Maria Liss has come a long way in 24 years with the .
When she began in 1987, she delivered the mail door-to-door in Poway. Today, she’s the postmaster in Santee, a job she’s held since 2007.
As much as she enjoyed her four years as a mail carrier in Poway, though, she says the job she has now is the best she’s ever had.
For one thing, she can see every aspect of the operation.
For another, she has air conditioning.
“You don’t have to carry out in the heat or rain, like right now,” she says, laughing on a recent hot Santee afternoon.
Still, those days carrying the mail had their upsides.
For all the dogs that harassed her and the too-hot or too-wet conditions, she was able to connect daily with some very nice people.
And on some scorching summer days, she’d even get some cool surprises.
“What’s nice, usually on a hot day, they would have like cold drinks waiting for you in the (mail)box,” she says. “Like this time of year when it’s super hot, they’re very thoughtful. They spot you coming and they put a cold drink waiting for you in the box so when you open it, it’s like ‘Oh, wow.’ It was great.”
Running the office
These days, nobody’s bringing in ice-cold lemonades or bottles of water for the postmaster. But that’s OK. She’s got that AC (and a sweater to put on in case it gets too cold).
Liss, 49, works out of her office at the . She puts in long days – 12-hour shifts aren’t unusual – overseeing everything from the 62 employees, to delivery, the branch budget, building and vehicle maintenance and the sale of stamps. If it happens at 9518 Mission Gorge Road, she’s responsible for it.
That umbrella oversight keeps her hopping – she’s on-call 24/7 – but it’s what she likes best about the position. She can make an impact.
“You see everything in the operation, from clerk craft to carrier craft to mail processing to function in retail,” she says. “All facets.”
She credits her supervisors (“they’re my right and my left,” she says) for helping her make the operation function smoothly.
But in 2011, being a postmaster is much more of a challenge than it was 10 or 20 years ago.
With the economy limping, the volume of mail in decline and the bottom line causing the Postal Service to shut some offices and consider cutting back to five days of delivery, postmasters such as Liss are forced to deal with new realities.
“More with less,” she says.
When she came to Santee in 2007, there were more than 70 employees. As employees now retire, they simply aren’t being replaced. She’s tasked with meeting monthly budgets and finding more efficient ways to operate, while also providing the service that the public has come to take for granted.
Ask her if the Postal Service is in transition, and she simply says, “Yes.”
Some day, the service may go away, but she doubts it. Some items will always need to be delivered to a front door. But there could be any number of future transitions, such as further cuts, consolidations or privatization.
She acknowledges that change, now, is the constant.
Still, she hears from customers. When they’re upset, they call her.
“People get unhappy when you mess with their mail,” she says.
One of the most common customer complaints is about route adjustments. Because of staff attrition and other factors, routes often have to be changed. That may mean that a customer used to getting mail early in the day now gets it much later.
“Somebody has to be last,” she says, “and they don’t like that answer. But we can’t help it. We have to adjust and be the best and most efficient we can be, but we can’t appease and please some people, and I understand. That’s the hardest thing.”
But with the complaints also come the compliments.
One of the best parts of the job, she says, is hearing the nice things people say about the counter clerks and mail carriers in Santee.
“They’ll stop me and tell me they love coming here because of the window clerks,” she says. “They’ll come here, instead of another office, because they like this office best.”
She loves the stamps
Liss, who’s married with two adult daughters, lives just up the hill from her office in a house near that overlooks SR-125.
When she’s home, she likes reading and working on quilts. She’s a member of a , and already is working on a Christmas project as well as a new blanket for her next grandchild.
She also collects stamps. Nothing serious – she doesn’t go to stamp shows, doesn’t have them on display at home and doesn’t seek out rare or valuable editions – but, since she’s been around them for close to 25 years, she’s come to love all the varieties and art work.
She thinks it all started when the first Elvis stamp was issued.
“It just started happening,” she says.
She especially likes the Disney series, and says one of the best things about working for the Postal Service is to see the new stamps when they arrive. She takes notice, buys some and slips them into an envelope at home with others.
“Seeing the new stamps, it’s so much fun to look at them,” she says.
Her office is filled with personal touches from her career. A large shelf behind her desk is filled with stuffed animals that have been sold at post offices in conjunction with various types of stamps; shelves on the other side of the office hold more stuffed animals and bronze-colored eagles, similar to the Postal Service logo. A toy mail truck is displayed near family photos, which fill the room.
As she ponders her 24 years on the job, and the changes that already have occurred – and the ones she knows are around the corner – she has mixed emotions. She enjoys working in Santee as much or more than any other location, and she appreciates her supervisors and co-workers at the office.
But she admits the downsizing and threats of downsizing can be disheartening. Still, at 49, she plans to hang in there in this time of transition.
“You do get discouraged,” she says. “But I’m in it for the long haul. Might as well finish the career. …
“You know, you’ve got to take a look at where we’ve come from, I mean from Benjamin Franklin to Pony Express to train and now modern equipment… We’re coming so far now in the mail delivery that somebody maybe 20 years or 30 years ago wouldn’t realize how much the mail service has changed.
“We can’t close our eyes to change now. We have to move on and embrace it.”