For 22 years, Alan Pelzer made the front lobby window at the Brainerd Post Office a little more interesting with his effervescent jokes and banter with customers.
Now, he's decided to say goodbye to the customers whose lives he brightened, and finally retire from the job.
At an interview in his home near Pillager Nov. 6, Pelzer described the joy that more than two decades of making new friends gave him.
After he graduated from high school in Little Falls, Pelzer said, he "bounced around," driving a UPS truck for about eight years and also doing a stint as a bartender. However, the need to provide steady resources for his family drove him to take a job at the post office.
Like his time behind a bar, Pelzer's time behind a service window put him in the role of an informal therapist-a confidante to the masses.
"At times, you're like a sounding board," he said. "These people come in, and they'll share all their triumphs and their tragedies."
He kept a journal of his interactions with them, and took his notes home so he could tell his wife better stories about his day at work.
He didn't hang on to the papers, though.
"They're all up here," he said, pointing to his head.
Pelzer was reluctant to share some of the stories. He didn't want violate "doctor/patient" privilege.
"Some of them are pretty private," he said. "I've had people that have real tragedy, real bad things happen to them, their families."
Close personal details were shared along with letters and packages, he said.
"I talk football with 85-year-old ladies," Pelzer said. "I know people who are afraid to be in an elevator. I know all these little secrets, and a lot of little stories."
He's watched Brainerd grow and move from quaint to cosmopolitan, uplifted by the rapid development in Baxter.
"All in all, I think it's just a great area," he said. "If I had a Brainerd address, I'd probably run for mayor. I'm not kidding you, I think I could make it just on the people I know."
Changes took hold in the company Pelzer worked for, as well. As the Internet rose to prominence, it drastically affected the traffic of USPS. Letter volume went down, but package volume went up, Pelzer said.
In addition, ongoing budget issues at the national level have made Pelzer feel the pinch, he said. He's seen layoffs through attrition make the job more hectic for those that stay behind.
"When people leave, they don't tend to replace them normally," he said. "It gets to be quite a load. It's a lot of work, working there."
If customers knew the work that postal officials put in, they wouldn't be as quick to criticize USPS, he said. However, shift changes and "politics" eventually prompted Pelzer to hang up his uniform.
"There's some people that push the buttons that don't know what they're doing," he said. "I won't have any problems saying that."
Pelzer said he'd still miss his following of faithful customers, who bought him gifts and cards on his last day.
"I felt really great about that," he said. "I wanted to make a difference."
His retirement plans involve spending time with his grandkids, taking a few months off-and maybe going back to work someplace else.
"Maybe I'll become a greeter at Costco," he joked.