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Letter To The Man In The White Postal Truck

In an ever-changing Downtown Crossing, writer Mary Rae found one constant: A postal worker named Harvey whose notes and demeanor brightened her days. Pictured: Snow-covered U.S. Postal Service vehicles sit idle Feb. 9, 2015, in Marlborough, Mass. (Bill Sikes/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
In an ever-changing Downtown Crossing, writer Mary Rae found one constant: A postal worker named Harvey whose notes and demeanor brightened her days. Pictured: Snow-covered U.S. Postal Service vehicles sit idle Feb. 9, 2015, in Marlborough, Mass. (Bill Sikes/AP)
COMMENTARY

“Good morning.”

The man in the window smiled.

“Good morning,” I said.

He had a slim face, short dark wavy hair and glasses. He wore a light blue shirt with an official insignia and a flipped over badge that probably identified him as a government employee.

I told him what I needed. He stepped away from the window and returned a moment later.

“Will these work?”

“Probably.”

He handed me two flat-rate Priority boxes that cost less than those I would have selected on my own.

“Here’s some labels too.”

...the thing I enjoyed most were the little signs that he taped to his window, commentaries on the weather for rugged New Englanders that counted off the days until conditions would improve.

For all of the changes that Downtown Crossing has witnessed in recent years, from the shuttering of Filene's Basement to the construction of new luxury high-rise apartments, the one constant had been the little white mail truck parked near the intersection of Summer and Chauncey streets with the words “We Deliver To You” printed across the back.

When my office moved to Downtown Crossing in 2009, I began stopping by the truck to buy stamps, drop off bills, and pick up mailing supplies whenever I wanted to send mid-term or Halloween or Valentine’s Day care packages to my kids at college. And until this past fall, the other constant in Downtown Crossing had been the man in the mail truck. 

I never saw him in a bad mood, not even during the holidays, when lines of harried customers huddled under his awning in the cold, stressed out and irritable because, like me, they had waited too long to mail cards and packages to family in California, Florida, Iowa.

Holiday shoppers carry packages at Downtown Crossing in Boston on Dec. 22, 2009. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Holiday shoppers carry packages at Downtown Crossing in Boston on Dec. 22, 2009. (Charles Krupa/AP)

“Take your time,” he told me, clearing space and taking care of the customers behind me while I juggled a pen nearly out of ink, dropped my Visa card in the slush, and tried to label the boxes that filled the shopping bags weighing down both of my arms. I suspect he treated all of us the same, a consummate customer service professional.

But the thing I enjoyed most were the little signs that he taped to his window, commentaries on the weather for rugged New Englanders that counted off the days until conditions would improve. On April 30, 2014, his handwritten sign read: Only 325 days till spring 2015! On a different day, a note scrawled across a piece of white paper read, This is spring? Are you kidding? 87 Days Till Summah!

In August, I was surprised to walk by the truck and see a different message in the window: Forty Days to Retirement! But who’s counting??

When I dropped off a birthday card for my niece, I asked him how long he’d been doing this.

“Forty years.”

“You’ve been working in this truck for 40 years?”

He grinned. “No. I’ve been working for the Post Office for 40 years. I’ve been in the truck for about seven.”

“How long have you been putting up the signs?”

“Pretty much the whole time.”

He stamped my birthday card and set it aside.

“Do you know what you’re going to do after you retire?”

“I’m not sure.”

I never saw him in a bad mood, not even during the holidays, when lines of harried customers huddled under his awning in the cold.

He said his friend Mike used to work in another mail truck that was parked at 100 Federal St. “He retired in June. Really likes it. He thinks I’m going to like it too.”

“Do you think you’ll miss it?”

“Not the job. But the people. I’ll definitely miss the people.”

“Do you mind if I ask you your name?”

“Harvey.”

I said goodbye and walked toward my office, wishing there were some way I could thank Harvey for brightening my days just a little bit all these years without even realizing he was doing it.

Related:

Mary Rae Cognoscenti contributor
Mary Rae is a writer and the director of education and community engagement at Career Collaborative in Boston.

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