Quote Unquote: This U.S.P.S. Veteran Wants You to Stop Mailing Lava Rocks

Tony Bacalso, a 38-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, is one of the longest-serving parcel post machine operators at the airport post office, processing and sorting hundreds of packages that make their way to his station every day. With the busy holiday season in full swing, the Mililani resident, 62, and his crew, who clock in at 4:30 p.m. and get off just past midnight, are a crucial shift: They need to meet their deadline so packages make it on the late outgoing flights.
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We used to sort the letters, but they don’t do that anymore. Everything is computerized. I was a letter sorter, but now I do parcels.


If the economy is good, I think we’re going to have a busy Christmas. People don’t send parcels when they don’t have money.


[Tourists have] been sending lava rocks. That’s a big no-no. I had lava rocks come back and it said, “Please return. Bad juju.” When I was reading it, the lights actually went off. I was like, “Whoa, look at this!” I don’t want nothing to do with that.


The letters are kind of dying because of email and people paying their bills online. Our parcels are picking up. We go through the roof with Amazon. That’s our moneymaker here.


“We get some weird stuff. We get a lot of coconuts. The tourists love coconuts.”


Since everything is automated, I think it’s harder. We used to have a lot of help. We’re doing more with less people.


I’m mostly on the machine. It sorts [packages] by barcode. The parcels come down, and we have a key code that we hit. We have to go through training and everything.


I had an uncle who worked here. I came in and took the (training) tests. The test was pretty hard. I had to take it two to three times before I got here.


My son, Kekoa [Bacalso], is a pro-surfer. He’s coaching the world team in Huntington Beach. He lives with me. (Kekoa was named the 2009 Association of Surfing Professionals’ World Tour Rookie of the Year, a prestigious honor for the tour’s freshmen surfers.)


We get some really heavy stuff. They go up to 60 to 65 pounds. You have to put the dolly close so you don’t have to lift it. We just throw it on the dolly. We help each other if someone’s around.


[You should] use a lot of strapping tape, the big strapping tape for the parcels. ZIP codes are very important. And don’t skimp on the tape.