As Told To
Stories about the way the world works, in the words of people living in it.
Debbie Isser is a 65-year-old letter carrier for the United States Postal Service, working a rural route in Reisterstown, Maryland, northwest of Baltimore. Isser has worked as a carrier for more than 11 years, and she plans to retire in 2023.
Isser spoke with The Outline as part of “As Told To,” our ongoing series about how the coronavirus is reordering peoples’ lives. This conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
The pandemic hasn’t really affected my commuting routine. In terms of how it’s affected us actually in the post office, well they’ve changed some of the protocols. We have to wear gloves now, which they provide for us while we’re working. We don’t deliver, out on the street, anything that requires a signature because they would have to use our stylus to sign. Basically, we’re avoiding any contact, having to meet with people face to face. We’ve eliminated any need for us to do that, like for a package or a certified letter. We’re just leaving a notice for customers.
Ordinarily, I would say anywhere from two to 10 times a day I’d have to get out of my truck to go to people’s doors. And I don’t do that anymore. I write up the notices before I even leave the post office. And then if they come into the post office, the clerk doesn’t really have to touch the same things that the people are touching.
Have they been restricting the number of people coming into the post office at one time?
They really haven’t. I went in to mail something to [my daughter] Mindy yesterday, and… it was just a matter of people needing to do their own social distancing. When waiting in line, you know, to leave like six feet between you and the person in front of you, and hopefully the next person in line also has that awareness. I went to the supermarket and I was standing behind this woman, six feet behind her, and the guy behind me asked me because he didn’t really understand why, and I said “social distancing,” and he was like “oh yeah, good idea.” I guess not everyone has the awareness.
Every day the postmaster will give what’s called a stand-up talk, this person is the head honcho in an individual post office. My postmaster in Reisterstown, since the virus broke out, a lot of her talk has been about how we can keep ourselves safe from the virus. And every day she will reiterate the same thing: make sure we wash our hands a lot for 20 seconds, cleaning our trucks, keeping everything disinfected — how to protect yourself.
The good thing is there’s a lot less traffic, because I deliver a lot on a heavily traveled route. I’m what’s called a rural carrier. I don’t walk, I drive from box to box, because I work out in the country pretty much.
I don’t see a lot of people out anymore like I used to. Other than that, I don’t see too much of a difference [from before the pandemic]. I’ll give you one example: one of my customers got very angry with me. This person, I guess they came right after I left the mail, and I was still on the same street, and the person came and they were sort of annoyed because they were thinking “you left the notice but you didn’t even come to my door.”
In normal times, I could understand that, because you know that’s lazy, just not wanting to get out of your truck, so you just leave the notice. But that’s not the way that I work, so I explained to the person that we’re not delivering certified letters anymore because of the virus. He was like, annoyed. He was like, “but now I’ll have to go to the post office and wait in line.” Not very nice. It was all about him. That was a negative example.
Other than that, there's not been that much of a change. I was thinking they were gonna close us down, but that’s not gonna be happening because the one other thing that the postmaster told us on Saturday was about some kind of letter going out to everyone in the country from the president, about the virus. I have no idea what it's about, but that just leads me to say we’re gonna be working. We’re not going anywhere.
Selfishly? I don’t know how well I would deal with this self-quarantining. You, at least you’re home, you’re working from home, you’re still working. Same as Mindy. It doesn't make that big of a difference in the way that she does her work. I don't know… I’d go a little bit stir-crazy. I’d gain 40 pounds instead of 10 pounds. I feel like I’m pretty safe because I don’t really have contact with people, I’m very aware of that and I try to keep to myself as much as possible. I know that I’m touching postage and mailboxes and stuff like that.
Is there an added degree of stress because of the conditions you’re working under?
I have to say no. Not about work. I’m thinking more about my family. Something happening to someone that I love a lot. That’s really what I think about. Will I ever see my children again? That kind of thing. I was just reading about that flu, what they called the Spanish Flu. It was like 100 years ago that we had that pandemic. And that lasted two years, and it killed, a low estimate, is 12 million people.
Have people left you things?
One of my customers actually, when I went to deliver their mail, I think they left the box open, so I wouldn’t have to touch the handle, which is a thing some people are doing. She left me a note that said, “Be safe” with a little heart drawn on it, and some hand sanitizer.