By Jeff Klinkenberg
Everything about the Everglades feels too big for comfort. Our alligators can reach 14 feet and I’ve seen orchids bigger than my head, which is about the size of a pumpkin. My two closest Everglades pals each weigh 285 pounds. When they hike into a swamp, they sink. Even our mud is intimidating.
But the Ochopee Post Office in the Everglades is the smallest in the United States. The building, 8 feet 4 inches deep and about 7 feet wide, once was a shed to store tools and tomatoes. Now it’s a full-fledged post office with room for only a single clerk. It has 40 P.O. boxes and sends a carrier out six days a week on a 170-mile route to serve 300 patrons who dwell mostly in the middle of nowhere.
I always stop for a chat with whoever happens to on duty behind the counter. I still blush when I remember the time a postal clerk chewed me out for boldly asking about her toilet habits. Well, my inquiring mind had noticed the lack of plumbing. Turns out the nearest comfort station is three miles away, although those tempting but ominous Everglades bushes are just out back.
Snakes make the job of Everglades postal employee a tad exciting. Last time I visited, clerk Brenda Brown was recovering from her most recent trauma. She had been working at her desk when she noticed something uninvited moving only inches from her hand.
“There was not enough room inside the post office for the two of us,’’ was Brenda’s explanation as to why she fled from the harmless rat snake into the parking lot. Still, it could have been worse. A colleague, Shannon Mitchell, recently was repairing a broken postal scale when she found a second rat snake gumming up the works.
“One thing you worry about is how the snakes get inside in the first place,” Brenda once told me, automatically glancing at her feet. “Kind of nerve-wracking.’’
For the record, she has yet to encounter the bear that wanders the property after dark with impunity. Nor has she exchanged glances with the Florida panther, the Everglades’ version of a mountain lion, known to lurk in the vicinity. Alligators, on the other hand, are as common as cabbage palms. In the winter, they often sunbathe in the post office parking lot. There is no lobby, so you’ll want to wait in your car until the gator is gone.
During winter, the nation’s smallest post office is a tourist attraction. Folks line up at the window for postcards bearing the coveted Ochopee 34141 ZIP code. Please be patient should a flustered postal clerk suddenly bolt through the door past you. A bathroom break may be in the offing. It may also mean a snake just slithered across her feet.
If you go…
Ochopee Post Office
38000 Tamiami Trail E, Ochopee, FL 34141
Be sure to check out additional Everglades stories by Jeff Klinkenberg: visitflorida.com/en-us/everglades.html
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