In her 24 years of delivering mail to hundreds of East Baltimoreans, Earlene Bushrod has faced all manner of weather-related challenges. She says the worst mishaps occur when things aren't what they seem.
An example? Stepping into 2 feet of snow when you're expecting only a few inches.
"It just leaned me over a bit," Bushrod said as she stumbled before regaining her balance during her route. "But I'll continue to do what I do."
Bushrod, 54, and the rest of her fellow postal service workers went back to business Thursday while city, state and federal employees had another day off. Baltimore streets were largely clear, but pathways to mail slots at many homes were not, after two 20-inch-plus storms in five days.
Stepping through knee-deep snow proved to be one of Bushrod's toughest obstacles. Side streets that had not been plowed, such as Port Avenue, had snow mounds piled up, with cars nearly buried.
Bushrod views her snow-capped route as nothing more than an occupational hazard, something she will welcome as long as she continues to have a job in a struggling industry. The U.S. Postal Service ended the first quarter of its fiscal year (Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2009) with a net loss of $297 million.
Branches across the country have had to lay off workers, and the continued migration from traditional delivery to electronic alternatives has left carriers moving less mail over the past decade. The Postal Service, which is anticipating a 10 percent drop-off in parcels for 2010, has reported net losses every year since 2007.
But without fail, rank-and-file workers continue to hit the streets in all types of adverse conditions, drawing a mix of surprise and admiration from residents.
Bushrod was greeted with several astonished looks from people expecting a second straight day without mail.
Had that been the case, some said, they would have understood.
"I can't believe she's out here," said Tavon Lawrence, 24, as he cleaned off his car and watched Bushrod canvass the 2200 block of Madison St. "It shows a level of commitment and professionalism that she's out here in all of this snow. Because I wouldn't be out here."
Added Muhammad White, 46, who lives in the 500 block of Patterson Park Ave., "She's on time all the time out here. And, too, she is a very nice lady."
Although the snow-turned-slush soaked though her boots and pants, Bushrod said she prefers snow to ice. What she is going through this week is nothing compared with problems an ice storm brought in 1996.
That was the first time she was unable to deliver. The ice made walking the streets so dangerous, Bushrod said, that she understood why she was told to stay home.
The only other time Bushrod did not deliver the mail came Wednesday, when she reported to work but postal officials canceled all routes after the city moved to its Phase III snow emergency plan.
As she wound down her five-hour route, with more snow predicted for Monday, she stated the obvious: "This stuff is going to be around for a long time."
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