The wind was whipping through the trees when Dave Roche glanced out his window Monday afternoon and saw the sight he sees at that hour almost every day, come snow or heat or pandemic: the postal carrier.
From his rain-splattered window, he snapped a photo of the soggy public servant heading down the walkway toward the mail cart on the wet sidewalk. He thought about how the United States Postal Service is under political siege, threatened and demeaned by the president.
So he posted his photo on Twitter with the words: “A huge branch was downed in our yard, tornado sirens went off just minutes before, and my mail carrier is still out there getting it done. Thank you, @USPS!”
Roche, a middle-school special education teacher who lives in Chicago’s Old Irving Park neighborhood, has 240 or so followers on Twitter, where he goes by the name Lord Dickleby. He had never received more than 15 reactions to a tweet. But by Tuesday afternoon his homage to his carrier had earned more than a thousand likes and nearly 300 retweets, including from Chicago Alderman Harry Osterman.
“Postal workers,” one commenter wrote, “definitely some of the most underrated essential workers.”
“Okay,” responded the Twitter celebrity-tastemaker-bon vivant (40.3K followers) known as Chicago Party Aunt, “this Chicagoan wins the CPA badass of the day award!”
“It kind of blew my mind,” Roche said Tuesday as his tweet’s popularity continued to grow. He appreciated that the carrier had earned a “badass of the day” commendation, but what struck him was that the carriers are badasses day after day.
“I’ve seen them working in conditions they’d call football games for,” he said.
Julia Henriques the managing editor of Dogs Naturally Magazine, had a similar experience on Monday. In the late afternoon, when the storm had quieted, she spotted her Northwest Side carrier weaving through the tangle of downed branches. He was carrying an umbrella a neighborhood resident had given him for the occasion; it was blown backward by the wind.
Henriques snapped a photo and put it on Facebook, adding: “For anybody who whines about the USPS ... here’s evidence of the great mail delivery on this Chicago block. One hour after a tornado ... our mail carrier Jeffrey Cooper carried on, undeterred! #USPS”
To her astonishment, the photo traveled far and wide.
“Legend.” “Hero.” “Hardcore.” “Get that man a beer.” “Now that is a true mailman.” Those were just some of the comments from the thousands of people who reacted to the photo.
“People do a lot of complaining about mail service,” Henriques said Tuesday, “but I don’t think that’s justified, especially considering what we pay for it.”
All over Chicago and beyond, people had stories of their carriers’ valor during Monday’s storm.
Rich Miller, who runs the Capitol Fax newsletter, tweeted: “During the storm yesterday, my neighborhood USPS person delivered a package to my doorstep. #StuffWeTakeForGranted.”
A few more testimonials from my Facebook friends:
“Our mail carrier came around our cul-de-sac in her postal service truck just as the storm was becoming really bad,” says Sheryl Kjelland Clark. “I waved to her to come in and wait it out, but she just smiled and kept going.”
“Just minutes after the worst of it, Letitia, our beloved carrier for decades on Drake Ave. un Carmen delivered our mail,” says Rick Kotrba. “I said simply ‘You deserve combat pay today.’ Her simple reply: ‘Tell me about it.’ ”
“Mine was out early,” says my colleague Lara Weber, “and then I saw him afterward pulling tree branches away from around his truck so he could soldier on with more deliveries. It struck me how devoted to his job he is.”
We do take our postal carriers for granted. We don’t pause to think how extraordinary it is that six days a week mail arrives in our boxes from around the country and the world. It’s true that the mail isn’t always exciting, that sometimes lately the mail is slow and that not all the carriers deserve hero badges.
But as the carriers brave the political storm around the USPS, it’s important to note that they brave other storms too. Tara Meyer Dull of suburban Chicago, whose birthday was Monday, tells this story:
“I sat inside our front porch watching the wind and rain rage, thinking, well there’s no way I’ll receive any birthday mail,” she says. “Then in the stormy darkness, a stack of envelopes drops through the slot. Wow! Made my day.”
Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.