to wrestle the box free, it is always an exercise in futility to try and get the metal bracket loose. So there you’d have a box with no way to secure it to the new customer’s mailbox. While neither choice is ideal, due to the fact that I’m female and not particularly big or strong (I’d really prefer having somebody else take care of the boxes for me!) taking the post is the lesser of two evils. I am much handier utilizing my body weight to loosen the poles from the ground than I am using a wrench on rusty bolts. I have become quite adept at using my 3 pound hammer to secure the boxes back into the ground at their new locations.
I’ve wandered off track; let’s get back to the reflective dots. There are several reasons why I am neglectful when it comes to being sure my route is, to quote my district manager, “properly dotted.” As mentioned previously, its winter which means that most mornings my boxes are covered in a layer of frost. I have approximately 15 customers that have either switched their form of delivery or are new since the onset of the cold weather. It would take me at least an additional 2 minutes at each of these boxes to defrost them, warm them up enough that the dot would actually adhere, get the sticker off the backing which is no easy task, stick it on and still deliver the paper. It probably doesn’t sound like much to you, but trust me, adding 30 minutes to my route seems like an eternity. What I try to do is remove one incorrect dot each morning as it occurs to me. When I have a morning where it’s warmer than 32 degrees (which are few and far between) I try to properly mark one or two boxes. Thankfully I now know where I am and who gets a paper, dots or no dots.
Eventually my route will once again be properly dotted with all of my boxes secure and accurately placed, but definitely not until the spring thaw. My plan is to have everything correct just in time for me to turn my beloved route over to a new carrier. Hopefully the accurate location of boxes and properly dotted route will make the transition a smooth one. I wouldn’t ever want my customers to suffer because of improper dot placement!

Poor Dog!

As I was driving down the road the other morning I saw something that really bothered me. It was a dog chained to the back of a camper, the chain was so short that it looked like the dog could barely move much less lie down or get out of its own way to do its business. This particular road is one where I have to drive a distance, turn around, and double back so that the boxes are on the drivers side of my car so after seeing this I knew I would get to take a closer look on my way back through.
Upon my second drive-by I could see with certainty that this wasn’t a dog at all. It was a statue of a dog. Thank heavens I didn’t get myself too worked up about it! In the 3 minutes between glances at this dog in the dark I had myself all ready to call the SPCA or the county animal control officer. Boy would that have been embarrassing!
What this taught me was two-fold. First, you can’t always believe what you see. Like my mother always used to say when I would be pleading my case when begging for something I’d seen on television. You know what I mean… those “we’ll send you 1500 of these things that are the greatest in the whole world for the low price of $19.95 because nobody should have to live without it.” Mom would say “it’s not as great as they make it seem or they wouldn’t be selling it for so little money.” I’d beg and cry and eventually she would cave and sure enough when it came, I’d be devastated because it was nothing like the advertisement had promised. I’d been tricked because what I’d seen on TV wasn’t real.
Secondly, I learned that it is silly to jump to conclusions without a thorough investigation in circumstances where you are not absolutely sure of the facts. Just like when one of my kids accuses the other of wrong doing. If you take only one side of the story and dole out punishments according to that viewpoint, you are probably doing so unfairly. I had judged and convicted the owner of that poor dog in my mind without having all the facts.
In conclusion I’d like to say to the owner of that statue… kudos on finding a statue so realistic looking! And to all of you whom I haven’t seen but have your dogs on a short leash, please loosen their tethers and give them love. Dogs are pack animals and need to socialize, even if it’s with us mere humans and not with their own kind. All they want is to please you and be shown affection in return.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Around Christmas time, many of my customers gave me greeting cards with a generous tip and kind words. One customer wrote this advice in her card: “Stay out of those pesky ditches!” I know full well that she was talking about actual ditches. Her road in particular had the kind of deep ditches that if you accidentally drove into one, they may not find you till the spring thaw.
Having lots of time on my hands to think while delivering papers, I interpreted this advice to communicate a more meaningful message. I began thinking about all the “ditches” we drive into in life. The whole reason I deliver papers as a second job is because I fell into a financial ditch. I owed everybody a lot of money and did not have the means to make good on my debts. Earning a second income is what allowed me to climb out of that ditch.
I’m currently in a ditch with my career. I hate my full time job and for a long time I’ve felt that it is a ditch I’m bound to stay in, spinning my wheels and digging in even deeper. After receiving this advice I started thinking about my options. No ditch is insurmountable. You just have to get creative and find a way out, whether it means calling triple A for a tow or strapping on chains and getting yourself out. A problem like this is not the kind of ditch you can get towed out of; you have to get yourself out.
My thoughts and feelings are the first level of the ditch that I had to overcome. The reason I feel trapped in this job is because I work for the government and you really can’t beat the benefits I receive. To walk away from this job would be just plain irresponsible for the future security of my family. Once I started thinking from a different perspective I realized that there are many options when you work in civil service. I can switch agencys; I can change to a reduced work schedule or even find a different position that would allow me to work part time hours while figuring out what I really want to do with my life while keeping all of my benefits.
The second level of this ditch is to move from plan into action. I’ve taken a variety of civil service exams and have been sitting by waiting for the results. But that’s not all I can do. I’m filling out applications for the different agencies that I’ve tested for and sending them in with a letter of introduction so that when positions open, hopefully my name will pop into their heads first.
In the mean time I’m learning as much as I can about a variety of different subjects in an effort to decide what I want to be when I grow up. Actually, I already know that I’m going to be a life coach; I just need to figure out how I can make money doing it and what I area I want to specialize in.
I guess the observation I’m making here is that when you fall into a ditch, don’t just sit at the bottom and hope somebody will come along to throw you a rope and haul your sorry butt out of it. Take charge and find your own way back to terra firma.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Learning While I'm Earning!

