I have a dog, Scout, who is something of an escape artist.
And one day, I had a knock at the door and there was the mailman with Scout tucked under his arm.
“I’m pretty sure this is your dog,” said the mailman, watching my face go from gratitude to frustration. “I found him across the street and I thought he was yours.”
“I love dogs,” he added, contradicting an old adage about dogs and mail carriers.
That was the first time I ever really got to know our mailman, Dave Ruiz. And recently, I got a note from a neighbor telling me that Ruiz is having surgery on both knees. The neighbors and I all signed a card wishing him well.
Knee surgery is not a good thing for anyone — but especially for a mailman, who can be walking much of a day. And this surgery — scheduled for sometime this summer — will be the second time he’s had the same surgery.
Ruiz said that according to the pedometer that he carries, he walked 2,700 miles in a year and three-quarters. That’s a six-day-a-week job, and walking much of a 12-hour shift.
Since his last surgery six years ago, Ruiz estimates that he has gone about 7,000 miles — and he’s back again with torn meniscuses in both knees. He has cut his walking to three hours a day, and he fills mail boxes for the rest of his route.
The last time he had the surgery, the lanky man was off for a year. He estimates he will probably be out for the same amount this time, too. And since he’s only 50 years old, Ruiz said that he’s got many miles to go before retirement.
Ruiz said that he basically has the northern part of South Pasadena as his mail route.
“I like my route,” he said. “It’s quiet and basically off main streets.”
He’s done other routes during his 21 years with the U.S. Postal Service — 18 of them in South Pasadena. One thing, however, has not changed: Our guy doesn’t want a desk job.
“I love being outside,” Ruiz said. “I couldn’t work indoors. I’d be looking outside.”
He’s found beauty in nature, even during the pandemic.
“In a way, it was beautiful,” he said. “There was almost no traffic. The air was clean and you could hear the birds chirping. I was grateful to be outside.”
There is a saying that goes, “Neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night shall keep the postman from his appointed rounds.” Well, there is no snow to worry about; Ruiz remembers wearing long pants only once. And there usually isn’t a lot of rain. (And there aren’t just postmen: the prominence of women who have joined the USPS means “mail carrier” has become the generalized term.)
But what is true, is that they do try to keep to their appointed rounds.
Ruiz said that being physically fit is part of the job as is being able to get along with other people. He estimates that the heaviest his mailbag gets is about 50 pounds, but the postal handbook says that he’s supposed to carry between 35 and 70 pounds.
“It’s the best part of my day when I get to deliver college acceptance letters, birthday cards or checks. It brings great satisfaction to me,” he said. “The toughest things to deliver are cremated remains. It’s difficult to ring the bell and have someone sign for their loved one.”
Ruiz has gotten to know a lot of people on his route.
“I enjoy talking with people,” he said.
There was one older man who Ruiz helped to clean his garage after work. They got tired and the man was telling him about his life working on a steam engine. Ruiz swears at that moment he could hear the sound of a steam engine whistle. The old man assured him he had heard no such thing, but Ruiz described it as a surreal moment.
There are time restraints that weren’t there years ago.
“It’s not the way it used to be where people did customer service and talked to people on their routes,” Ruiz said.
And there was that one dog that came after him and Ruiz put up his mailbag to block it. The dog bit into his can of mace. Neither man, nor dog, was very pleased with that outcome.
But time constraints or not, Ruiz, who lives in Eagle Rock, is still providing customer service, especially during the pandemic.
“During the shutdown, some time I was the only person people saw all day,” he said. “I gave my name and phone number to some people in case they needed anything and they were very appreciative. I would have done anything for whomever. Some people bought stamps and I mailed some packages.
“I felt that I should have done that because people were really afraid in the beginning,” Ruiz added. “The thing was that I was afraid to bring something home to my family.”
Ruiz’s family includes his wife, who is a school teacher, and their two daughters — ages 23 and 19. His long hours meant there were times when he had to rush to make it to one of the girls’ soccer games or swim meets.
“Sometimes I went in my uniform,” he said. “There were times that I’d take lunch so I could watch one of the girls participate in a game.”
You could say that the postal service is in Ruiz’s DNA. His mother was a mail carrier for 20 years in Silver Lake. Not that the daughters want to extend the tradition, but Ruiz recalled that one of his daughters did dress up as a mail carrier one Halloween.
There have also been a lot of late dinners.
“That’s another hard thing,” Ruiz said. “It will be dark and you see everyone sitting down to dinner.
“And the smells,” he fondly recalled. “Ah, steak.”