Voyaging: Ochopee, FL
Smallest Post Office in the U.S.
Situated between Naples, FL and Miami, FL is a 7 foot by 8 foot structure in Ochopee (pronounced O-Chop-ee), FL. It’s small but visible as its white color stands out from the surrounding southern-Florida greenery. Driving past it for the first time, heading toward Miami, I applied light pressure on the breaks and sighted a letter box, an American flag and a large sign with a ‘34141’ zip code on it. This was a United States Post Office. “There’s no way,” I thought. I couldn’t come to terms with the size limitations and how the process of sending and receiving mail would even work. My brain was flooded with questions.
It took a few weeks before I could return to the post office for a more thorough experience and understanding of what was taking place here. Pulling in to the parking area and seeing the post office building again, it appeared even smaller than I remembered it which surprised even me. A creek of some front doors and a woman completing the process by latching them open, and the Ochopee, FL United States Post Office was open for business.
Nanette Watson was the post master who would serve as my brief tour guide as I asked question after question. At the time, she lived two miles from work. If she needed a restroom, there was a Subway, in a gas station, about four miles to the west; or there was the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters approximately one mile to the east. The building has been in service as the area post office since 1953 when the previous general store that housed the post office was destroyed in a fire. So the facility was used as a quick fix but it stuck.
“I almost see more German tourists than American,” Watson, stated. Apparently this post office is on all the travel shows and guides in Germany. She also said many people will drive by and hit the brakes prior to putting the car in reverse to stop for a closer look. “I’ve seen many accidents, luckily none have been too serious,” she explained.
After some time talking with Watson and making images, mail carrier Leroy Fish arrived in a small two-wheel drive pickup truck. Fish is the contract mail carrier. His wife actually started as the carrier about 40 years ago. Leroy retired from his previous job and took over as mail carrier for the post office due to a medical condition his wife had. So between Leroy and his wife, they’ve been delivering the 138-mile mail route for more than 40 years.
What is the future of this tiny shipping shack? “We serve a lot of people and cost very little money to operate,” Watson said. With the florescent bulb, air conditioner, computer (laptop) and other small electrical devices, she estimates the monthly electric bill to be around $20 dollars.
Sidenotes: This type of photography and storytelling is my absolute favorite. It’s interesting and authentic. I started this blog to tell stories, to provide insight into my photographic processes and most importantly, to inspire others to find happiness and fulfillment through photography. The takeaway from this story is that you can be richly rewarded—with photographs, information and connecting with people—by simply making the time to reach out, talk, listen and create. It would’ve been easy to drive past this structure and not return, but to experience this spot and the people that put out the mail in this small area, I feel like I grew in knowledge and developed an appreciation for different jobs and what it takes to make sure citizens receive their mail. At first it can be uncomfortable talking with strangers but believe in yourself and know that, like anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better you’ll be at it.
(These photos and this trip are from 2009 but the writing is from yesterday. The encounter and experience remains as one of my favorites. Alongside the recent writing, there is some writing that has been copied from a previous blog post I wrote I wrote.)