Victor Miller, a normally mild-mannered resident of Adams-Morgan, said he could understand why letter carriers were unable to reach his home Wednesday, the day after a winter storm dropped as much as a foot of snow on his world.
By Thursday, his California Street mailbox was as bare as the trees and he was feeling less than charitable.
"Postal rage," said Miller, 55, a management consultant who works out of his home. "Business is knowing what's going on. What if there's something I have to sign and it doesn't get here? This is my livelihood. This is how I support my family."
The barrage of snow this week created an array of teeth-gnashing annoyances in the metropolitan area, whether it was ice-choked roads, lumpy sidewalks or shuttered schools.
For many residents, an added insult was mail delivery that inched along at a snail's pace. Miller's experience--three days without mail--appears exceptional, but many area residents said they did not get a delivery for one or two days.
At the height of the storm, postal officials said, one in four pieces of mail failed to reach their destination in the Washington area. By Thursday, more than 90 percent of the mail arrived at its target.
The Postal Service delivers 8.7 million pieces of mail daily in the Washington area, officials said. But that load declined by nearly 20 percent at the storm's peak, they said, in part because people were not leaving their homes to mail anything and because the planes and trucks carrying letters had trouble getting here.
Some residents spoke sympathetically of letter carriers who had to slog through streets and roads most mortals were avoiding. Others said they didn't miss deliveries that often add up to nothing more than a pile of catalogues, fliers and nagging requests for payment.
"No bills to open, you're off the hook, I don't miss it at all," said Reginald Williams, 59, a Prince George's County resident.
Mark Griskey, 28, a computer programmer and Northwest Washington resident, was not as nonchalant. He said he did not receive a delivery until yesterday. "The first day or even second day of the storm, I could see it," Griskey said. "But not Thursday. There's no excuse but laziness."
Others were pleasantly surprised to find that their letter carriers work in mysterious, even heroic, ways. There, beneath all that snow, they found their mail every day of last week.
"We didn't even look Tuesday because we didn't think it would be there, but there it was when we checked on Wednesday," said Ann Rosen, who lives in the Kings Park subdivision in Fairfax County. "I made him a cup of hot chocolate, but I never saw him to give it to him."
Deborah Yackley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service, said that letter carriers were hampered by the storm and that there was a significant drop-off in service in Washington and surrounding suburbs.
By Thursday, Yackley said 95 percent of the mail was delivered in Northern Virginia, 93 percent in Maryland, and 90 percent in the District. "We were significantly impacted because of the snow Tuesday and Wednesday," Yackley said. "It was so pervasive we were just trying to get out there and not get ourselves killed."
Jim Wilson, 32, a letter carrier in Upper Marlboro, said that the snow left him stranded at home Wednesday, but that he returned to work Thursday and delivered about 400 of 450 pieces of mail.
"My toes were frozen, my fingers were frozen, my pants were wet, but I did the best I could," said Wilson, pausing for a moment as he drove his Old Mill Road route yesterday afternoon.
Postal regulations, he said, bar him from walking from his van to a mailbox if there is snow blocking his path--a regulation he sometimes ignores.
"I'm not going to step into a pile of snow and jeopardize my health," he said. "If I slip a disc or break an ankle, I'm out of a job. That's my livelihood. You do what you can do. I'm not going to hurt myself for the mail."
Postal carriers in the rural Middleburg area said they missed about one-quarter of their 550 addresses on Tuesday while the storm was raging. Their deliveries improved on Wednesday, they said. By Thursday, each mailbox had been hit at least once, except for those on especially remote roads.
Randall Painter, Leesburg's acting postmaster, said carriers got out all but 8 percent of the mail Tuesday, and only a very small fraction of their 14,600 deliveries weren't made on Wednesday.
The biggest obstacle, he said, were the plows, which pushed heaps of snow in front of mailboxes, making it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to reach them. "We had carriers who were getting out of their vehicles and crawling over the snow to put mail in boxes," he said.
In Prince William County, some rural residents woke up surprised to see snow and even more surprised to find mail in their boxes.
Beverly Lail, 46, lives in the western end of the county, where gravel driveways are the norm and snow can mean especially treacherous driving conditions. "I think the carriers did better in the snow than they normally do," she said with a laugh.
Then there are those like Joe Chang, 50, a computer programmer from Anne Arundel County, who says he is incapable of finding fault with letter carriers, even if he hasn't received mail since Monday.
"I'm a stamp collector," Chang said. "I'm always supportive of the Postal Service."