Getting Valentines to Rural Residences

It’s another hallmark holiday, Keep It Rural subs. Have you received a valentine yet? Now you have. Not quite as good as a hand-lettered card I’ll admit, but I encourage you to count this email. (I’m sending my love!) 

Before we get into paper hearts and the system that carries them from sender to recipient in rural places, you might want to double-check the sender on this e-valentine. 

It’s Caroline Carlson, not Claire Carlson. Usually Claire writes and I edit, but today I’m at the proverbial writing desk. We’re not related, we just happen to be colleagues with the same last name. (And initials, and similar first names…) I predated Claire here at the Yonder, and when we hired her the trap we’d set for our coworkers didn’t occur to me, but every time someone sends one of us an email meant for the other we laugh and joke that we “caught another one.”

Now that we’ve established who your not-so-secret admirer is today, let’s jump in: 

I love valentines, and I love getting mail. Who doesn’t! An envelope filled with warm thoughts and loving sentiments, romantic or otherwise, is the best kind. We often say that for a rural community to thrive it must have a couple staple things: a bank, a grocery store, a library, a school. I’d include a post office. 

The building itself is crucial, and there are many interesting, and quirky post offices in rural America — photographer Matt Barron is racing the clock to capture them — but the folks who staff it don’t get enough recognition. 

If a valentine makes it to a mailbox at the end of a long gravel driveway, or the edge of a mountain switchback (and that’s an IF, Colorado mountain towns, for instance, have been facing growing USPS delivery challenges), a rural mail carrier got it there. 

Rural mail carriers begin their careers as rural carrier associates (RCAs), according to, a website devoted to helping federal government job hunters find, apply for, and land jobs. RCAs fill in for regular rural carriers (RRCs) on weekends and when they take vacation. In most rural offices, RCAs have to use their own vehicle and get paid an equipment maintenance allowance, in addition to their hourly wage, for doing so. This is why you don’t often see boxy USPS mail trucks bumping around remote regions. 

However impractical a standard mail truck might be on rural roads, it does have one distinct advantage: right-hand drive. When was the last time you registered the fact that mail carriers drive on the right side of the cab? It makes sense — they can roll up to a mailbox and deposit mail without leaving their vehicle. And it minimizes the amount of times carriers have to step out into traffic when they do inevitably leave the car. 

The rub here is that if RCAs have to use their own vehicles, they’re likely not right-hand drive. When RCAs move on to RRC routes they might be supplied a vehicle from the post office, but more likely, it seems, they choose to invest in their own right-hand drive vehicle. (There’s a Facebook group with 9.8K members called USPS Rural Carriers for the manufacture of RHD vehicles. And they are legal, in case you were wondering.) 

Until then, in the enterprising, creative spirit of rural folks who work with what they’ve got on hand, rural carriers without right-hand drive cars often find innovative solutions. 

Take this mailman in rural Wisconsin who posted a video showing how he strategically loads his left-hand drive Ford Taurus, and drives with his left foot.

YouTube video

Against valid concerns about the way USPS cuts and closures will affect rural Americans (think commerce, voting by mail, and access to mailed abortion medication in states where other abortion care is not an option), mail carriers serving remote areas are the real MVPs. And they’re doing their jobs excellently.

A recent delivery audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found few significant differences between rural and urban mail delivery times, meaning rural areas were not disproportionately suffering from mail delays. That said, further down the report, it says that “since implementation [of multiple changes], USPS continued monitoring overall service performance, but did not specifically assess the effects on rural areas.” 

Translation: USPS made a number of changes concurrently, and on-time delivery is only one way to measure their effects. This report doesn’t account for things like the consolidation and closure of “low traffic” post offices (which, let’s be real, are likely rural). GAO admits that “the extent to which the changes affect rural areas in the future is unknown and warrants additional review.” 

While the future of rural mail delivery remains uncertain, (and I haven’t even addressed the familiar mess of broadband disparity, lucky you, with your connection that is bringing my Valentine’s Day greetings electronically) rural mail carriers are the ones getting bills, Christmas cards, packages, and valentines, to homes across the nation.

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We’ve funded over 20,000 projects … projects that are going to put thousands of people to work rebuilding our highways, our bridges, our railroads, our tunnels, ports, airports, clean water, high-speed internet all across America. Urban, rural, tribal.

Great ideas! I only hope that the White House doesn’t approach them as one-size-fits-all.

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