SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Traci Launsby thought that being a rural mail carrier would be a pretty simple gig -- put the letter in the mailbox, drive to the next house, repeat.
As it turns out, there's a lot more to delivering mail than that.
"It's definitely not as easy as it looks," she said.
Launsby has been a rural mail carrier out of South Sioux City for two years, delivering mail on what's called an "auxiliary route" -- a small mail route formed when a new housing area is developed. The route takes her to the outskirts of South Sioux City, an area the USPS still considers "rural," in terms of route classification.
She begins her day around 7:30 a.m. at the South Sioux City post office. The first item on Launsby's agenda: sort the mail.
"I think a misconception that people have is that the mail is all sorted and it's all ready to go in your truck, and our truck is piping warm and we just take our coffee and we stick our hand out the window," she said with a laugh. "And it's not like that. We actually have to sort."
After all the coupons, magazines, newspapers and so forth are sorted using special sorting cabinets, the mail is loaded onto the LLV (Long Life Vehicle, or, in layman's terms, mail truck).
Step two: make sure the truck is good to go.
"You load everything in your truck, and make sure you have gas. We always check our lights, our blinkers, check our tires, check the oil, the fluids," she said. "Just to make sure everything's ready to go so we don't have any problems."
Some rural carriers don't use the mail trucks on their routes, choosing instead private cars that have been modified for right-handed steering. This modification can be a bit pricey, and the general maintenance on these cars is the owner's responsibility, with the USPS reimbursing the drivers per diem.
On Launsby's route, which takes her only about seven miles away from the post office, she uses a mail truck.
"If I did want to do some other routes that do a lot of driving on gravel, then I would need to use a personal vehicle," she said. "You can sit in the center of some vehicles and drive them, like Buicks are really good because they have the open seat... my preference is, there is no way I would want to do that without having something that was converted to a right-hand drive."
Step three: deliver the mail.
On a typical day, Launsby said she delivers "thousands" of pieces of mail to her 89 stops, with a total of 522 boxes.
"Where I deliver mail, I have a few apartment complexes," she said.
And as anyone who has lived in an apartment knows, mail comes not-infrequently addressed to a previous tenant.
"They move in and out often," Launsby said. "A lot of people don't forward their mail properly. So there's a lot of mail that gets thrown back or written on -- and writing on the mail is not a good idea. Reasoning for that is, if we're trying to get that to the right person, if there's writing all over it, when the computer tries to scan it, it makes it difficult for the computer."
Even then, the postal workers try hard to get the mail to its intended recipient -- succeeding at times even when there's no street address or zip code.
"Not every piece of mail that we get or every package that we get is addressed correctly," she said. "All of us here -- I mean everybody -- we always try to make sure, if it's not addressed correctly... we always try to get it to the right person, we always try to go the extra mile for people."
That diligence explains how a birthday card might arrive even when improperly addressed.
"Our clerks will sort through all of that -- I mean they're amazing, they're wizards, they have to know all the city routes, all the rural routes," she said.
And the US Postal Service creed, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat..." has pretty much proven to be true for Launsby. In two years, there was only one occasion when the weather stopped mail delivery at South Sioux City.
"The truck that brings us all of our mail, parcels, everything, they weren't able to get to us, so we weren't able to deliver" on that occasion, she said.
Step four: Day over, return to the post office
Launsby usually finishes her route in the early afternoon, and takes the LLV back to the post office.
For the next few months, Launsby's route will probably take longer than usual. The holiday season -- a busy time for the post office -- is just getting underway. Gifts and treats sent hither and yon make for a much busier workday for a postal worker.
"As we're ramping up toward the holidays, it's so busy," she said.