And then there was Brent: cranky, fast, loyal, ageless and our UPS guy for 10 years or more. When Brent delivered to our business, we were located three flights up in a Congress Street building with no elevator. We received deliveries every day that sometimes included rolls of fabric weighing 50 to 70 pounds each.

By the time Brent reached the first level to yell for help, he was ready for a fight.

Before this in-town job, I’d worked in a protected cubicle, far away from cranky delivery people. So, after nine years of isolation, I was ready for some hand-to-hand combat. Brent obliged. When we would occasionally run into each other at a restaurant or on the street, we treated each other like long-lost buddies.

Connection is connection, even if it’s gritty. Yelling was just part of our collaboration.

Years later, and long after Brent had moved to another route, our business moved to a location with a proper ground-level entrance, making Pat, our new UPS guy, very happy.

Pat reminded me of a Labrador puppy. His face was often smudged with dirt from the hundreds of packages he handled every day. I imagined him diving into the back of his truck and sniffing out the correct package for the correct address. (I’m secure in the knowledge that his route was well marked. Driving in a city with so many squirrels, however, must have been difficult.)


We were sad when Pat moved to another route. But then we got Freddie. Freddie liked to chat: about politics, about business, about families. He seemed to have more time than either Brent or Pat. I enjoyed our talks. But then Freddie was promoted, and now we have Mike.

Mike is pleasant, consistent and civilized, and he looks like Damian Lewis from the series “Homeland.”

There are days when I don’t look up from the work I’m doing until Mike arrives at my desk. It’s like an alarm set to remind me to stop and connect with the outside world. I ask him about the weather and the driving conditions. He gives me answers.

We live in a society of disconnection – both literally and figuratively. There is seldom a time when I call a company that I don’t first get voicemail and then have to press two or three numerical options to reach a real person. Then, when I do finally reach a real person, it’s rare that he or she can help me.

Drive-through transactions and 800 numbers have changed the way we interact on a day-to-day basis. It has made nightmare-customers of all of us: All we do is wait, and nothing makes us any angrier than waiting.

Avoiding direct contact with people becomes the preferred option: depositing checks via our phones; always using an ATM; avoiding eye contact with the checkout person; making automated payments … just to list a few examples.


On the way to a holiday party last Sunday with my husband, we pulled into the I-95 rest stop between Portland and York to fill up. Without noticing it, we drove into the full-service lane – a luxury from the past.

With gas so cheap, we let ourselves bask in the warm glow of a real live gas attendant who washed both our front and back windshields. We thanked him profusely and acknowledged to each other the novelty of the moment.

Resolutions are not my strength, and with 2015 just around the corner, I’m still feeling shame about the things I didn’t resolve in 2014. But if making connections with people doesn’t involve going on a diet or getting up early, I pledge to connect to the people in my world more often. Even if it requires hand-to-hand combat.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

(The names of the UPS drivers have been changed to protect their innocence.)

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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