Feature Article: People in Austin
Feature Article: People in Austin
by MP Mueller and Sofia Sokolove
Photographs by Sarah Wilson
They don’t tread on any red carpets or pose for the flashes, have spray tans or personal stylists. But the people who get us where we need to go, bring us our mail and teach generations where reading can take them are supporting casts we depend on. While most Americans on average change jobs every four and a half years, the following three have being doing the same one for 32 plus years each. As we go about our busy lives, they steadily help support ours. Perhaps the payoff is the gift that a clearly-defined purpose brings…and some good stories.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.
Bill, The Postman
Bill Saegert has been walking a postal route for 35 years, many of those in the Rosedale neighborhood. When this magazine is published on June 1, he’ll be celebrating retirement, hanging up his mail pouch the same day. Bill delivers to a little over 400 houses and businesses every day and says he knows 90 percent of them on a personal basis. He’s got a quick, dry sense of humor and it’s clear he loves to move around. After 30 minutes with us in a coffee shop, his heel steadily bounced on the floor in anticipation of moving onto his next delivery.
I grew up on a farm in Giddings. Dad raised seven boys — I’m the seventh son — and one girl. Four of my brothers have also been mail carriers.
Then and Now
When I started, I had curly blonde hair; now it’s gray. It cost 22 cents in 1981 to mail a letter, now it’s 49.
Best part of the job?
My favorite part of being a postman is being outside.
Strangest things delivered?
Some people have mailed coconuts from Hawaii. They put a label on it — a quirky postcard. You can tell when coffee is being delivered, but not much else. I’ve delivered chickens. They were sitting next to me crowing while I was doing our route.
The walking route has worked for me. I never have to go to the gym. Someone said to me [on his retirement], “What gym will you be joining?”
Extra stamps not required for friendships
A lot of people on my route have my cell phone number. You become part of their family. I’ve had a guy invite me to go to Alaska with him. I borrowed a barbecue pit from someone on my route for a church fundraiser. They’ve sent graduation gifts to my kids. It’s pretty neat when someone thinks so much of you they want to send a gift to your kids.
Do dogs really have an affinity for postmen?
No, they’ll go after the UPS driver or the meter reader, too.
Favorite route memory
Upper Crust Bakery. You are part of the culture. They have this table where people meet and I get involved in their conversations. It used to be a bicycle shop.
About his sixth sense
When you deliver the mail as many times a year as I do, you know when everyone’s birthday is. You wish them happy birthday and they say, “How did you know?” Well, you got three birthday cards in the mail today.
Do you know your mailman?
Yes, I know my mailman. No comment.
And after you retire?
I have already had so many people on my route say, “Let’s go golfing, let’s go motorcycle riding!” My wife told me when I retire I have to find another job. I told her, ‘Okay, I’ll go ahead and be a comedian.’ She said, ‘Okay, you’re funny all right, but not that funny.’”
There’s one lady on my route, she’s 93 this year. I remember when I started this route, she had just retired. She was so sad. She said, ‘I’m going to miss you coming by my house every day.’ I said, ‘Don’t tell my wife.’” I’ve had four people already who say they want to have parties or take me out to dinner. I’m going to deliver everyone a letter on my final day. It’s pretty emotional. I’m a very lucky postman.
Irma, the librarian
Irma Flores-Manges has been an Austin-area librarian for nearly 33 years. An avid reader, mother, grandmother and poet, she prefers to spend her time away from her desk, moving around and interacting with people in the library. It’s no surprise that almost every regular at the East Austin Cepeda branch knows her by name — and vice versa.
For the people.
I like helping people and I kind of thought [being a librarian] would be the best way to do that. I was most interested in the public library because I get to work with diverse kinds of people.
Everything is digital now—do you miss stamping the books?
Nope. We used to get carpal tunnel from that.
A lady from Colombia comes in and wants any music by Plácido Domingo. We have a guy who is a regular. He can’t use his library card because he owes so much money…so he comes in, sits and reads books. [There’s] a guy who only speaks Spanish — he comes in, takes out books and sits for four or five hours and reads. Lots of people are still reading.
Even the public pitches in
We have this man who homeschools his kids and rides his bike everywhere — he comes in one to two times a week. We said, ‘Hey Bruce, would you mind taking some fliers?’ He lives in a trailer park down the road and he’s always passing stuff out for us.
We’re trying really hard with the change in demographics in this area to reach out to everybody. We’ve had immigration meetings here and citizenship classes; we’re trying to help people through the process. Several people that used to come in a lot got jobs. We used to sit and play games and talk. It’s fun to see them try so hard and know that we’ve helped them figure it out. The one thing people do not realize about the public library is that we are here to help with any question they may have, and that all our services are free and open to everyone.
I said I wouldn’t retire until I got bored, and I couldn’t think of anything else to do with people. And that hasn’t happened yet!
The librarian recommends
Woven Stone by Simon Ortiz
House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986 by David Montejano
The one book everyone must read
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Arthur, The Bus Driver
Arthur Murillo has been a bus operator for Capital Metro for 33 years. He’s won four international bus “roadeo” competitions and is a member of the Two Million Mile Club, bumping three. Basically, it means he’s that guy with an impeccable driving record. Arthur, aka Tony to his regulars, loves the tricked-out bus he drives from Leander to downtown Austin and back, starting at 4:50 most mornings. We came along for a ride with this roadeo winner and chatted after his shift.
Did you always want to be a bus driver?
Not really. But I grew up in Chicago and would ride the L and go to the first car to observe the conductor. I’d stand right by him. Seemed interesting and enjoyable. I thought it would be an easy job—he just moved that lever forward and back.
What do you like most about your job?
You saw my office…nice big windows. And I like meeting new folks, especially if they are new to the city…filling them in on what’s here.
What’s going through your head while driving? To-do list? Fantasy football picks?
You have to be really focused on the traffic, pedestrians and route, especially since the city is growing so much. So many people, so much traffic.
Your phone’s ring tone is the Hawaii 5-0 theme song. Do songs play through your head when you drive?
Growing up in a Hispanic family, we got to hear mariachis, ranchero and Tejano music. Then I started listening to pop, rock, what have you. Lo and behold, I wound up enjoying opera. I like Mozart. And “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath.
You’ve got a high-up view. What are the most unusual things you’ve seen?
Girls are multi-talented. They are drinking their coffee, putting on their makeup and driving at the same time. I’ve seen hoarders who literally have their vehicle covered with stuff on the dash —you can’t see how they drive.
Any crazy stories?
Okay, it was after the morning hour, right? I’m empty, pick up a couple of 17 year olds. One gets beside me, one behind me. The one that I can see starts laughing. I think nothing of it because they aren’t bothering anyone. He continues to laugh and giggle. I asked him what was so funny. He said the guy sitting behind me was mooning drivers. No wonder they were waving at me! And I was waving back…I just thought they were being friendly.
I noticed a few people who sit up front and chat to your back.
Yeah, there are a lot of regulars who like to visit. Sometimes people will come up to you and start opening up. You gain their confidence and they will start telling you they are having a hard time. They know you are strapped in the seat and not going anywhere. It’s mainly stories about life in general, war stories, bouts with their spouses. Every mind is a world of its own and you just don’t know what they are thinking.
Read more from the Neighborhoods Issue | June 2016