Two Sundays ago, Chick Barkhimer quietly gave up the ghost. He delivered his usual 95 Washington Posts around the Oakview subdivision of Silver Spring. Then, without trumpets, without farewells, he retired.
But if there's ever been a guy who deserved a celebration -- in a business in which gripes and hard feelings are standard -- Chick has got to be the choice.
In 20 years as a Washington Postman, Barkhimer never delivered a paper late, never missed delivering a paper and never had a complaint filed against him that proved to be founded.
"Amazing," said Jim Wiedt, Barkhimer's distributor. "In my territory, and in my experience, that's unheard of."
Barkhimer can't claim credit for the record all by himself. At one time or another, each of his five children served as co-chairman of the Barkhimer route. Their names are Dick (now 33), Gloria (30), Robert (29), Donny (26) and Steve (23). The perpetual relief pitcher was their mother and Chick's wife, Gene.
"The thing about Chick was that he had this almost ferocious pride in doing the job the right way," said Wiedt. "The two times people called on Chick, he burned rubber to get over there and find out for himself what the trouble was."
One time, a woman called the report that Chick had forgotten her. How did she know? Because he always placed the paper on the left side of the porch, and it wasn't there.
Burn went Chick's rubber. He mounted the porch like a bulldog possessed. There was the paper -- on the right side of the porch. Chick was such a reliable left-side-of-the-porch deliver that the woman hadn't even bothered to look the other way.
The best theory as to what had happened: An animal had nudged the paper to the "wrong" side of the porch.
The other time, "it looked like the streak was broken," Wiedt recalls. Another woman called to report a "miss." Chick looked everywhere, and had to agree. The paper wasn't there.
"He felt awful," Wiedt reports -- until the woman's son came home from work and got Chick off the hook. The son had taken the paper to work with him.The slate was still clean.
Chick Barkhimer gave up his route because all his children have moved away from home, a because of illness. "He wanted to keep on doing it," says Jim Wiedt. "The guy has got guts galore. But he just couldn't. So he just decided to go quietly."
But the neighbors are onto Chick. Marcella Burroughs, of 1510 Moffet Road, a neighbor and customer of Chick's throughout his 20 years on the route, is plotting a block partly. "Nobody else could go 20 years and do it perfectly," she said. "I think a man like this should have a star pinned on him."
He always is one, Marcella.
Her husband was scheduled to arrive at National Airport on a Delta Airlines flight the other night, so before she left to pick him up, Fran Calhoun of Falls Chuch decided to call and find out if the flight was on time.
"Were you planning to meet somebody on that flight?" the agent asked. Fran said she was. So the agent punched up the computer, told her the flight was on time, thanked her for calling Delat and hung up.
But fran was puzzled. Why had the agent asked Fran's intentions? Why not just give the information?
Scott Yohe, Delta's manager of government affairs, had the answer:
"A lot of time, our callers will ask that question when it really isn't what they mean. Many of them are planning to board that flight when it continues on from National to somewhere else. They aren't meeting somebody at all.
"The situation we want to avoid is having somebody call from home and he told that the flight is late. Then the caller takes his time getting to the airport, and discovers that the flight has made up 15 minutes while it's on the ground at National and has left without him."
BEEFS -- A continuing series of puzzles and pitfalls that confront and confound Bob Levey's Washingtonians:
John Onyun of Kensington wants to know why so many people merely slow down, rather than stop, at stop signs. He decided to measure how long it took him to stop, look left, look right and then continue. The Timex total: three seconds.