SCARBOROUGH – Wearing the iconic brown uniform of UPS — including shorts as well as socks with a UPS emblem — I was eager to see what sort of looks I’d get from folks as I made my rounds.
But I quickly learned there was no time to worry about, or be proud of, how I looked. That’s because a UPS driver’s day is all about time management — time management on steroids, to be precise.
The day I tagged along with him, driver Peter Jacques made about 175 deliveries between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. I was only with him for the morning, but saw that he was constantly thinking about time.
Jacques followed lots of little routines designed to shave a second here or a minute there. For instance, he told me that when I entered any business with a package, I should call out “UPS delivery” right away, instead of hunting for the right person. That way, the right person will find me.
You want to be polite, ask where they want the package placed, things like that. But you want to display a “sense of urgency” and not necessarily stand around making small talk, he told me.
Sometimes, keeping such a tightly wound internal clock can be tough, he said.
“I’m a dog person, so when I see a dog on the route I’d love to stop and play with him,” said Jacques, 39, as we rode along Route 1 in Scarborough. “But that would take roughly 45 seconds. So if I stop to play with five dogs in a day, that’s about five minutes of lost time.”
From the beginning of my morning with Jacques, I got a strong sense of what UPS — the worldwide package delivery business — is all about. Dozens of drivers were assembled in the South Portland warehouse, where trucks were being loaded. The drivers were stocking up on free bottled water (it was about 90 degrees) and getting instructions from their supervisors, including cautions to look out for bicycles and motorcycles.
Within minutes of these meetings, trucks were pulling out of the warehouse. In the parking lot, each truck stopped so the driver could do a safety check. Jacques walked around his truck, showing me how he looked at the windshield (for cracks), the tires (for punctures), the doors, the license, the truck’s ID numbers and several other things.
With everything in order, we got in the truck and headed for Route 1 in Scarborough, where Jacques would be delivering. As a “cover driver,” Jacques has different routes on different days, covering routes for drivers who are on vacation or sick. That means he sometimes spends valuable minutes finding an address, or the right door to enter.
As I sat in the truck, both doors were open. It was a little disconcerting to be motoring down Interstate 295 with no barrier between myself and the outside. But Jacques explained that on a hot day like this, with no air conditioning, it’s important to have the doors open.
“People ask if I have air conditioning in the truck and I tell them I have 250 air conditioning,” he said. “Open two doors and go 50.”
We made our first stops of the morning at Maine Medical Center’s Scarborough campus. On the five-minute drive there, Jacques had filled my head with rules and procedures. The one he repeated the most was “three points of contact.”
This means that whenever entering or leaving the truck, you should have one foot on the truck’s bottom step, one foot on the ground and a hand on the truck’s outer handle. If you don’t do this every time, Jacques told me, you’re bound to slip and possibly get hurt over the course of 175 stops — or some 350 trips into and out of the truck — during any given day.
And before he would let me take any package out of the truck — even a small envelope — he walked me through the procedure. First, he’d unlock the door from the cab to the back of the truck (I was not authorized to do so). Then he would give me the package number to look for, telling me that numbers starting with 1,000 were on the top shelf and those starting with 2,000 were on the bottom shelf, and some might be on the floor.
Once I found my first package, Jacques told me to take it into the cab and lock the door behind me. Next, place the package on a flat area near the door, then step out of the truck (“Three points of contact, Ray, let’s see it,” Jacques would repeat.) Once I was on the ground I could turn around and pick up the package, which was now about chest-high to me.
“It’s in your power zone, between your shoulder and waist, that’s where you want it,” he told me.
On my first delivery, Jacques instructed me to enter the medical office, make eye contact with someone, or call out “UPS” if no one was there. Then, once I found someone not busy, I was to tell them they had a UPS delivery, ask them where they would like the package, hand them the UPS electronic data pad and ask if I could “trouble them for an autograph.” And hand them the pen, too. Plus, I should ask them their last name — before thanking them — because most people scribble their names.
It’s a lot to remember, I found. On my first delivery, I forgot to lock the truck door. On another, I forgot to call out “UPS” and wandered around through the cubicles for a few minutes.
At one stop I spent a couple of extra minutes in the office, which made Jacques curious. I told him that the office door had been locked and the woman who let me in spent some time explaining to me why she had locked it.
Jacques was constantly looking at his electronic data pad, which had all the delivery stops, package numbers and other information listed. There were even buttons for him to push to record where he made a delivery (side door, loading dock, etc.). There were about seven packages that had to be delivered by 10:30 a.m. — guaranteed by UPS — so we did those first.
As we drove, I asked Jacques about the uniform. I had heard — from at least one female co-worker — that UPS drivers were generally seen as fairly attractive in those uniforms, with the shorts. And I wondered if Jacques had any firsthand knowledge of this.
“Once I was in a nursing home and went by these three women who said something like ‘Nice legs’,” Jacques said. “It made me blush.”
But that was pretty much all he had to say about the power of the uniform.
Probably because saying much more would not have been the best use of his time.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: