For over 30 years, North Berkeley mail carrier Angel Pagan’s alarm rang long before sunrise.
Days began at 2 a.m. with an hour-long run and a shower. Breakfast was usually oatmeal with peanuts, walnuts and a banana. Then he’d read the Bible, hope for a good day and set off from his home in Vallejo.
These days, Pagan, 66, tires more easily.
A few years ago, his wife finally convinced him to push his alarm to 4:30 a.m. After 36 years of delivering mail to 400 families in the 94708 zip code, Pagan has retired and can catch up on sleep.
He drove his seven-hour mail route a final time on Saturday, March 11. Known by many in North Berkeley for his friendliness, meticulousness and gentle smile, Pagan received a warm sendoff with many thanks — a few bottles of good wine, a plant, farewell cards and even a watercolor portrait.
“His name is appropriate, he really is an angel,” said North Berkeley resident John Gilbert.
Most mail carriers fold magazines and squeeze them through the mail slot on his door. Gilbert asked Pagan decades ago if he could please put them on a shelf so they wouldn’t be crumpled. Pagan never forgot.
Around the holidays, Gilbert liked to give Pagan a gingerbread cake from the Cheese Board. Pagan would always bring him — and anyone else who brought him a gift — a thoughtfully handwritten card. He knew everyone’s names. On Saturday, Gilbert’s neighbors pooled their money and presented Pagan with a $1,000 check.
Ernest Isaacs, who has lived in his North Berkeley home for 45 years, printed out multiple pages of kind comments from a Nextdoor post about Pagan’s retirement and put them in a binder to give to Pagan. Isaacs said he’s never had a more outstanding mailman; he always went the extra mile, tucking mail under the doormat and placing packages out of view so they wouldn’t be stolen.
“Whoever we get next isn’t going to be Angel, that’s for sure,” Isaacs said.
Pagan said he was nearly brought to tears by the outpouring of support. “I had no idea that they would call me and tell me how much they appreciate me,” he said.
When the office was understaffed, Pagan would take on additional evening shifts. Once, around Christmas, he clocked out at 2:30 a.m., slept an hour, and returned to work at 8 a.m. the same day.
Then there would be the occasional “bad supervisor” who would deny his overtime requests, he said. To ensure all the mail was delivered, he would work through his lunch break. Sometimes, according to his wife, he would even sleep-talk about mailboxes.
But Pagan hadn’t always aspired to work for the postal service. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a great baseball player. He was a catcher on Mission High School’s team and sometimes practiced with Michael Norris, who later became a pitcher for the Oakland Athletics.
“You couldn’t see the ball,” recalled Pagan. “That guy threw the ball so hard, and when it landed in my glove, it was so painful.”
A lifelong San Francisco Giants fan, Pagan shares his name with the switch-hitting outfielder who played on the Giants until 2016. When the announcer called the ballplayer Ángel Pagán’s name during games, the postman Angel Pagan liked to stand up and joke that they were talking about him.
Pagan’s love for music runs deep. When driving under stress, he liked to sing the James Bond and Mission Impossible theme songs. In the early ’80s, Pagan worked at his sister’s Mission District record store, Discolandia. There Pagan met many of his favorite Latin artists, including Tito Puente, but he had a family to support and the postal service was hiring.
Pagan failed the postal service’s written exam twice.
On his third try, he said, “I went to the liquor store and bought me a little half-pint of Bacardi, and drank just a third of it, and that made me focus on the test.” The first few acceptance letters came from San Francisco, but his father was concerned for his safety. Then came the letter from Berkeley.
“Berkeley was the greatest place, man, it was heaven to me,” Pagan said. “We grow up in places that are bad, and sometimes we hang around with the wrong people, but when you get in the post office and you wear that blue suit, there’s so much respect.”
Now that he’s retired, Pagan intends to play more guitar. He wants to finally be able to sing and play a love song for his wife. Maybe he’ll even write his own, he says. He’s already come up with a title: Can’t Make It Without You Sweetheart.
“That sounds like a hit already, doesn’t it?” he said.