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Early Christmas Gift for the Public: Faster Mail Service : Holidays: Postal Service adds personnel and equipment to compete with private carriers. The result is less waiting by customers and faster delivery.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Arlene Johnson had been prepared for the worst.

The 43-year-old Pomona secretary arranged for an extra long lunch break on Monday. Then she drove to the post office in Glendora, where she figured the delays would be bad, but, because it is a smaller town, not quite as bad.

“I wore my most comfortable shoes and I took along a sandwich,” she said. “I thought I’d be in line quite a while. After all, there’s only about a week left before Christmas.”

But for Johnson and the dozen or so others queued up at the Glendora Post Office to mail gifts and cards on what usually is the busiest day of the year, the wait was only about 10 minutes.

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It was even less at the main Post Office in Pasadena.

“This isn’t too bad,” said Sandra Edwards, 50, as she waited in line to mail a gift to her sister in Denver. “They must be doing something right.”

Jim Brouillard, customer service manager at the Pasadena Post Office, thinks they are.

He said that while it’s as busy as ever, mail is moving so well this year that even if you wait until Friday to visit the Post Office, your gifts should still reach anyone in the continental United States by Christmas Eve.

Brouillard said there are two reasons for this year’s generally shorter lines and quicker service.

First, the Post Office is putting more clerks at more windows to accommodate the Christmas rush. Private firms are handling more mail than ever, he said, and the Post Office “is aware of the competition.”

The second reason, he said, is the array of sophisticated equipment that now graces the Pasadena processing center and scores of similar centers across the nation.

The 200,000-square-foot building at Orange Grove Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue is cluttered with ingenious machines that line up envelopes, turn them right side up, make sure they’re not too fat or too heavy, check them for stamps and print the appropriate cancellation.

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But the niftiest machine of all is the one that reads the addresses on envelopes and sorts them according to destination--at a rate of about 35,000 per hour.

“It can read any address, as long as it’s typed,” said Jose Valadez, a supervisor in Pasadena. “It can even correct the ZIP code if that doesn’t match the city and state on the address.”

But despite the fact that the Pasadena center this week is handling close to a million pieces of mail a day--roughly twice the normal load--a lot of work still has to be done by humans.

Packages still have to be sorted by hand because they come in such an assortment of sizes, shapes and thicknesses. Red and green Christmas card envelopes are handled manually because their printed addresses don’t contrast enough to be read by machine.

And the machine still can’t read envelopes that are addressed by hand.

“But we’re working on that,” Brouillard said. “One of these days, we’ll have a machine that can do that too.”

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