It’s Not Easy Being Brown: My Gig as a UPS Driver’s Helper

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Subtitle: No, those packages don’t just magically appear!

Like so many people I know across this nation, Obamanomics have taken a toll on my budget.

I love doing what I do, — writing, editing and hosting a talk radio show — but it’s certainly not an extremely lucrative career. Unless you’re one of the Fox gals on Outnumbered, which I am not.

That said, if asked, I would gladly appear. But since no big offers were in the wings, I applied for a number of seasonal opportunities to bolster my Christmas budget.

I have 3 wonderful young nephews and nothing gives me greater joy than giving them gifts at Christmas. Add to that the 1 adult name in my family’s secret Santa gift drawing, and I knew my lean income would not suffice.

On 18 November I received an email:

We show that you’ve recently expressed interest in a position with UPS. Currently, all PT Package Handler positions have been filled however, we have immediate openings for Seasonal Driver Helper positions in your area. These positions are SEASONAL and ON-CALL. Please return to www.upsjobs.com to complete your application and then attend our open interview sessions on Thursday.

A Driver Helper? I figured I could do that…I’m a helpful person!

I read on:

UPS Driver Helper Job Description: UPS is hiring individuals to work as temporary Driver Helpers. This is a physical, fast-paced, outdoor position that involves continual lifting, lowering and carrying packages that typically weigh 25 – 35 lbs. and may weigh up to 70 lbs. It requires excellent customer contact skills and a lot of walking.

Hmmm. I was still on board, though the “…up to 70 lbs.” gave me pause.

And to further refine the applicant base, the email outlined more:

Driver Helpers must comply with UPS appearance guidelines: MEN – Hairstyles shall be worn in a businesslike manner and not cover any part of the eyes, not extend below the upper half of the ear, nor below the top of the shirt collar. Sideburns are to be neatly trimmed, and not extend below the bottom of the ear. A mustache should be neatly trimmed, and not extend below the corners of the mouth.

A beard, goatee or hair below the lower lip is not acceptable. Except for mustaches as described above, employees are to be clean-shaven. Body piercing must not be visible. Tattoos must not be visible. Appropriate jewelry may be worn in moderation. WOMEN – Hairstyles shall be worn in a businesslike manner.

Okay, I passed the “Appearance” clause with flying colors: I have no moustache, no tatts, and other than pierced ears (one hole in each ear), no body piercings.

Thursday found me at the large facility 20 minutes North in Portland, part of a huge crowd of applicants that were herded through the interview process.

My interviewer, a kind woman who was inundated with applications, brought up my file on her PC, then looked at me with a puzzled expression and queried:

“What have you done in the last 6 months that is similar to, or would qualify you for a job as a Driver’s Helper?”

I laughed and told her with a grin:

“Absolutely nothing. BUT…I worked on my family’s grass seed farm over the course of many summers as a kid and teen. I can drive anything, I’m strong, I’m fast, I follow orders, learn very quickly, and I love people!”

She blinked as if surprised and nodded, “That’ll do. We’ll run your background check today. Please come back tomorrow for training.”

I returned on Friday for 5 hours of training. I did learn that UPS has zero tolerance for guns: any drivers who carry must leave their firearms at home, or in their cars off the premises.

If I was seeking a long-term position, I might challenge that.

The man who did safety and regulations training asked our big group, “How many of you are hunters?” About 6 men raised their hands.

Then he looked around and asked, “How many of you are concealed carry holders?”

He laughed and looked shocked as 4 very large fellas…and I, raised our hands. He looked at me and asked, “Hope you left your handgun at home or in your car?”

I smiled and nodded, and noticed a number of thumbs up from guys around the room.

We were all told to expect a call Monday from either the center or a driver, and to be on call from 7AM – noon. That seemed rather nebulous, I hoped that a driver would call early and then set up subsequent days and meeting locations.

I knew full well the work would be hard, and with my writing, editing and talk show duties, I was looking at 13 – 17 hours days through at least December 31. But, in the words of my mom, “You could stand on your head for a few weeks!”

I knew I was made of tough stuff: as the grand-daughter of Norwegian immigrants I was taught the value of hard work from a very young age. Indeed, pretty much the highest compliment my extended family could give a person was “He/she is a hard worker!”

Monday morning I was up by 4:00 AM to tackle writing and editing, and wait for a call. At 9AM I received a call from a driver who I’ll call “Jesse.”

His words, “Is this Tamara? This is Jesse, a UPS driver…are you ready to work?”

I didn’t miss a beat, “You bet I am! Where and when shall I meet you?”

This was a match made in heaven: Jesse was a driver in my small community (I wouldn’t have to commute farther than 1 mile to meet him!), he was a 20 year driver, a conservative Republican with a great sense of humor and terrific people skills.

The first week, 3 days prior to Thanksgiving, were the warm-up act.

The UPS truck seems big, and requires 2 steps up to sit in the jump seat, but is only a 4 or 6 cylinder with 150HP! And the helper may or may not shut the right-side door, depending on the weather.

I loved tooling through the country, door open, in the noisy truck. I was grinning from the get go: it brought back those summers on the farm driving tractors, swathers, combines, riding in big trucks and Willys jeeps.

And though Jesse may have wondered how helpful I’d be at first sight (I am a small, 5’2″ and about a buck 25, blonde), I soon made a believer of him. He was laughing and kept mentioning how fast I was as I jogged up to the houses, apartments or buildings with packages.

By the way, if any upper echelon UPS types read this…I know, I know. We were trained to “hustle but never run.”

What was there to learn about delivering packages the UPS way? A lot.

And I quickly found that Jesse took great pride in delivering those packages. Every box was placed quickly on a porch or by a door, but with care. It was a challenge to be sure every package was hidden from any who might steal them, tucked away from the weather, and even wrapped in a plastic bag if it was raining.

Add to that learning to scan and use the DIAD (UPS Delivery Information Acquisition Device) on the fly was interesting, but I finally got it.

We also handed out dog biscuits to canines along the route, all of whom knew and loved Jesse. In fact, everyone but a few odd cranks loved Jesse.

The hours were long, the packages often heavy (though Jesse was such a gentleman, he would not allow me to carry huge or 70 lb. packages). I have never been so sore in my adult life and Advil LiquiGels were my nightly ritual.

But I made it. My Norwegian grandpa Ole, were he still alive, would have been proud of me.

And I had an inside glimpse into the world of those wonderful men and women who deliver hundreds of thousands of packages every year. Amazon has upped the ante and pretty much insures huge UPS shipping volume, especially during “Peak.”

So the next time you hear that brief knock on the door that indicates a UPS package is being left, stick your head out and wave at that driver. A simple thank-you goes a long way.

As for me, I count Jesse a friend, and met scores of wonderful people (and their dogs!) along a route that was varied — from crowded third floor apartments, to vineyards and multimillion dollar country estates.

I wore that brown jacket with pride and earned enough to buy Christmas presents, and hopefully gain a good reputation with UPS.

I can say with great assurance: it’s not easy being Brown (wearing “Browns”), but it is satisfying.

 

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