An ascent up the 250-odd steps of Harry Street — a street in name only — carries you past wildly painted cottages, verdant gardens, and, finally, lush vegetation seemingly transplanted from the Amazon basin. At the summit of this little-known walkway on the border of Glen Park and Noe Valley, you are rewarded with one of the city's most breathtaking views. Truly, this is a stairway to heaven.
Unless, of course, you have to haul 10 pounds of junk mail up those steps. Then it's a stairway to hell.
Louis Hui, 48, is relatively tall and trim with the sun-scorched complexion befitting a man who works outdoors. For the past three years, he's been the postman of Harry Street, schlepping his mailbag up and down the hundreds of steps to service the four houses hidden amid the jungle canopy.
On day one on the route, Hui, unsurprisingly, wasn't so wild about Harry. When asked his first impression of the maniacally steep stairway, he quickly replied, "Oh, so many steps!" Perhaps via a peripatetic version of Stockholm syndrome, he has come to enjoy this portion of his day. "It's good exercise," he says cheerfully. "I'm okay. I look forward to it."
Hui confirms that, with election day approaching, his Harry Street burden is growing heavier (and glossier). He estimates servicing the four homes along the steps takes about 10 minutes — quite likely the most time-consuming quartet of mailboxes on any city mail carrier's route.
True, San Francisco mail carriers luck out of two of the three burdens mentioned in the oft-repeated postman's mantra: "Through rain, sleet, or snow." For Hui, however, rain is bad enough. "When it rains, it's really hard," he says. "You can slip — and there are so many steps!"
On a recent run up and down the stairs, Hui wore standard-order dark slacks, obscuring a pair of calves that, after three years of training, rival Popeye's. When asked whether he has the strongest legs of any mail carrier in the city, Hui laughs. But then he gives the matter some thought.
"I might," he says. "I just might."