the true stories
Over the years, I had many routes and as time progressed the Board of Canada Post put into practice all the ideas that were hatched at their meetings. Small neighborhood stations began to amalgamate and coalesce into ever larger operations housed in new buildings. It was a real-estate sell off and a preparation for down-sizing that required no PhD to interpret.
I found myself working for a newly created station which was a combination of two which had been my learning ground in my early days. There was a contest to name the new station and after the rejection of Stalag 31 and other such names, it was decided that the winning name was to be Mountainview. The new letter-carrier station was situated on Yukon St. in Vancouver at Seventh Ave.
It was divided into two floors, with the upstairs being the old Depot 31 and the downstairs being the old Station C. The latter station's territory was the East-side and the upstairs covered the West out to Oak St. The upstairs routes encompassed all the larger apartment towers and the higher income residential areas, thus the dogs were smaller and friendlier.
It occurred to a friend and early mentor of mine within the post office that it was time for the two of us to “move on up – to the West-side.” His plan was for us to grab two monster apartment walks and cash in on the lack of gates and stairs as well as the extra money for the delivery of metric tons of junk mail.
I considered his plan and concurred. My family was without wheels and the car commercials kept telling me I belonged outdoors, bungee-jumping with my brood. We were regularly hiking and and pursuing all kinds of activities but we had to come and go by bus. It was getting to be a drag.
We placed our bids and were both successful. My route was just under 900 calls and my friend's was in the same ball-park. Before a quarter was up, my friend bid off to something more humane and I stubbornly stayed on mine, making one after-tax cent per flyer until I had saved enough to buy a vehicle with cash saved over the course of four years or so.
During this time, I was successful in tearing both menisci. My knees swelled to the size of grapefruits and stayed that way for two years while I awaited my turn to get an MRI to diagnose the problem. Meanwhile, I altered my sortation case on the weekend, fixing it so my histamine holders wouldn't bang into the unforgiving maple.
I was on that route for four years before a successful bid took me to a residential route, which although many times longer to walk, proved to be better for my knees. During the four years, I was busy climbing all the peaks in North Vancouver's Lynn Watershed on my time off.
At the same time, I was studying up on tracking and generally trying to become more tuned in to my surroundings in the bush. As I progressed in this endeavor, I began to see more wildlife each time. In addition, I had to learn to monitor the weather, the route and my own condition.
I began to notice many more things even at home in my neighborhood as well as at work on my route. The city is just another jungle and has its own food chain. I noticed for the first time, the man across the street who had visits from prostitutes about twice a month. I noticed the ever changing bag men who carried off the days drug-selling proceeds to their boss from an apartment several blocks to the South.
Before, they had just blended in as random passers by. Now, it was if they and their two bodyguards across the street were spray-painted Dayglo orange. They passed by around 8 PM each evening and made the drop at the Chevron station on the corner. The body guards changed each time as did the bag man. The method and the timing was rock solid and you could set your watch to it.
Looking back, it may have also been the constant severe pain in my knees that contributed to my extra-heightened awareness at this time. I noticed a man one day standing by the upraised hood of his car while I was delivering my route. When I glanced at him, I knew he was out of place and when I left that street nearly an hour later, he hadn't budged. He stood in exactly the same spot, hands on the hood and seeming to peer into the depths of his engine.
I knew a customer, a Welshman who was a private detective. We discussed the man I had seen and I was told that in a city the size of Vancouver, in a neighborhood as high-end and as dense as was my route, there would easily be dozens of his ilk, busy doing jobs for suspicious wives, husbands, bosses and insurance personnel. Added to this were the throngs of camera carriers. Some were students and some worked for real estate companies and others were tourists.
This new information made me even more aware of my surroundings. It became a new adventure each day as I spotted all the snoopers. They had always been there, I had just been oblivious before. Now it was easy to see who was out of context. Part of the secret of seeing them had to do with movement.
In a cityscape, people are in constant flow. Both the observer and the observed. If a person drives slowly past a man peering iunder the hood of his car at the roadside, they make a mental note that they are glad it isn't their car in trouble and then shift their attention to the lady in red sashaying over to a car parked in front of the flower shop.
The vision of the man will be forgotten in an instant and the observer's mind will have already written a back story and a conclusion to the whole phenomena. If, however, the observer happened along the way again four hours later and the same man hadn't moved an inch, he would begin for the first time to analyze that man. If the observer had himself stopped within sight of the car man for even forty-five minutes, he would have become intrigued.
