(WGHP) — You’ve heard about supply-chain issues this year and the need for holiday help to unclog that flow, especially by those who deliver packages to your residence. Maybe you’ve even applied for a part-time holiday gig. There are many available.
A few seasons ago I was part of that supply chain. I was one of those people who carried packages and envelopes to your front door or garage door or back door or wherever you preferred to receive them.
I was on a hiatus from writing and editing, and, seeking extra income during the holidays, I answered an ad for “Holiday Helpers” at UPS in Greensboro. What I found was a nearly full-time job of transporting packages from truck to door in a structured and efficient manner that sometimes was physically challenging but also oddly rewarding.
I started around Thanksgiving, and any day but Sunday I would meet a UPS truck in a parking lot near my home and then help the driver empty the cargo bay. The work was varied: Some days in the city, one day around Madison, but mostly I worked the neighborhoods of Summerfield and Oak Ridge.
Some days that truck was jammed so full you couldn’t maneuver through it easily to find packages you needed. But I learned that the drivers know intimately what is where and where that package goes, with instincts and experiences that far exceed the messaging on those handheld devices that are their operational oracles.
My driver for most of the seven weeks I worked was a dedicated and affable 25-year employee named Kevin who knew his business and his customers. Even though he had been on our route only for about a year at that time, he knew what to expect from house to house, and the people inside knew him – sometimes personally and not just generically.
My job wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t difficult. I trudged up driveways and sidewalks, sometimes balancing several packages, sometimes lugging a heavy one. Occasionally we double-teamed a box. On rare occasions we used a hand truck. If there was a threatening animal, he made me wait while he tamed it.
My season in this employ happened to be that year when we had about a foot of snow a couple of weeks before Christmas. So for a few days of my tenure I plowed through snow drifts and up slopes better prepared for sledding and snow people than for delivery. Some days there was miserable cold rain. Sometimes just cold.
But the snow added to my feeling of being a little like Santa Claus, although I was dressed not in red from my head to my foot, but mostly in brown down to my favorite Nike trail shoes that one Christmas season had walked on the Great Wall of China.
The experience was eye-opening, challenging and memorable. And I learned these five key realities:
If you order something, the driver is your hero and your friend.
Kevin would direct me where to go and what to do, based on his knowledge of the customer. For what seemed like every door, he knew preferences even when the device in his hand didn’t. Sometimes we hid boxes of toys so the kids wouldn’t spy them. Sometimes a homeowner would speak to him through a doorbell camera – even remotely. Another driver and I visited a business with several boxes, and the owner said, “I saw you guys at my house earlier today.” Doorbell camera again. I felt watched. But the drivers knew virtually every person – at least by habit – and how best to serve them.
Customers can be just plain nice.
At some houses there was box or cooler full of snacks and drinks with a sign that read, “for delivery drivers.” At one house a woman who had several children and received many packages almost daily would bring us out fresh coffee. Another gave Kevin a handmaid ornament. Many would wait on porches, in driveways or at doors to say thank you and Merry Christmas. That helps a lot.
Some people order a LOT of stuff, and not just in the days after Cyber Monday.
There were some houses we visited almost every day for three weeks leading up to Christmas, the snowstorm days notwithstanding, and then for the gift-card-purchase-frenzy days that followed. The truck was most crammed on Jan. 4, my last day on the job. I saw some open garages stacked with boxes, and some houses received many packages. I think 11 pieces was my single-site record. One woman ordered dresses for holiday parties through a rental service. Some received prepared meal kits or a box of steaks. There were many flat-screen TVs and, of course, a wide variety of toys, even basketball goals and bicycles.
The organization of the truck is your best friend or worst enemy.
Packages are placed by an internal sorting code into specific areas of the truck’s bay. The goal is to group them by proximity and the flow of the delivery route. But when you have a truck so full you can’t walk inside, you can imagine how that defined practice gets lost in the squeeze and cram. Then there is the schedule. The handheld computer – maybe by now they have mounted tablets, which makes sense – dictates the route a driver is supposed to follow for ultimate efficiency. Except those delivery routes on many days were illogical, causing doubling back on the same road and bypassing some neighborhoods only to return later. Human logic sometimes had to prevail.
You better know when to hold it and know when to run.
I don’t wear a fitness device, but I calculated that I walked around 12 to 15 miles per shift, even when we drove up long, winding driveways. Policy dictated when we could back into driveways, and my drivers were very adroit in steering the big truck in tight places, sometimes in pitch-black dark. We persisted and emptied the truck, and sometimes we met other trucks and traded off work. The flow was constant, with the truck stopping only for deliveries and traffic devices. So you had to learn this: There are no pauses for bathroom issues. I once asked about that and was offered a bottle and privacy in the back. It was a joke, but I declined before I realized I was being trolled. We observed required lunch breaks, and we were careful to take our time near a construction site, so chosen because there would be a Port-o-let there. I can’t how imagine how Santa holds out on Christmas Eve. Maybe he has a bottle.