ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
This summer, we're spending time with folks who do odd or unusual jobs. Today's story takes us to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The resort town has some 20 miles of shoreline dotted with historic mansions. Tourists crowd onto sightseeing cruises to gaze at those summer homes. And on one ride each day, they can also catch the Lake Geneva mail jumpers in action as they deliver mail by boat. Ann-Elise Henzl of member station WUWM reports the job's trickier than it sounds.
ANN-ELISE HENZL, BYLINE: There's a long history of marine mail delivery in Lake Geneva.
HAROLD FRIESTAD: It goes back to 1873 actually.
HENZL: That's Harold Friestad, general manager of Lake Geneva Cruise Line.
FRIESTAD: You had the millionaires, the Chicago industrialists that were coming up here and buying hundreds of acres of land, building beautiful estates on the lake.
HENZL: Friestad says though you can drive to them now, back then, vacation homes only were accessible by water. Some homeowners still like to get their mail delivered to their dock.
FRIESTAD: You know, with these large estates, they might have a quarter-mile driveway coming down or longer. So it's kind of fun but more convenient to get their mail right down at the lakefront.
HENZL: Each summer, the Lake Geneva Cruise Line takes over for letter carriers. The company folds the service into its sightseeing tour, hiring athletic teens and young adults as mail jumpers. Veteran Garrett Robers has the strategy down pat.
GARRETT ROBERS: You lift your leg over, and you straddle the side of the boat while you're approaching the pier. And then once you get to the pier to deliver the mail, you'll stand on a little ledge on the side of the boat. and you'll hang on to a guardrail. And you'll lean off the side of the boat with mail in hand.
HENZL: The vessel remains in motion as mail jumpers leap onto piers and sprint to mailboxes. They have to make the return jump before the 75-foot boat pulls away.
ROBERS: You're just throwing yourself at the boat, trying to grab onto, you know, whatever's there. There's been times where I couldn't grab the guardrail. I had to grab inside the window. And it gets tricky, but it makes it for an entertaining tour.
HENZL: About 150 people are on board for this morning's run.
CAPTAIN NEIL FRAME: We invite you to sit back and relax and enjoy the trip. We're going to get under way in just a few moments. Thanks for coming out this morning.
HENZL: Captain Neil Frame steers the big boat onto the lake. Then Robers begins narrating the tour, something he'll alternate with mail delivery.
ROBERS: I'm going to be a senior at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. Other than that, I'm about 5'8'', brown hair, blue eyes. I like to take long walks on this beach at night.
HENZL: Robers can't talk for long before it's time for the first mail jump. He passes the microphone to Captain Frame who slows the boat as it gets close to the dock.
FRAME: The main reason I'm moving is so that I can steer and not crash. If I stop the boat then we're basically out-of-control.
HENZL: It takes just a few seconds for Robers to drop to the pier, make the delivery and soar back onto the boat to the delight of passengers.
FRAME: One down, a whole bunch to go.
HENZL: Robers resumes the narration. Then a couple minutes later, he's on to the next jump.
HENZL: The job doesn't pay much, but Robers says there are tips from passengers at the end of the ride and from homeowners at the end of the season. And, he says, there's the thrill.
ROBERS: I have never met someone that has not, you know, appreciated the rush that you get from, you know, mail jumping.
HENZL: Homeowner Andy Loughlin says he has teenage granddaughters who live in another city but covet the job.
ANDY LOUGHLIN: They all come to the lake. They all see the girls on the mail boat. Mainly the girls are focused on trying to become a mail girl and stay with grandma and grandpa here at Lake Geneva for the summer.
HENZL: His oldest granddaughter is 16. And he thinks in a couple years, she'll come to Lake Geneva in the spring to try out for one of the most unusual jobs around - being a mail jumper. For NPR News, I'm Ann-Elise Henzl. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.