This propensity of the human mind to fill in blanks to the satisfaction of the observer in order to avoid processing any “extra” data is greatly heightened by city life. People that would fool you are well versed in their understanding of this trait and use it to their advantage. I began to relate my days sightings to my Welsh P. I. friend and he laughed each time I mentioned a ruse that he himself had used in his work.
I found every CCT camera on my route and noticed for the first time that the bus I rode to work was wired for both sight and sound. I noticed that the photography supply store on my route was a front for selling hydroponic grow operation chemicals out the back door. I found three in-home meth labs and two in-home grow operations.
I noticed that the travel agency on my route had never been in that business for the entire four years I delivered its mail. As it was in a lump of 900 calls, it was awhile before I noticed that the jacket slung over the chair at the desk and the empty coffee mug adjacent hadn't moved a centimeter. Only the pile of mail under the front door slot had been picked up.
I noticed one day while sorting mail that I was receiving about 500 miss-sorted letters that were for another colleague's route. They were addressed to a private post office box service about two blocks away from the bogus travel agency. It became annoying to cull this mail out and walk across the station to give it to the other carrier. On one of these trips to dump that mornings gleanings, I noticed that the other carrier was delivering about fifty pounds of this mail per day to that box. I saw Dayglo orange.
I scrutinized the envelopes and noticed that all the letters were from Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi. Most were scrawled in pencil and the towns of origin were all tiny rural communities. Eventually, in the flood came one letter that hadn't been sealed and the contents fell out of its nearly destroyed envelope.
It was a cheaply printed note, telling the sender that they had won very much money and as soon as their five dollars cash processing fee was received that they would be sent the information as to how to collect their windfall. Folded inside the note was a wrinkled, crinkled, wadded five dollar bill. It was covered in the dust and dirt of honest toil and I could imagine the sharecropper sitting at his or her kitchen table making it ready to send and dreaming of perhaps a new roof for his shack.
I replaced the contents and sent it on its evil way. I was angry and I Googled up the codes on the exterior of the envelope and found that the source for sending out the winner's notices was a self-serve Postal Outlet in a small mall in South Carolina. One weekend I sat sipping coffee and munching pizza next to the P. O. Box business in Vancouver and watched two nice looking young men haul away a massive sack of these envelopes into their expensive car.
I did a rough calculation and found that these bandits were making some serious money. I told my boss and with a raised eyebrow she informed me that the Canada Post Security and Investigation Team was hot on the trail already. She seemed surprised I had noticed anything at all. She gave me a card with a number to phone if I saw anything else pertinent.
Not long after this it was my turn. They say if you peer too long into the abyss, it will begin to look back at you. I became aware one fine day that I was being followed and monitored. It was obvious to me but nothing would have looked out of place to anyone else. It was being done by a team and a fairly large one. No one stalker stayed on me for long before being replaced by another.
The playground was my route and the duration was several months. These people were mostly in their thirties and had some sophisticated equipment for the time I am speaking of. Some of their methods were classic and could be found in any police training manual or any good spy novel. I was even photographed by a young man with a peep-hole camera he had installed in the left elbow of his Army Surplus jacket.
The jacket was spotlessly clean and his shoes were too expensive for my postie salary. There was a neatly cut circular hole the size of a match head in thew elbow of his jacket and he awkwardly pressed a squeeze-type shutter mechanism with his right hand while cutting in front of me on the sidewalk and pointing that elbow at me like a gun. I asked him if he wanted to take two in case it didn't come out well as he sped off around the first corner.
My first instinct was that it wasn't really happening. This was disproved very quickly. My second instinct was that it was the Post Office training a new crop of S & I people. It was logical. My route was close to the station, close to transportation from downtown and had many good places to eat and buy coffee. I approached my superintendent and asked him if this was the case or if I was actually being shadowed due to the large amount of overtime which I had legitimately booked on my monster route.
He answered that he was not aware of any investigation of myself and had not ordered such. He said he would phone the appropriate high-ups and make sure. The next day he told me that Canada Post was definitely not involved. That tore it for me. It wasn't fun anymore. I was being hunted and I didn't know by whom or why.
