No mystery and no magic to letter's journey

November 06, 1994|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,Sun Staff Writer

For the most part, Postal Service workers keep their gripes to themselves. But when they don't, the gripe is the same:

"A lot of people don't have any idea what it takes to mail a letter," said Richard W. Rudez, a district manager for customer service and sales for the Postal Service. "They think that they throw the letter in the mailbox and something mysterious happens."

A lot happens, but it's not particularly mysterious, if the journey of one letter from a mailbox at the Annapolis Mall to an apartment in White Marsh is any indication.

From the time the letter was dropped in the box until it was delivered, it traveled in four vehicles and passed through more than a dozen handlers and an array of high-tech machines with names like Advanced Facer Canceller.

The letter, one of 570 in The Sun's Oct. 18 test mailing, was deposited in the mailbox shortly before the last pickup at 5 p.m. It was addressed to an apartment in the 4800 block of Berryhill Road in northeastern Baltimore County.

At 5:30 p.m., a mail carrier -- usually a new hire or part-time employee on what the Postal Service considers a training run -- picked up the letter and dumped it in his van. The carrier made a beeline to Anne Arundel Delivery Distribution Unit at 195 Admiral Cochran Drive and dropped the letter off.

Larry Wizepa, a contract tractor trailer driver, loaded The Sun's letter and thousands of others into his 18-wheeler about 6:30 p.m. Then he was off, bound for the main post office at 900 E. Fayette St. in Baltimore, where most of the Baltimore region's mail is processed.

The trip to Baltimore took 30 minutes. When Mr. Wizepa arrived, his truck was unloaded at the facility's North Dock, and the mail was rushed through a set of double doors like an emergency hospital patient.

At the first stop, a handler separated the letters from the packages and put them on the first of many humming conveyor belts. The belt whisked the letters to the Advanced Facer Canceller -- the machine that makes sure they have valid stamps and imprints the postmark.

Next, the letters took another conveyor-belt ride to the second floor. Because The Sun letter did not have a bar code, it was separated by hand from those that did and was sent to the Multi Line Optical Code reader -- a machine that reads the ZIP code and sprays on a bar code.

"This is where some delays happen," said Tim Haney, distribution operations manager. "One of the worst things is when only partial address can be seen through the cellophane windows" of a letter.

The letter was then sorted by destination and placed in a tray for mail with Baltimore County ZIP codes. From there, it was whisked to the Delay Barcode Sorter, which put it in a tray for Perry Hall's Nottingham Station.

Next it was sent to the Delivery Point Sequence Machine, which put the letter with mail for carrier Cynthia Dickson.

Sorted, bar-coded and resorted, the letter left the East Dock on a truck at 7 a.m. -- about 12 hours after it arrived in Baltimore.

When the letter reached the Nottingham Station about a half-hour later, Ms. Dickson sorted her batch of mail. Mail for the 4800 block of Berryhill Circle in Perry Hall was delivered on the first third of her 8-hour route.

She dropped the letter in the recipient's mailbox at 1:30 p.m. -- on schedule.

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