Anyone who thinks they’ve had their fair share of the snow and cold should try delivering the mail through the nooks and crannies of Charlestown’s streets.
Whether it’s dressing for bone chilling cold, jumping over snowbanks the size of cars, watching for 10-foot long falling icicles, dodging snow plows or battling invisible sheets of treacherous ice, Letter Carrier Mazie Collier – a Charlestown native – said this winter she’s seen it all.
Walking with her along her route on Trenton Street last Tuesday, Collier said this has to be the worst winter that she’s endured in her job.
“This is my 25th year and this is the worst ever, definitely,” she said. “I know I’ve said that before, probably every year I say that, but this is really it. It’s not just the record-breaking snow and blizzards, but it’s also been the bitter cold and the wind. This has been the toughest yet.”
When blizzards roar and temperatures dip, it is often overlooked that letter carriers are still out on the streets of Charlestown delivering the mail on foot through the tiny alleyways and the narrow paths cut out of what are – in normal weather – very narrow sidewalks.
While the overall winter has had a cumulative effect on Collier, she recalled that the worst day this winter and probably in her career, was the Monday (Feb. 2) after the first blizzard, Juno, hit Charlestown. With lots of snow already on the ground, predictions had the Feb. 2 blizzard dumping about 6 inches. However, once it started Monday morning, it never stopped and it dumped far more.
Collier said she had gone out to make deliveries due to the fact that it was supposed to get better later in the day. It was probably the only day, she said, that she had to throw in the towel.
“That Monday blizzard was terrible,” she said. “They told us we could make deliveries and so I went out. I was coming down Bunker Hill Street at one point and tried to make the turn, and just couldn’t go anywhere. Juno was pretty bad, but that following Monday was probably the worst I’ve had. They told me that I could stay on the clock and continue, but I remember thinking, ‘No, I probably better try to get home because if I wait, I may not be able to.’”
A normal route, she said, takes about six hours in Charlestown. However, this winter that has expanded routinely by 90 minutes. Adding the time and the extra layers of clothing and the weight of boots takes it toll, she said.
“If you’re out there for six hours and you add 90 minutes to that time, and the whole time you’re jumping over snowbanks in heavy boots, by the end of the day you drag your feet,” she said. “It does weigh on you after a long day and it gets old when it’s day after day like this winter.”
The winter has been tough on the entire postal district in Boston, spokesperson Melissa Lohnes said. She said the bitter cold has caused the local Incoming Mail Center (IMC), which is based in Chelsea and handles Charlestown’s mail, to call in letter carriers early on several occasions. Likewise, the day that Juno hit, on Jan. 27, the district halted all deliveries – a rarity even in a snowy place like Boston.
“The District Manager, Mike Powers, he is the one who has to make the decision and he looks at the news reports and talks to the local managers to determine if it’s safe to be on the road,” said Lohnes. “The decision is typically based on whether or not they can drive. When Juno hit in January, we were closed and it was one of the first times the district closed. When there is a State of Emergency, we are still out delivering most of the time because we are considered essential.”
When it comes to safety, Collier said most people in Charlestown on her route have been very good about shoveling and clearing paths to the mailbox. Some are better than others, she said, but a lot of people know her (she comes from a large Charlestown family with eight siblings) and look out for her. Others, who might be expecting packages, are quick to think about her too.
That is one new aspect that has contributed to making the routes a little trickier is the increased volume of packages. Delivering the mail has become less about letters and magazines and more about large packages often ordered online. Lugging those boxes down a snow-drifted Charlestown street can also take a toll.
“It’s great for business; I’ve gone from having 7-10 packages on my route to about 100 a week,” she said. “However, when you’re out jumping snow banks with them, it wears you out. During the blizzards, you would have a package and you would have to walk all the way to the end of the street with it. Everything was that much more difficult. Your legs got heavy at the end of the day. You know, we live in New England and this is what we expect, so you try to stay positive.”
Staying positive is important, but staying warm is much more important.
Collier said the bone chilling days with heavy winds are probably more challenging than the snow. While snow makes delivering the mail cumbersome, bitter cold can make it dangerous. For a veteran like Collier, little tricks like hand warmers in the pockets and the proper layers for the day’s weather have come with experience.
The most important piece of clothing, though, is a hat.
“You have to have a hat because you have to keep your head warm,” she said. “I didn’t used to like wearing a hat, but it is important. When you put that hat on, you are warm. I know now that if your head is warm, your feet and hands are going to feel better. Who cares if you end up having hat head later in the day when it’s this cold? The other thing is layers. People say to dress in layers and it’s true…On the days when the windchill was like 10 below zero, I had four layers on bottom and seven layers on top. It’s all about the wind when it comes to that. Being on the water in Charlestown, it gets really cold.”
All the cold talk is fleeting, Collier said, as it does pass with time, and then – when things warm up – she gets her payback.
“After 25 years, I still love it,” she said. “We have bad winters, but I still love my customers and the neighborhood. Everyone knows me…There are only about five days a year when I ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But then the summers make up for it, and when everyone else is stuck inside and wanting to come outside, I get to be out in the beautiful weather. That’s the payback.”