The surveillance would start within a block of my exit from my station. I always walked from 7th and Cambie up the steep hill to 16th. Usually a man or woman would emerge from either a parked car or a doorway across the busy boulevard. They would be in lock-step with me and if I altered my pace, they did likewise. If I crossed the street, they would abruptly break off and either enter a store or turn a corner. Within seconds I could always pick up the next tracker who would emerge from a store or car or doorway on either side of the street. They would give themselves away by matching my purposely changing stride and by the sudden dash into a store if I looked too long at them.
The sheer number of players along the length and breadth of my territory told me that they were sophisticated and were not after me. Rather they were after my schedule. As these guys took notes outside each of my big apartment towers as to my arrival time and length of stay, I took license numbers of every vehicle I saw them scurry into throughout my day. I phoned these into S & I each day.
I began to vary my delivery sequence at random. This caused much confusion at first and several times I surprised a spook. Some times I would have a smoke in the cover of a big evergreen while watching a perplexed hood checking his watch and anxiously looking in the direction I was supposed to come from. These moments made the pressure bearable.
One afternoon I was followed to my rented duplex. I had a wife and two sons in there and now things were taking a serious turn. That week-end I saw one of the crew standing right across my street at a bus stop. He let bus after bus go by. I told my wife. She said, “Pop, you're working too hard.” I told her I would make a prediction. I told her to watch the man let two buses go by from our window first. Then I told her that if I stepped out into the yard, he would magically decide to take the very next bus.
My wife smiled and took up my challenge. I was right! I had my payback for getting cheeky with these guys by the fact that they now knew where I lived and some of my family routine. Over the next few weeks the mail started to be stolen from my route and many adjacent routes in this part of town. At first, the panels of boxes were broken open physically but within weeks, they were simply opened with some sort of key and re-closed.
Piles of mail were discovered dumped in city parks, beaches and other places sometimes miles from their source. Each instance was duly reported to the station and to the S & I. I had to phone them daily and sometimes a few times in one day. The operation was very big. I continued randomizing my delivery patterns and observing everything around me.
One day, I did a very convoluted pattern of delivery and was treated to the following sight. A young woman, probably in her teens and dressed in dirty torn jeans and a tee-shirt was busy in the lobby of a building that I would normally not get to until many hours later in the afternoon. She had her own key and a black plastic garbage bag.
She was nearly finished shoving all the last few letters into the bag and locking up the panels with a practiced hand. As I watched from a behind a juniper bush she headed off down the sidewalk in the direction of a mall on 12th Ave. Right across the street from her were two young muscle boys who escorted her all the way to the mall. I grinned, as I had arranged the night before to meet my wife and son at the food court of this same mall. I checked my watch. I decided to arrive to my lunch a bit early and follow the mail thieves.
I checked my rear and sides and followed two blocks behind. When the young lady got to the entrance the young men kept on their way past the mall. I hurried into the food court. I just saw the girl disappear into a corridor which contained the door to the big mail-room of the mall and some washrooms.
I sat at a good vantage point and awaited my wife. My son and wife called from across the floor and soon we were chowing away on noodles. I didn't mention the drama to my wife so she wouldn't stare and it gave me an excuse for being in that place at that time in case I was being studied. I never took my eye off the corridor.
After about ten minutes, the young woman appeared, this time all dressed in swanky shoes, a nice dress and adorned with jewelry and make-up. She streamed into the throng and instantly became another shopper who had been there all day. I watched the corridor over my wife's head. In about four minutes, out came a big man in this early forties. He was dressed in an expensive well-fitting suit like a lawyer and had a hands-free phone in his ear. He was gripping a small expensive Gucci gentleman's bag.
As he exited the food court area he mumbled into his mic and I caught some movement on the Mezzanine level above where we were. There, stationed at the four corners were four goons in their thirties, similarly dressed to the man with the briefcase, all with phones in their ears and all moving down four staircases simultaneously to flank their boss out of the building. I hadn't previously noticed them.
I had occasion to meet the local head of postal security some months after and learned that Russian mobsters had worked this scam right across Canada. They were well-funded, well-equipped, well-trained, well-disciplined and not to be trifled with. They had managed to equip themselves with the keys then in use via armed assaults and always used underage dupes to do the actual theft. The postal keys across Canada were all changed to a vastly superior type in response. The irony that this all happened in the nicer parts of town was a new lesson for me.
I learned that poor areas have much visible petty crime and thus an overblown reputation that tars many decent people with a dirty brush. There simply aren't the funds to cover the dirt with. Conversely, nice parts of a town harbor every type of evil, almost perfectly concealed under a layer of store-bought window dressing.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.