Last of a Breed: Postal Workers Who Decipher Bad Handwriting

Have you ever wondered who deciphers the illegible handwriting on envelopes sent by the United States Post Office? I have. The New York Times profiles Melissa Stark, “the last of the breed”:

Ms. Stark is one of the Postal Service’s data conversion operators, a techie title for someone who deciphers unreadable addresses, and she is one of the last of a breed. In September, the post office will close one of its two remaining centers where workers try to read the scribble on envelopes and address labels that machines cannot. At one time, there were 55 plants around the country where addresses rejected by machines were guessed at by workers aided with special software to get the mail where it was intended.

Computers have made this job virtually obsolete, and yet:

But for now, this center operates 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. More than 700 workers stare at images of letters, packages, change-of-address cards and other mail, trying to figure out where they are supposed to go. It is not easy work. With software, a knowledge of geography and more than a little intuition, an operator has exactly 90 seconds to move each piece of mail.