Along for the ride

CareerBuilder's Lisa Radke helps deliver the goods during annual UPS holiday rush

Posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Freezing temperatures and snowy winter nights are enough to make most people want to stay indoors this holiday season, but for a mighty few, the weather is one of many obstacles in a day's work.

The brown-clad drivers of UPS, the world's largest package delivery company, take pride in their abilities to seamlessly deliver myriad packages and documents in a timely manner each day - despite less than delightful weather conditions. In fact, more than 14 million packages pass through the UPS system daily - and jumped to 20 million on peak day, Dec. 20.

The inner sanctions of the UPS warehouse on Chicago's South Side operate like veins pumping boxes methodically to each conveyor-belted vessel. What looks like a mess of packages floating every which-way to seemingly every corner of the 478,000 square foot warehouse is actually a precisely calculated system of logistics launching boxes and padded envelopes of various sizes to a meticulously prescribed destination.

"It's organized with a capital 'O'," explains Dan McMackin, public relations manager for the company. "Methods are what get our drivers through their day. The bedrock of what we do and who we are is that efficiency and routine."

In an attempt to understand the journey gifts make to doorsteps around the globe during the holidays, I decided to take that trip firsthand. No, that doesn't mean I hitched a ride inside a crate and shipped myself off. Rather, I tagged alongside a UPS veteran of 26 years, Charles Cech, in hopes of understanding the arduous job of a UPS driver.

You may not realize it, but those books from Amazon.com or that lamp from Crate & Barrel travel hundreds of miles in some cases and pass through many sets of hands before landing at your doorstep. Pre-loaders, unloaders, sorters and clerks handle all packages that pass through the UPS system.

The clients of my mentor for the day know him well - most have memorized his schedule and anticipate his arrival by being prepared with dollies and carts to take the packages inside. Cech's route services the River North area of downtown Chicago, where many of the city's largest buildings are located. Though it may sound like a breeze, winding through the underbelly of the Magnificent Mile to the loading docks is not an easy task in an oversized, manual transmission truck.

Once Cech arrives at his destination, he's greeted by the cold air of the 23-degree morning and friendly hollers from other delivery drivers. Though mild-mannered in his demeanor, Cech unloads his truck with precision and pre-meditated efficiency. After all, "every package, every day" is the company mantra, meaning every package is equally important and must be accounted for every day.

"Our goal is to provide decent service to our customers," adds McMackin. "The vast majority [of drivers] have an incredible relationship with their customers. You really get a sense that these people know the delivery driver. They even get invited to their weddings."

- Lisa Radke



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