What It’s Like as a Hawai‘i Mail Carrier During a Pandemic
“Our trucks would be full of these huge cases of toilet paper and sanitizer.”
Editor’s Note: For our July issue of HONOLULU, we searched for stories from people all around O‘ahu about the moment COVID-19 became real to them. We spoke with a critical care nurse, care home operators, a mail carrier, a hotel worker who lost her job, a police captain and more back in April and May about the ways their lives at work and at home suddenly changed. Check back on honolulumagazine.com every week for a new story. Pick up the issue on newsstands in late June, subscribe or visit our online store.
Here’s the full version of Adele Yoshikawa’s story in her own words, as told to Robbie Dingeman. The 54-year-old ‘Ewa Beach native has been a mail carrier for nearly 22 years.
Out here I’m known as Miss Aloha. I’ve delivered every route from Pearl City to ‘Aiea. That’s the best part—I get to meet so many people who have become such good friends. Everywhere I go, somebody will know me. Customers become like our family and sometimes we see them more than our regular family. We get to see the kids grow up and sadly, also see the old-timers pass away.
When it hit home was when customers were saying that they were being laid off and losing their jobs and businesses were closing down. Then at work, the toilet paper scare: Our trucks would be full of these huge cases of toilet paper and sanitizer. The volume of mail—letters and parcels—truly increased, too. So we were working longer hours and staying really late. In over 20 years, I had never worked that long of a day. However, we are so grateful that we are still working. The supervisors created a sanitation station in our office that has all the necessities like masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and wipes. Customers give us notes and gifts thanking us for being essential workers and telling us how appreciative they are of us. We also created a COVID-19 wall in the office, which has the safety updates and the notes from our customers. My customers also have given me all kinds of masks in different prints. I’m known to always have a flower in my hair. Now I can coordinate my mask to my flower.
Customers worry about our safety. Most of the day we’re on the road by ourselves. If you see us without our masks in our trucks, it’s because there is no air conditioning and it can be extremely hot. However, we make sure that we have our masks on when we are out of our trucks, especially around people.
Photo: Courtesy of Adele Yoshikawa
In every tragic situation, there is always a positive! A lot of people are doing more business online and some of the businesses are truly thriving. Some businesses are doing their best ever. It might be creating a whole new way that people are going to do business. Customers are also sending more cards to friends and family to say, “Thinking of you.” Reality is, I’m still out there exposed to the public so we need to be cautious. I have a son and a daughter, and grandkids who are 5, 4 and almost 2. We try our best to call each other often and are working on FaceTime and Zoom calls. I love seeing the pictures and videos my daughter and son send and post. But it’s hard to not see them in person.
Just before all this, on March 1, my brother, who was just 53, passed away suddenly. We were exactly one year apart and had the same birthday. I was in Las Vegas and saw that I had missed calls from my mother and other relatives. I called my mom knowing it was probably not good news. My brother was Mr. Aloha! But since the stay-at-home order came, we couldn’t even have a funeral. We just picked up his ashes to store in the koa box that held my dad’s ashes.
I’m single and I hear some couples on my route complain that they are spending too much time together at home. I tell them: “Stop complaining about your spouse or your partner. At least you have someone to go home to. Bring them flowers and hug them hard!” Before the shutdown, I loved going out with friends to listen to live music or to sing karaoke. I was talking to my friend and she said, “After this we’re going to party like rock stars!” And I said, “Absolutely!” I think this time is truly going to make people appreciate what they have.