BERKELEY -- The daily arrival of the mail isn't the anticipated event it once was. There are few letters and postcards these days but lots of junk mail and bills.
The postal carrier's arrival has continued to be a welcome part of the day for residents of a North Berkeley neighborhood, however.
Mack Paige has made more than his appointed rounds for the past 23 years, knowing who lives where, getting to know the residents he considers "my customers," and building relationships that grew into friendships.
When Paige let it be known that he was hanging up his mailbag for good, the residents in the 700 block of Peralta Avenue got together to make a delivery for Mack the mailman, planning a special send-off.
On July 18, neighbors decorated their block with a blue balloon in front of each house with the message "Happy Retirement Mack."
They set up an informal block party with snacks and refreshments, had Mack the mailman pose for a group photo and presented him with a custom photo book of the neighborhood.
"We started planning it, and it just kind of snowballed from there," said resident Regina Beatus, who helped put together the send-off.
"That was great," Paige said later that day. "They're just great people."
It was a fitting tribute to a man who went beyond his job description and became part of the lives of the neighborhoods he served.
Along with the mail, Paige delivered conversation on topics of the day, from national issues to what was happening in the next block.
"Mack was just telling us we're really his customers," Beatus said. "He wants not only to bring the mail; he knows people by name."
There isn't much secret to his popularity. "It's a combination of just being friendly and giving good service," said Paige, 65.
He said his approach came from his 15 years working for Safeway. "They always helped me appreciate the importance of the customer, because if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have a paycheck," Paige said. "I love carrying the mail, and I'm a people person. I'm more of a listener than a talker."
Neighbors, however, say Paige, who kept a portable radio tuned to a news station on his belt as he made his rounds, talks as well as he listens.
"He's a very polite and savvy man," said Connie Hempel, 89, a resident of the neighborhood since 1969. "We've pinched in every conversation we could without impinging on his route too much. He's quite accurate in his political assessments."
She said Paige "was a newsman in the neighborhood sense. He's a very fair-minded man. He understands human nature."
Paige said that after working for 50 years, he is looking forward to retirement but added that he will miss the many friends he has made. He has already committed to walking through the neighborhood twice a month to see everyone.
"I became more than just a mail person," he said. "I became part of the community."