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Mail Carrier Ana Valladares Is Always Good News
By Rayne Wolfe
When you have a job that inspired a new term for deadly mayhem -- going postal -- you might expect folks to be a little standoffish.
Well, not if you're Ana Valladares, the post office mail carrier in "Downtown" Noe Valley for the past 12 years.
Just about everyone calls out a hello or stops to chat with Valladares as she walks her route on 24th and 25th streets from Church to Noe.
"Ana! My nephew on George Washington's football team beat Mission High last night!" one man brags as she hands him his mail.
Another customer shouts, "I owe you a brownie!" and then, in mock anger to this reporter, declares, "She reads my postcards!" A young woman on Sanchez says, "She takes care of us. She watches out for the whole street. If you leave your keys in your front door or park your car in the street-sweeping zone, she'll knock on your door."
"Hi, Ana, what do you have for me?" is a greeting she hears over and over.
"The usual," she answers with a broad smile -- unless, of course, it's "something exciting," perhaps a check or that special letter you've been waiting for.
On a route where half of her customers work out of their homes, Valladares knows an important envelope when she sees one.
"She has chased me down the street in her truck, honking like mad, so that I wouldn't miss delivery of a package," says Voice photographer Pamela Gerard, a 25th Street resident.
It's true. Valladares doesn't like to leave those yellow notes that ask you to fetch your package at the post office. "I try to find a way to deliver it. Usually I can leave it with a neighbor, so my customer gets it that day."
Valladares is among the first to know when a baby has been born or a wedding date has been set. Most recently, Daniel and Loetitia Phelps, of the French Tulip flower shop on 24th Street, invited her to their November nuptials.
Do invitations come often? "Oh, all the time. I've been into many homes. I get invited to dinner. For weddings, christenings, you name it."
Valladares' day begins at 6:30 a.m., at 16th and Bryant streets, where she sorts and then loads the Noe Valley mail into her small truck. It's supposed to be an eight-hour shift but usually ends up closer to 10. On her first day in the summer of 1985, it took her so long to complete her deliveries that when she drove back to the mail station, everyone but her exasperated supervisor had gone home.
Valladares lives in Daly City near Lake Merced with her dad and her 8-year-old son. An athletic 40-year-old, she often has enough energy left at the end of her week for a night of Latin dancing.
Her regal posture belies the fact that working as a mail carrier is a physically punishing job. "At the end of the day, my knees hurt from the stairs. You think it's just a few here and there, but it adds up." She puts special orthopedic inserts into her shoes, which helps, except when it rains. "Then, I'm not kidding, my knees squeak."
Valladares enjoys a sense of ownership about her route. She refers to a block that used to be in her delivery area the way some people recall a cream-puff car they should never have sold. According to U.S. Postal Service rules of seniority, her current route is hers until she retires or puts in for a transfer, something she says she will never do voluntarily.
"It's the best route in the city. I'd like to retire from here. When I first came, I was just temping. People didn't want the route, because it's too long, covering nine square blocks and about 425 separate deliveries. But the people make it nice."
Valladares loves her job, but she'll admit to a complaint or two. She often scrapes her knuckles raw as she crams the latest Victoria's Secret, Pottery Barn, and Gardener's Eden catalogs into the tiny mailboxes of Noe Valley's older houses. She has as much trouble parking as anyone else. And she's not too wild about dogs either, having once been bitten.
"That dog still growls at me. He just doesn't like anyone in a uniform!"
But the pluses -- things like the light kiss on the cheek from the handsome man in Puro Fino Cigars, or the glasses of water offered all along her route on warm days -- far outweigh the minuses.
No wonder Valladares was upset to learn that the post office is working on a plan, to be announced in May, that might reconfigure the mail routes in San Francisco.
"It might mean a lot of changes. After all, I am not the most senior mail carrier there is. We may have to re-bid on our routes. We'll have to see what happens."
If she did have to hand over her keys to the neighborhood gates tomorrow, what would she tell her successor?
"Oh, just to be nice. Try to look out for people."
What if she wasn't a mail carrier? What else would she do for a living?
"It's funny to be asked, because I was just thinking about this the other night," Valladares says. "If I could, I'd like to open a little fast-food place in this neighborhood. Nothing fancy, just good home cooking -- and to go."
If she won the lottery and didn't have to work anymore, what then?
"Well, if it was more than a million dollars, I'd buy a house in Noe Valley. I really would."