Etched in granite on the facade of the main post office in New York, the motto sounds like a noble calling: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
But on Lake Avenue, at the border of Baltimore County and the city, the famous words are more of a dare.
The normally pleasant postal route near the Senator Theatre has become a snow-covered obstacle course for Charlie Hicks, who delivers mail to more than 300 homes, apartments and businesses.
"It's like a maze out here," Hicks said yesterday as he trekked through the snowbanks along York Road, the unshoveled sidewalks on Lake Avenue and the icy mounds of plowed sludge around Belvedere Square.
Maryland's record-setting 28-inch snowfall has caused some suffering, and no one experiences the pain quite the way a postal carrier does. There are no snow days, no liberal leave policy, no combat pay, no excuses for not getting the mail to its destination.
Even when the federal government shut down operations Tuesday, Hicks was at the post office in Govans by 7 a.m. sorting correspondence and preparing to make his rounds.
"In this line of work, you have to go in," said Hicks, who is one of those remarkably optimistic people, the kind who never whines, even when a complaint seems the only fitting comment.
It's par for the course if he falls down in the snow a few times a day. And it's a bonus when there's a clear path to the door, but not something Hicks can count on.
In the aftermath of last weekend's record-breaking storm, the 52-year-old carrier and his colleagues have become urban pioneers, leaving the only sets of footprints in some parts of the Baltimore region. They go where the snowplows and shovels have not.
But they also share the common experience of everyone in the metropolitan area, trying desperately to find a parking space for their trucks on roads bordered by mountains of snow.
"I'm parking a lot farther away than I usually do because there's just no way to get any closer," Hicks explained.
This means even more walking, which Hicks has prepared for by wearing $75 rubber-soled snow boots he bought from Van Dyke and Bacon Comfort Shoes at Northern Parkway and York Road. More walking also means it takes Hicks longer to complete his route. He has cut short his half-hour lunch and eliminated breaks to make sure he finishes on time.
But even new boots might not help tomorrow if the heavy rain predicted by weather forecasters materializes.
"Every place there's a track now is going to be a puddle of water," Hicks said, cringing a little at the thought. "If I stay dry, I can stay warm even in this. But as soon as you get wet, there's no way not to be cold."
Hicks tries not to think about the cold, rainy days. "Most days, it's not bad. I don't mind the heat. I get to walk around and see nature, the things that most people don't notice," he says, pointing to the late afternoon ice crystals that seem to form a halo around the sun in the winter months, often referred to as sundogs.
"Then there are the squirrels and the dogs - the friendly ones," said Hicks, who has a nasty gash on his ankle from one dog attack. "There's one dog on Lake Avenue - Jetta - a black lab that just loves me."
"I really have the best of both worlds - I spend a few hours in the office when I'm sorting the mail and get to laugh and talk with the other carriers and then spend most of the day out here," said Hicks, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy. And every day he passes the building where he enlisted.
He lives in Gardenville with his wife, Rosie, and has been carrying the mail since 1987, the year he was married.
He has endured plenty of bad weather: sleet, hail and the blizzard-like conditions in 1996. But this storm, Hicks said, has been the worst. "I'm not sure why. It's deeper. And the plowing hasn't been as good. I know they're down quite a bit of plows this year."
Hicks said he does have a secret for dealing with it, though: "Walk fast."