Not much that might be considered exciting happens on the rural route I travel in the wee hours of the morning. The three hours spent in my car delivering papers each day provides me with lots of time to be alone with my thoughts. Not that I spend every minute thinking profound thoughts; the other day I spent the entire 3 hours with Britney Spears’ new song “Womanizer” running through my mind like a broken record. But some days I do have some good ideas. Well, good may be being a little too generous… we’ll call them interesting ideas. Deciding to write this Blog is definitely one of my more inspired ideas.

I don’t solely spend my time thinking, I listen to the radio and lately I’ve been listening to audio books. I told my husband (to justify all the audio books I’ve been begging, borrowing and buying) that since I’m out there doing this job that really doesn’t require any deep thought beyond making sure I don’t miss delivering to any customers or drive into a ditch, that I may as well be getting smarter while doing it. My motto has become, “learn while I earn!” I have no conclusive evidence to prove that I am getting smarter, but I sure am learning bunches of stuff I didn’t know before. I’m becoming much more introspective and have a strong desire to use this experience to better myself. I’ve already listened to “Wisdom of Forgiveness”, “The How of Happiness” and “The Davinci Code” to name a few. The next novel I’m planning to listen to is “Pride and Prejudice” right after I’m done listening to The Teaching Company’s course on Buddhism. My favorite book of the ones I’ve listened to so far is “Quiet Strength” by Tony Dungy. I have learned so much about myself and the type of person I really want to become by listening to his words. What left the most lasting impression on me was something he tells his players- no excuses, no explanations, just do what we do. He’s instilling a sense of responsibility and accountability in his football players that carries over to more than just the football field. Mr. Dungy holds himself to these standards and expects the people he surrounds himself with to emulate this quality.

I’ve seen this character trait in many of the people I admire and I’ve seen the opposite in people I do not respect nor admire. As I muddle through my days in a sleep deprived haze, I try to remember those words and I have trained myself to pause before answering questions which are directed toward something I’ve done or neglected to do and I think- No excuses, no explanations. I accept responsibility for every choice I make, right or wrong. To blame others for your lot in life is like blaming your obstetrician for the color of your child’s hair.

I also remember to stay the course, no matter how unfulfilled or dissatisfied I am with my current situation. I give it my best and do what I do. After all, I’m where I am because of the choices I, and I alone, have made. Why do anything if you aren’t going to put forth your best effort. If more people heeded this advice today we would have many less victims and many more successes. If we all made the conscious decision to accept responsibility for our actions and inactions, stop blaming others for our misfortune, and gave every endeavor our best effort… WOW, imagine the things we could accomplish!

Perhaps I’m not getting noticeably smarter while delivering newspapers, but I am learning a lot about myself and human nature. When I wake up late and am unable to deliver by the appointed time or I miss a customer, I apologize whole-heartedly and blame no one. I deliver diligently and accurately making sure every paper arrives on time, dry and undamaged because this is my job and I want to do it to the absolute best of my ability- that is what my customers are paying for. By the time I am through with paper delivery and have moved on to my next adventure, what ever it may be, I plan to have all the tools at my disposal to be a great success in all of my future endeavors, starting with the tools of responsibility, accountability and industriousness.