“This neighborhood is awesome,” said Vince Wyckoff. He rides his bike, shops at the local grocery store, uses the library, frequents the coffee shop. (Photo by Jill Boogren)
[/caption] By JILL BOOGREN
Vince Wyckoff is easily recognizable in his uniform blues, satchels slung over his shoulders, a bundle of letters in hand, sporting the mustache he’s worn since his army days in the seventies. If you’re lucky enough to be on his mail route in the Nokomis neighborhood, chances are you’ve been treated to a friendly conversation and his warm smile. After 25 years of carrying letters and cards between friends and lovers, packages from grandparents, and no small amount of junk mail, Wyckoff is retiring on Oct. 31. There’s no masking that it’s bittersweet. “I’ve so enjoyed interacting with people on the route in the neighborhood,”he said. “It’s been a highlight, getting to know everybody and be part of so many lives.” When you deliver mail to 500 households a day, 5 days a week, year in and year out — easily 2.5 million deliveries over his career — you get to know some people. Like the gentleman, who parked his motorcycle in his living room, who came home to an installation in his front yard of a whiskey-barrel-shaped sauna he had forgotten he ordered at the State Fair. Or the retired gal on his route who sent an X-rated postcard to the woman who lived next door, also retired, as a prank: tucked within the text on the message side were the words “HI VINCE!” “Just to get my attention,” he said. Vince Wyckoff is easily recognizable in his uniform blues, satchels slung over his shoulders, a bundle of letters in hand, sporting the mustache he’s worn since his army days in the seventies. (Photo by Jill Boogren)
[/caption] He’s been privy to a lot of happenings, both every day and extraordinary, hopeful and sad, funny and frightening. Wyckoff told of an incident involving a toddler who had gone missing at the coffee shop. The boy had just been with his mom then suddenly was gone, causing a frantic search under cars, inside bushes. “I heard this ‘Mommy,’ “ Wyckoff said, “and sure enough he was in one of those newspaper boxes. He had crawled in... you could see him in there.” In 2007 Wyckoff captured some of his adventures in his book, “Beware of Cat and Other Encounters of a Letter Carrier” (Borealis Books, Minnesota Historical Society Press). He felt it was important to celebrate the neighborhood in some way. “There are some really inspirational stories in this particular neighborhood,” he said—one he’s watched transform from predominantly white, blue-collar retirees to a more diverse range of younger people choosing to live and work here. “It’s almost a complete turnover,” he said. A shift that is as obvious in the homes as the people moving in and out of them. Houses where families once raised three or four kids sharing one bathroom are now being bought by younger families who are adding bathrooms and remodeling kitchens. “I love to see these old homes being taken care of and given new life,” he said. Wyckoff also wanted to archive a job he knew was changing. “I really don’t think we’ll be delivering the mail like this in 100 years,” he said. “I can’t imagine we’ll be walking door to door.” The internet may mean far fewer first class letters are sent. But just as correspondence and billing have moved online, so has shopping. And with it, comes way more parcels. “In my experience, I get as many packages every day now as we used to do at Christmas time,” said Wyckoff. “The job has just gotten a lot harder. We’re carrying a lot more bulk, a lot of weight.” And they’re not all your brown-box variety parcels, either. Wyckoff has delivered stamped coconuts from Hawaii, messages in bottles, even baby chickens — all of which add to the load. The work is grueling on a good day. Shoes seldom last the year; the soles wear down. The job is also tightly wound to the clock. Every delivery has to be completed every day, ideally at the same time of day, come rain, shine, sleet, snow, or ice. After last year’s fiercely cold and snowy winter, it’s a wonder anyone can keep their chin up. “The winters are just getting so hard,” said Wyckoff. “When I was young I’d charge out into those drifts.” Ice is a huge problem, but so is the dark (Wyckoff wrote in “Beware of Cat” that “in letter carrier nightmares it’s always getting dark out”). In winter it gets dark at 4:30pm, which means fumbling with freezing fingers to find the right mail for each house. Wyckoff said he often skips lunch to lessen the amount of time he has to deliver in the dark. Sometimes, though, he’s asked to cover part of someone else’s route, which puts him well past quitting time. Slogging through ice and snow, hefting ever-heavier loads, negotiating sidewalks and steps, and dodging the occasional gnashing dog or threatening person (or a certain vicious cat) isn’t for everybody. But Wyckoff has kept his spirits up, buoyed no doubt by the countless people he’s met and come to know. But though he may grin (smile, even) and bear it, he’s ready for a new chapter in his life. Wyckoff is writing another book, a whodunnit, and is also interested in historical fiction. He’s excited to have time to go to the Historical Society to do research, especially that which relates to the immigration of his family from Norway to Minnesota’s prairie. He also wants to take some art classes and try his hand at painting with watercolors. “I think it’s the most impossible thing to do, so I want to spend some time with it.” If these are quieter, gentler pursuits, they seem right up his alley; Wyckoff also collects stamps, which, he said “is pretty nerdy for a mail deliverer.” But while Wyckoff is ready to carry on, he’s not moving on. He enjoys being in what to him feels like a small town “right smack in the big city.” “This neighborhood is awesome. I feel like I live in a small town, because I know everybody,” said Wyckoff. He rides his bike, shops at the local grocery store, uses the library, frequents the coffee shop. He and his wife, Sybil, enjoy going to Minnehaha Falls and Coldwater Spring as well as the requisite bakeries and neighborhood watering holes. “You have everything right here.”
Community open house for Wyckoff There will be an open house sendoff party for Wyckoff with cake and coffee at the Nokomis Community Center, 2401 E. Minnehaha Pkwy on Sat., Nov. 1, 2-5pm. All are welcome.