When the postman arrived at 1840 Fairburn Ave. last week, he didn't have to ring twice.
He didn't even have to deliver anything--in fact, he walked in empty-handed and walked out loaded down with cards and packages.
But the change of pace was fitting, considering this was his retirement party, given by residents of an apartment building where he has faithfully delivered the mail since it was built 18 years ago.
John L. Williams, 55, is retiring after 30 years, 2 months and 26 days of working for the U.S. Postal Service. He spent 29 of those years delivering the same West Los Angeles route, consisting of 393 addresses on Fairburn, Thayer and Holmby avenues.
The chorus of voices that greeted Williams when he showed up at the building recreation room was more plaintive than congratulatory. "You have no right to leave us!" one woman said. "We don't want you to go," said another.
No Second Thoughts
But the popular letter carrier is looking forward to his Jan. 2 retirement and he wouldn't be talked out of it. "I've paid my dues," he said.
Edith Weiss, the 77-year-old organizer of the party, presented Williams with a farewell card signed by 33 people and a silver picture frame for the card. A "Happy Retirement" cake was decorated with a picture of a man in a boat catching a marlin, an appropriate choice for a man who used to fish for marlin in Mexico and is about to take a 2-week Caribbean cruise with his wife.
As people came up to shake his hand, Williams greeted them by name and address.
"I've known you ever since you lived at 1947 Prosser," he said to Nancy Israel.
"That was 18 years ago," she said, marveling at his memory.
Williams' dependability as a letter carrier is almost legendary among those on his route.
"He's a vanishing breed," said Weiss. "The only way we know he's there is when the mail is all right."
Harriet Rothkop, 66, said: "I got Christmas cards that had the most fouled-up addresses you can imagine, and I didn't know how they got here, until I met him."
"He's a doll," gushed Israel, 59. "He's the most smiling, the most sweet . . . he's the epitome of an old-fashioned rural mailman who knows everybody."
Israel reminisced with Williams about how her dog used to chase him along his route.
"That dog would jump right out the front window," Williams said. "That dog could run so fast, the dogcatchers couldn't even catch him."
But in his 29 years on the route, Williams was bitten by only one dog, a chow that clamped down on his index finger while he was pushing letters through a door slot.
Williams' co-workers call him "Old Man," he said, but they are amazed at how speedily he delivers his route.
"They ask me, 'How do you do it?' I say, 'My three kids are out there helping me every day.' "
The real secret, he said, is knowing the name of everyone on his route and where they all live.
"I go by names," he said. "Numbers mean nothing to me, because a lot of times people put the wrong numbers in the address."
Williams said his sorting rate has been clocked at a speedy 36 letters a minute. He can sort "flats," magazines or large envelopes, at 22 a minute.
William Thomas, the West Los Angeles station manager who is Williams' supervisor, said he could not verify those figures, but said that if they are accurate, they indicate a rate almost twice as fast as normal.
"He's a highly productive employee," Thomas said. "He does work at a pace probably 50% or 60% above the normal standard. . . . Basically speaking, he is an excellent carrier, very dependable, accurate. He keeps his customers at heart, and he's a joy to work with."
Williams said he was offered a promotion to an office job years ago but turned it down because he preferred the freedom of his route.
"I'd rather be with the public than be inside," he said. "Once I leave the office, I'm my boss. If I stay in the office, they're my boss."
He had opportunities to transfer to other routes with less walking, but he liked the people on this one. "The only thing that would keep someone on this route for so long is good tenants," he said.
And of the entire route, he said, 1840 Fairburn Ave. has always been his favorite delivery. "This is the only building I can come in--even though it's a big building--and see four or five people a day that I know."
About 25 people showed up on this particular day for a rather unusual retirement party thrown not by fellow workers but by pleased patrons.
"I just thought a tribute from the people who really appreciate the service he's given would be nice," Weiss said.