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DISCOVERIES : A Place for Fast Action

June 25, 1993|MICHAEL ARKUSH

You think you've seen everything in the San Fernando Valley?

Wrong. You missed a spot--the Van Nuys Post Office.

Some spot. It's more like a small city. The office, which handles all the mail circulating through the Valley--about 6 million pieces a day--offers 45-minute tours Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

You can see the machines that postmark the letters, and the men and women who manually toil for hours to check ZIP codes and addresses. Post office workers say the most popular attractions on the tour are the BCS--bar-code sorter--and OCR--optical character reader. These gadgets read the addresses and bar codes to make the mail moves as fast as possible. About 35,000 letters go through the OCR in a matter of minutes.

The place is a buzz of activity. Altogether, about 1,300 people work there--500 at night when the action is at its most frantic. You'll see many of them riding around in carts, dragging huge loads of mail, and others at their desks listening to music on their headphones to pass the time. Many of them don't have more than a second or two to make sure each letter is ready for the next part of the process.

The office is carefully organized, from the section that exclusively handles air mail to the area for heavy packages.

Warning: It can be a little noisy, though nothing compared to the sound of a Magic Mountain roller coaster. And you better hurry--the bulk of the post office's work is set to move early next year to a bigger building near Valencia.

The Van Nuys Post Office is at 15701 Sherman Way, Van Nuys. The free tours are offered between 5 and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Call (818) 908-6625.

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