SALISBURY — Bill Poole, 72, works three days a week for O’Reilly Auto Parts.
He was an easy hire for the store’s job as a “delivery specialist,” given that he knows Salisbury better than quarterback Joe Flacco knows Disney World.
“I can take you there and get you back,” he says.
It’s not boasting, just the fact.
For almost 20 years, Poole covered various sections of the city as a mailman. He figures he walked 35,000 miles over two decades, and he protests that since he retired from the Postal Service, his weight has ballooned from 185 to 205 pounds.
“Food is my only weakness,” Poole says. “It used to be everything else.”
Poole regrets he didn’t stick with the post office for 10 more years. When he retired in 2000 at age 60, he had a good line on a job at N.C. Finishing Co. north of Spencer.
He figured he would work 10 years at the finishing plant and build up a second nest egg for his real retirement. Five months after he started work there, the plant closed. Now only rubble, weeds and some old smokestacks exist on the plant site.
“They still owe me a week’s pay,” Poole complains.
His planned nest egg, he adds, fell out of the nest.
• • •
As you might expect, Poole has plenty of stories from his days pounding the pavement as a mailman. Many of them deal with dogs.
Section M-39 of the postal manual advises mail carriers not to pet or antagonize dogs.
“Nothing in there says you can’t use diplomacy,” Poole says.
From Poole’s personal experience, many dogs don’t take kindly to mail carriers, meter readers or door-to-door salesmen. He understands — dogs are protecting their turf.
Poole once had to cover a route in the Forest Hills/Grove Street area of Salisbury, and fellow carriers issued a word of caution.
“Watch out for Bismarck,” they told Poole, although they refused to elaborate.
At the time, carriers were using Chevy Chevettes on their “park-and-loop” routes. Poole would open up the Chevette’s hatchback and grab his mail for the next round of deliveries.
As he returned to the car one day, he heard what he thought was a stampede behind him. He turned around to meet a Great Dane looking at him about eye level.
It was Bismarck, who proved to be friendly. The huge, curious Marmaduke of a dog sniffed him up and down and went on his way, satisfied that Poole meant no harm.
“That’ll wake you up,” Poole says.
• • •
Poole says mail carriers are issued a product called “Away,” meant to act like a pepper spray against charging, menacing dogs.
“It works,” Poole confirms. “I’ve had it blow back in my face.”
One day on North Fulton Street, Poole walked onto a porch, and as he was setting down a package by the door, a German shepherd’s mouth clamped down on his right wrist.
“That was very frightening,” Poole says. “I thought I was a goner.”
It turned out the dog was just being playful. His tail was wagging and his teeth didn’t puncture any skin or clothing.
Poole is happy he never had a confrontation with a certain pit bull, chained to a stake at a home on West Monroe Street.
As Poole rounded a corner near the house, the pit bull took off at full speed toward him, running until the slack in the chain ran out. The force of his charge combined with the pull of the chain catapulted the pit bull 6 feet in the air, Poole guesses.
But the chain held.
“That had to be the strongest chain and the strongest neck on any dog I’ve ever seen,” he adds.
• • •
Poole had another run-in with a pit bull.
One day in the 1800 block of Second Street, Poole was retrieving mail out of the back of his Ford van when an unleashed pit bull started running at him full force.
But the dog ignored Poole, jumped straight into the postal van and sat down, unwilling to budge.
His owner came by to retrieve the dog and explained how the pet made a dash every time he saw an open car door.
“He’s not going to bite you,” the man told Poole. “He just wants to go somewhere with you.”
• • •
Poole made friends with dogs, too.
Bill and Rosemary Hall on Maupin Avenue used to have a big, friendly mutt weighing about 100 pounds, and Poole often stopped for lunch in front of their house.
Poole was allowed to take 30 minutes. On hot days in Fulton Heights, he liked to take off his sweat-drenched shirt, hanging it somewhere on his van to dry. (He wore a T-shirt underneath.)
Poole would eat his sandwich, chips and cookies and drink from a cooler of water while sitting on a shady bank. The Halls’ dog would sit there with him, sometimes catching chips in the air that Poole threw his way.
“He looked for me every day,” Poole says.
• • •
Rico’s Tile used to have a blond Labrador puppy that growled at Poole the moment he walked inside the door. Poole eased some of the pup’s tension by giving him half a biscuit every morning.
The dog still had a knack for chewing and growling at the same time.
John and Faith Collins’ dogs in Fulton Heights “mugged” Poole five days a week because they were so glad to see him.
Poole always gave each dog half a biscuit — again, part of his diplomatic approach.
Sadly, those dogs perished later in a fire.
• • •
Poole grew up in Spencer. His father was a railroad man, and his mother worked in the Spencer School’s cafeteria. His brother, Lamont, was the smart one. He was valedictorian of the North Rowan High Class of 1965 and went on to work for NASA’s research center in Langley, Va.
Bill Poole, who would have been in the Spencer High Class of 1958, dropped out of school and enlisted in the Navy.
He did a four-year hitch of shore duty in the states. The faded green tattoos on the tops of his forearms are from those Navy days.
The right one, Chicago; the left, Milwaukee.
Poole earned his GED and bounced among jobs in textile mills and other factories before getting a railroad job in Charlotte.
He later latched on with the U.S. Postal Service in December 1980 and, by May 1981, Salisbury Postmaster Paul Hinkle arranged for his transfer back to Rowan County.
• • •
Poole spent five years on the North Main Street-to-Spencer mail route and five years in Fulton Heights, a neighborhood he enjoyed immensely for the terrain and all the people he came to know.
“That was the gravy train,” he said.
Leon Williams, the “mayor of Maupin Avenue,” often would shadow Poole on his route through parts of Fulton Heights.
Poole also liked the Salisbury Country Club area, which he covered for a couple of years. For 44 months, he filled in as a substitute five days a week — “a real adventure,” he says.
• • •
As a mailman, Poole developed a fascination for all things weather, especially temperatures.
He charts temperatures daily and provides the Salisbury Post monthly summaries of the city’s highs and lows and whether any records were set.
Poole knows the days each month when the important checks — railroad and Social Security — are delivered in Salisbury.
He recalls how a man on North Main Street depended on his railroad pension check every month. That man had a feeble, almost-blind dog that weighed about 8 pounds.
Poole knew the dog posed no threat, so he was surprised one day when the man’s railroad check came back into the post office one day and “dog” was written as the reason it wasn’t delivered.
Poole delivered the check himself later in the day, though the house was no longer on his route.
• • •
There are many other animal stories.
Poole enjoyed watching Judge John Holshouser’s three-legged dog run, demonstrating an amazing ability of keeping up with his mail truck.
To earn some extra money, Poole sometimes filled in at the Spencer Post Office. The workers there had a mascot of sorts — a dog named “Romeo,” who might accompany the mailmen on their routes if the mood hit him.
Poole even has a cat story.
One day on North Fulton Street, he bent down to put some mail in a glass door’s mail slot, and he came eye to eye with a big cat — either a serval or ocelot.
“I’m glad that door was between me and him,” Poole says.
• • •
Mail carriers learn the proper ways to fall, given the bad conditions they face at times.
Poole cherished a long-length postal coat he wore in cold weather. During an ice storm one day, he fell trying to make it up a sidewalk on East Henderson Street.
As practiced, he fell mostly on his mailbag and was not hurt.
But back at the post office, Poole kept smelling something horrible. He realized it was his coat.
“I had fallen in a pile of you know what,” he says.
The cleaner had to keep the coat for two weeks.
And that’s about as diplomatic as you can say it.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or firstname.lastname@example.org.