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Mailman 'carries' on, despite cold

Detroit Lakes postal carrier Bob McDonald delivers several letters during his delivery route on Rossman Avenue last week. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham1 / 2
McDonald has a laugh with Abby Panasuk as he delivered her mail. McDonald prides himself on being friendly with the people he meets on his daily route, and he loves to give out smiles, he said. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham2 / 2

Not many sane people in the world spend the day walking around town when it’s 20 degrees below zero with a wind chill that blows right through the bones.

Bob McDonald does, though.

“I’m just your friendly neighborhood mailman,” he smiled.

The Detroit Lakes postal carrier has been braving these conditions for a little over 40 years now.

“Ahh, it’s not so bad; you can dress for the cold,” he said, adding that in the deep freeze of winter he’s usually got four layers on. “Five when I don’t shave my legs,” he laughed.

Most would have to laugh in order not to cry in these conditions, but for McDonald, he’s actually laughing sincerely.

“I’ve never seen him grumpy,” said Detroit Lakes resident Bruce Nelson, who has had Bob “Mack” as a mailman for 32 years. “I’m sure he has to be grumpy sometimes…I’ve just never seen it.”

After a quick 30-second chat — a seemingly acceptable amount of time McDonald can allot the residents he bumps into — he’s back to zipping and zig-zagging around the neighborhood.

“I usually do about five miles a day,” he said, barely huffing and puffing as he climbs through the fresh snow to reach a mailbox, “It keeps me from looking chunky,” he joked.

People aren’t always the best at keeping their sidewalks and steps shoveled, and although McDonald can take a lot in stride, he’s not above leaving a notice for homeowners to clear a path.

“I said I was friendly, not stupid,” he said.

These past few weeks have been a doosey, too, as McDonald has not just been battling the frozen tundra-like conditions, but also the piles upon piles of holiday packages.

“A typical day I deliver around 20 parcels — these days it’s about 70 to 80,” said McDonald, adding that part of what he loves about his job is the unpredictability in what he’s delivering.

“I’ve delivered ducks, geese, cartons of bees…” he said.

The cold weather has him seeing his breath as he makes his way through the streets like a one-man steam engine, but even the extreme cold doesn’t have him complaining.

“When I get frost on my eyes, I just wipe it away,” he said, “but it gets harder when I have to take my foggy glasses off because then I’m bumping into trees and tripping over fire hydrants.”

In fact, personal preference has McDonald thankful for cold; it’s the hot he can’t stand.

“You can dress for the cold, but they’ll only let you take so much off,” he giggled.

He’s not particularly fond of the rain, either.

“I’ll get people that will call me to complain that their newspaper was wet, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, so was I.’”

Occasional complaints aside, it’s still the people McDonald loves the most about his job.

“The kids down over there are expecting their first baby — it’s her due date today,” he said.

Pointing out some deer tracks in the sidewalk snow, “the guy back there feeds the deer,” he explained.

There isn’t a lot that goes on in “Bob’s” neighborhoods of Rossman, Phinney, Oak Grove, Summit, and North Shore Drive that he doesn’t know about. And while part of it is because of his outgoing, friendly nature, the other part is because these were his streets long before he became a mail carrier.

“I grew up going to Rossman Elementary,” he said, nodding down the road toward the school. “My best buddy grew up right in that house,” he added, pointing to a house across the street. “We still get together sometimes.”

McDonald’s father was also a mail man, so it seemed to be in his blood.

“He got me in three weeks out of high school — been doing it ever since,” said McDonald. “I’ve got my same locker, same coffee cup,” he said, adding that his brother is also a mail carrier in Grand Forks.

“It’s kind of a family thing, I guess,” he said, briskly trudging through the snow as he talked.

There’s no time for dilly-dally. Mail carriers can be randomly tracked and timed as they do their route.

McDonald doesn’t mind though. “You come in for a couple of hours, and then you get to head out on your own…you get your work done, and it’s all good,” he said, adding that although he has been walking the streets of Detroit Lakes for four decades, he knows he’ll probably only do it for another year or so.

And when he does, it’ll be the people on his route that he’ll miss — the ones he always has a smile for come rain or shine.

“When people are missing a smile, I just give them one of mine,” he said, continuing up the oh-so familiar road towards his next stop.

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