Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow…

Jordan Weissmann

The holiday season can be short on cheer for an Evanston mail carrier.

As fall turns into winter and the annual crop of Christmas decorations begins to sprout up around the city, letter carriers find themselves lugging fattened satchels through the icy cold of the Chicago winter.

Steven Lease has been a mail carrier for the Evanston Post Office for 33 years. As he puts it, he has been doing his job for “too damn long.”

“Our biggest worry is the weather,” Lease said, recalling the fall of 2000, when an early snowstorm almost crippled service. Ice patches also loom on the horizon, an invisible peril causing falls and injuries.

“People don’t shovel,” he grumbled.

But compared to some, Lease feels he has it good. October and November were the traditional months of hardship for mail carriers, as their bags were weighted with a deluge of mail order catalogues. But with postage rate increases aimed at discourage mass mailings and the surge of Internet shopping, that load has lightened a bit.

“For me, since I don’t drive a truck, it’s not so bad,” Lease said. “If I did drive a truck, I’d have to contend with all the parcels.”

Indeed, the true challenge of the holiday mail season, according to Evanston Postmaster Samuel Nievas, is the packages. Nievas is in charge of the approximately 250 employees who work to process mail for 35,000 addresses in Evanston and Skokie.

With the holiday influx of large packages, space becomes an issue.

“It can be very hectic,” he said. “The building is still the same size, and if we let something get backed up, we won’t be able to move around very efficiently.”

For carriers like Lease, that can sometimes mean up to a 12-hour work day. The post office hires 5-10 additional carriers for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas to try to lighten the burden. These temporary workers, referred to as NTE (Not to Exceed) Casual Employment, might be anyone from a student on holiday break to an unemployed adult.

The post office takes steps to ease the seasonal mail process for its customers as well. To combat the long lines that form in the last two weeks before Christmas, Saturday’s closing time is extended from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

An automated postal center has been added as well.

“That’s gonna be able to handle packages and all kinds of transactions without having a clerk there,” Nievas sad.

Non-express packages will be delivered on Sundays for the three weeks before Christmas.

An extra delivery day means more work for the neighborhood mail carriers. Fortunately, the holiday season comes with a few perks.

“The best part about it is when the customer on your route gives you a little envelope — the tips,” Lease said.

As an afterthought, he added, “Sometimes they give you a cookie or a bottle of booze.”

Everyone, after all, deserves some Christmas spirit. T

Reach Jordan Weissman at [email protected]