It’s not often patrons walk into a post office and are greeted with a smile from a clerk with thorough knowledge of what the heck is going on with stamp prices, P.O. boxes and the mysteries of mailing packages around the globe.
But Young Yi is that postal clerk.
Yi is a rare find in the postal service world, because she absolutely loves her job. She knows all the government rules and regulations and thrives on anything to do with postal-related mathematics.
The 31-year veteran of the United States Postal Service has worked at the Rancho Palos Verdes branch for 22 of those years. As lead clerk, she and co-workers Esmeralda Luna and Vanessa DeCastro share about 85 years of experience among them.
When customers waiting in line for services recently found out Yi was going to be highlighted in “Our Town,” they cheered and agreed Yi was deserving of the honor. One of those customers buys lunch for the three postal workers every month, because she said she is so grateful for their expertise and efficiency.
“The secret to being a good clerk is being cheerful,” Yi said in the back of the small, but cluttered postal unit amidst the backside of public P.O. boxes, flat bottom carts, file cabinets, storage shelves and copy machines.
“This is not a fancy job, but I feel comfortable here. I couldn’t do it without Esmeralda and Vanessa, though.”
From mail carrier to clerk
When Yi first arrived in the states in 1983 from Korea as a young bride, she said she held a teaching credential majoring in physical education, but lacked the necessary English skills and confidence to take on a whole class.
She first took a job at the May Company department store in Rolling Hills Estates but eventually needed to earn more money.
She said she went to the post office to pick up an application and was instructed to go to the library to find a reference book about the government tests.
The young wife and mother aced the test, went through training, then took a day carrier position in Gardena since she had a small child at home. She delivered mail for about three years. The job was cumbersome, but it helped her stay fit, Yi said.
The acting Post Master at the Gardena facility at the time saw how hard she worked and personally referred her to be a clerk at the RPV office.
To clear up the confusion about the Post Office facility at 28649 S. Western Ave., the building is technically in Rancho Palos Verdes, but once you step inside the post office kiosk, that becomes San Pedro. It’s a government thing, Yi said.
Yi said she and her counterparts work 9-to-5, 40 hours a week. One of the biggest challenges is when someone has to take off unexpectedly, leaving only two to do the never-ending work of three.
The clerks not only sell stamps at the counter, they sort about 1,000 pieces of mail per day for the P.O. boxes. They balance tallies that have come out exactly to the penny. They help fill out labels, correct addresses, know hundreds of zip codes by memory and tape, weigh and sort packages of all sizes and weights.
Sometimes “secret shoppers” come in to observe the clerks at the counter.
They pose as a customer and listen for specific questions the clerks are supposed to ask: is the customer mailing anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or does the package contains lithium batteries, mercury or other hazardous materials?
The waiting line is only supposed be five minutes long for each person, but it’s hard to meet when there are 15 or 20 people in line, Yi said.
“If we pass, they give us a gift card; if we fail they give us a reprimand,” Yi said.
Which, of course, rarely happens because Yi is so on top of it.
Esmeralda Luna, the senior clerk at the RPV post office who has worked with Yi for decades said she has never seen Yi mad or upset about anything—ever.
“I’m very grateful for not only the customers we have here, but thankful for my co-workers,” said an effervescent Luna, who like DeCastro is just as popular with patrons. “Yi is always positive and very knowledgeable. If I need to ask her a question, she’s got it all in that noggin’—she shows me the way.”
One of the “nuttiest things” that have come across her counter, Yi said, is when someone came in with a box of live snails wrapped in paper towels to ship to a friend. Other times she helps people ship priority mail items like home grown fruit and chocolate.
The Torrance resident said she has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of sick leave. And after 31 years, she has about five weeks of vacation which she takes frequently to visit her two grandchildren in San Francisco. Yi and her husband own a small side business she occasionally helps with on the weekends.
“I never call in sick,” said the petite 63-year-old who isn’t ready to retire and belies her age in energy and stamina. “When you work with someone for more than 20 years, it’s a family. It’s the people, not the job. We take care of our customers and each other.”
San Pedro resident Sharon Rilling said she’s been going to the Western Avenue post office for dozens of years. She and Yi are on a first-name basis.
“Young is a delight,” Rilling said. “She’s so helpful in finding the best way, least expensive and least amount of time to send a package. I told her, ‘Don’t you dare retire without announcing it to your customers.’ ”