Noe Valley Voice May 2010

Paule-Dominique Anneheim is one of hundreds of 24th Street residents who will miss letter carrier Daniel Price when he retires from the post office in June.
Photo by Pamela Gerard

Letter Carrier to Hang Up His Satchel for Good

By Olivia Boler

Everybody knows it pays to have a backup plan. But 24th Street letter carrier Daniel Price knows it more than most--his backup plan turned into his life's work. On June 17, Price will retire after 37 years on the job with the United States Postal Service (USPS).

"I'm not really remarkable," says Price with modesty. "I don't have an unusual life story." What he does have is a career that wasn't his first choice but which became a cherished connection to the neighborhood where he was born.

For 31 years, Price has delivered mail up and down 24th Street. Each morning, he leaves his current home in Pacifica and arrives at the post office's 16th and Bryant sorting station by 7:30 a.m. He sorts his mail, which takes about two hours, and then drives his mail truck out to his 94114 service area.

He parks at the corner of 24th and Castro streets and delivers the mail--letters, flat packages, third-class bulk business items ("you probably know it as 'junk mail,'" he says)--to businesses and homes all along 24th Street and down a few of the surrounding blocks. His delivery area has changed a bit over the years as mail volume has grown--and shrunk.

"At first, my route was 14 blocks long and the boundaries were 23rd and Noe streets and 26th and Diamond streets," says Price, 60. "Over the years, I've whittled it down to seven blocks, as mail volume increased. That's usually how it works. There's an increase in volume and a decrease in territory."

In the past couple of years, however, mail volume has dropped significantly. As consumers rely more on email and other new technologies for their communications, the less they use "snail mail," as paper mail is often called. The Postal Service posted a $3.8 billion loss in revenue last year, and in March announced plans to cut delivery service to five days a week. Last month, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Postmaster General John Potter is urging early retirement for half of the USPS's 600,000 employees over the next decade.

His employer's woes have certainly made an impact on Price's decision to permanently hang up his delivery satchel. Usually, he delivers mail five days a week, and on his day off, a "swing carrier" takes over his route. But those jobs will likely be cut if delivery goes to only five days. Price has also seen a decrease in the volume of mail he carries. "To make up for that, we've been doing what is called 'pivoting,' where we do part of someone else's surrounding route, maybe just a block or two," Price says.

Price has strong Noe Valley roots, even though his family moved out of the city when he was a toddler. "Both of my parents are proud Mission High School graduates, and I was born in their home on 23rd and Guerrero." He grew up in South San Francisco and San Bruno, the oldest of five siblings who are today scattered around the Bay Area.

He was 23 years old when he first took a job with the USPS. After high school, he fulfilled a two-year enlistment with the U.S. Navy in which he spent most of his time on a ship ferrying troops and equipment between Okinawa and Vietnam.

After being discharged in 1971, Price took classes at City College of San Francisco. "I met the love of my life there, Suzanne." She was a Noe Valley girl, who grew up on Valley Street in St. Paul's Parish. The two married and moved into the apartment where Price was born.

When he finished up his program in chemical engineering in 1973, Price couldn't find work in his field. Fortunately, he had taken the civil service exam for the postal service the year before, "as a backup plan. I took the job to tide me over as a short-term thing. But a chemical engineering job never came through, and I've been with the postal service ever since. I never looked back."

His first routes were in North Beach and the Haight-Ashbury, and he landed the Noe Valley territory in 1979. He and his wife moved to Daly City a couple of years before that, then to Pacifica in 1983, where they've been ever since. His assignment to the Noe Valley route had nothing to do with his neighborhood ties, but was just coincidence, he says.

Over the past 31 years, Price has seen many changes in Noe Valley. He recalls the "little mom and pop businesses" that were a good share of his customers when he first started. "I remember the original Star Magic, and Harry Aleo the realtor. There was the original Bud's Ice Cream at the corner of 24th and Castro. And there was Star Greeting Cards owned by Elsie Barrett, where the Wells Fargo is now. Also, Glen Five and Ten was where the post office is now."

One customer that's remained is Carol Yenne, owner of Small Frys children's clothing boutique on 24th Street. Yenne says she'll be sorry to see Price go. "Dan has been our mailman as long as I can remember. My father was a mailman, and [Price and I] always enjoy great conversations about the mail--how heavy it is, the extra mail during elections, catalogs, changes in schedules, etc." She also appreciates Price's friendly nature and willingness to respond to questions. What stands out most for Yenne is, "Dan always, always has a smile for us."

A group of former customers Price holds dear to his heart are the nuns that used to live in St. Philip's Church, which closed five years ago. "That was hard to take, when the convent closed. I miss those ladies. I knew them very well over the years."

On the other hand, he won't miss the "small old-fashioned mailboxes that are nearly impossible to fit Netflix envelopes into," he says.

As for that folkloric nemesis of letter carriers--the dog--Price says he has only been nipped a few times, and it's always been a sneak attack.

"When I first started working years ago, some people let their dogs roam free, especially on the side streets off 24th Street, and I had to keep a sharp eye out for the renegades. People are better about that today, but it's usually dogs walking off leash, and even some on."

He carries pepper spray just in case, although he has never had occasion to use it. He also notes that one dog that used to bark at him when he was on the job was "as friendly as can be when I was shopping up at the Diamond Heights Safeway one time in my civilian clothes. I always say, all dogs are my friends, some more, some less."

At home, he and his wife are cat people--they share their abode with Callie the calico cat.

Come June, Price will be home a lot more. He currently dabbles in building computers for family and friends. "It's an interesting hobby to me. I put together the components--the case, the CPU, the hard drive." Whether or not he'll do more with that once he retires, he's not sure. He promises to visit his old stomping grounds, though. "Suzanne has strong friends and family connections in St. Paul's Parish. And obviously, I'm going to miss my patrons." And perhaps even those renegade dogs.

Mail carrier Dan Price will be honored May 20 at 6 p.m. by the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association as they celebrate Small Business Week. The party will be hosted by Wells Fargo Bank, 4045 24th Street, and will also recognize Jane Warner of the Special Police Patrol, Noe Valley Auto, Selecta Auto Body, Phoenix Books, Terra Mia, and Susie Mills of Castro Nails. Though it's primarily a merchant event, Yenne says, "If anyone else wants to come because they know Dan, they are welcome to do so."

When he first joined the Postal Service in 1973, Daniel Price had no idea he'd be wearing the uniform for close to 40 years.