Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom, not even relentless, bone-numbing cold, stays this courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds
Next time you think you’re cold running from your house to your car in the middle of winter, think about Gregg Lentz.
Lentz is a Port Washington mail carrier who walks his entire route every day throughout the year, regardless of the weather.
“The cold just penetrates,” Lentz said. “It seeps into your bones and doesn’t get out.
“At the end of the day sometimes, I go home and sit by the fire. Sometimes I just get under the covers and don’t come out until it’s time to go to work the next day.”
Worse than the cold is the wind, Lentz said.
“It’s hard to combat it,” he said. “You do everything you can, and it still gets in.”
Dealing with the cold is an art form in many ways, and Lentz, who lives in Fredonia, has a routine.
“I just layer up,” he said. That means wearing long johns and a winter jacket, two gloves with a hand warmer between them on his left hand — which he uses to carry the mail. His right hand, which Lentz uses to sort the mail, remains bare, although he tucks it into his pocket, where he keeps a hand warmer, while walking between homes.
But when it gets really cold, when the wind chill is 40 degrees below zero or lower, Lentz pulls out his snow pants, adds a sweatshirt and puts a glove on his right hand.
He doesn’t wear boots unless there’s snow on the ground, Lentz said.
“When you’re walking all day, that the warmest part of your body,” he said. “As long as you keep moving, you’re OK. But on mounted (driving) routes, your feet absolutely freeze.”
Just as important as clothing is attitude, and Lentz has the right one, looking ahead to breaks in the weather — like this week, when temperatures are expected to be in the 30s.
“Thirty doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s great after this kind of stretch. That’s a good reprieve, and it helps a lot,” he said during an interview Jan. 5, when the high temperature was 7 degrees and the wind chill was 16 below.
“We’ve had years when it was one week after another of frigid temperatures, and it doesn’t let up. This year, we had such a mild fall, but then winter hit hard and it’s had a grip on us every since.”
It also helps to have support, and Lentz said he gets that from the post office, which sets out a supply of hand and foot warmers on cold days, and customers, many of whom will offer hot chocolate or coffee to their carriers when the weather is frigid.
“They empathize with you, which is nice,” he said. “We have people looking out for us.”
It’s almost worse to take a break, Lentz added, because your body cools down then.
“A lot of the times we’ll skip our lunch so we can keep going and get done,” he said. “You have to keep moving, otherwise you just get cold again.”
Despite the challenges of weather, Lentz said he loves working for the Postal Service.
It was a job he almost found by accident. Lentz, 41, was preparing to leave the Marine Corps when he took an aptitude test that told him he’d be a good mail carrier.
“Other people told me that, too,” he said. “I pooh-poohed it.”
But after he got out of the service, he saw an advertisement for the Postal Service exam.
“One month after I got out of the Marine Corps, I was working for the post office,” Lentz said. “I absolutely the love this job. I love being outdoors. I love the independence. I love the interaction with customers. For some customers, we’re the highlight of their day.”
He started as the “utility guy,” Lentz said, handling a mix of routes, both on foot and in vehicles. In 2013, when longtime carrier Joe Ulrich retired, Lentz took his route.
Lentz said he’s never tallied the distance his route covers, but he’s been told it’s about eight miles. He drives a minivan to a central location, walks a loop of homes and then drives to the next neighborhood.
Those few minutes in the minivan can help in the winter, even though the vehicle never really warms up.
“You can crank the heat for a minute or two,” Lentz said. “Sometimes you hit the heat and drag it out three or four minutes just to get feeling in your fingers.”
The cold winter weather sometimes gets to him, Lentz admitted.
“You don’t get used to it, you deal with it,” he said. “But it also makes you think and realize how blessed you are. I can go home at the end of the day and warm up. Some people don’t have that option.”
And, Lentz added, the cold weather doesn’t last that long.
“It’s a couple months of the year for the extremes,” he said. “When it’s 65 and sunny in May, this is the best job in the world.”
Image Information: BUNDLED AGAINST THE COLD, Port Washington mail carrier Gregg Lentz said the secret to dealing with subzero temperatures is to layer. Lentz walks an estimated eight miles a day on his route, which takes him from roughly 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to complete. Photo by Sam Arendt