On Dasher, on Dancer, on UPS drivers 

We can only assume that Santa Claus misses his family when he is out delivering presents on a cold Christmas Eve, that his back aches after climbing into all those chimneys and that he may at times feel like collapsing under the pressure of all that deadline-driven gift-giving.

Imagine if old St. Nick had to do it every day.

To get a sense of what that would be like, The Examiner recently hitched a ride on a UPS truck for a few hours with veteran driver Armando Colmenares, who was delivering packages on a route in West Portal.

While the 29-year-old Colmenares does not have a bushy, white beard or jolly, round belly, he and some 180 UPS drivers in The City essentially play the role of Father Christmas during the holiday season, delivering tens of thousands of packages to homes and businesses daily — nearly double their regular load because of an influx of holiday gifts.

On a usual summer or spring day, Colmenares said he delivers around 250 packages to 130 stops. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the load can increase to 400-plus pieces daily at 250 locations.

Colmenares is challenged each day to empty the truckload he receives at the start of his 7 a.m. shift. During the holidays, shifts can last 12 hours, regardless of how fast he works, Colmenares said.

It is a job one cannot fully appreciate unless witnessed. Before The Examiner’s ride-along, the oft-repeated warning from UPS officials was simply, “Just try to keep up.”

No reindeer or magical sleigh propels Colmenares. The Excelsior resident scampers up and down flights of stairs and steep grades, guards against defensive dogs, steers his UPS truck through narrow passageways, defends against reckless drivers and calms those who become angry when his truck boxes in their parked vehicle.

During the first hour of his trip with The Examiner, Colmenares dropped off more than 35 packages to dozens of locations — not just homes, but also banks, cafes, jewelers, toy stores and dentist offices. His only pauses were to briefly address recipients, many who knew him well and were pleased their package had arrived.

Technology, if anything, works like Santa’s reindeer for UPS drivers. Colmenares carries a handheld computer that tells him the next stops he needs to make and where he can find the correct package in his truck.

His bosses want drivers to memorize where they need to go five stops in advance, he said.

“I do three, that’s just me,” said Colmenares, who has worked for UPS for 11 years, five as a driver.

Just like Santa Claus, folks receiving packages will offer Colmenares cookies and other snacks — and sometimes a cup of coffee.

But unlike Santa, recipients of packages can become irate when their package doesn’t arrive well before they want to place it under the Christmas tree.

Colmenares has to keep up that smile and service when under the weather — and when dealing with weather. When it rains, drivers might have to change several times during their shift, he said.

“The drivers are really well-adjusted,” UPS spokeswoman Rhoda Daclison-Dickey said. “They really keep it in stride.”

There is also plenty of soreness and potential for injury. Colmenares said he is often icing aches and pains following a long day of lugging around heavy packages at warp speed.

But unlike Santa Claus, UPS drivers don’t have to work on Christmas Day.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

What brown delivers to its carriers

Pounding the pavement day in and day out might seem rough to the average cubicle worker, but to Armando Colmenares, the positives of the job are clear.

He was attracted to the profession because it is a full-time, unionized job that pays well and has great benefits, he said. He said he also enjoys working outdoors and chatting with dozens of people every day.

Becoming a UPS driver can take as long as four years, UPS spokeswoman Rhoda Daclison-Dickey said. Most UPS employees with that goal often work in other part-time positions at the company before they sit behind the wheel. Seniority helps them reach the driver’s seat, she said.

Drivers tend to tough it out for years. One UPS driver in The City has logged 40-plus years on the job, Daclison-Dickey said.

UPS spends months preparing for the peak season each year, and hires college students and others seeking temporary work to assist the drivers during the holidays, Daclison-Dickey said.

Colmenares said he typically works 12-hour days only during the holidays. And while the long hours might be tough, Colmenares said, at the end of the day, he always gets the joy of returning home to his wife, Yasmine, and 4-year-old daughter, Isabella.

— Mike Aldax

Santa’s helpers

UPS drivers can work 12-hour days delivering packages during the holidays.

150-180 UPS drivers in San Francisco

1,000 Estimated employees at San Francisco UPS facility

50,000-60,000 Packages delivered daily out of the San Francisco UPS facility

50,000 Temporary positions UPS hires during holiday season to help with expanded deliveries

22 million Packages UPS expects to deliver nationwide today — the company’s peak shipping day

400 million Packages UPS expects to deliver worldwide during the holiday season

UPS facts

Founded: 1907 in Seattle

World headquarters: Atlanta

Chairman, CEO: Scott Davis

2008 revenue: $51.5 billion

Employees: 415,000 worldwide, 345,000 U.S.

Delivery fleet: 99,869 package cars, vans, tractors and motorcycles — including 1,783 alternative-fuel vehicles

Some of the companies UPS ships from most to S.F.:

  • Amazon.com
  • Sears Holdings (Kmart.com, Sears.com, LandsEnd.com)
  • Best Buy
  • Zappos
  • Walmart
  • QVC
  • Apple Computer
  • Williams-Sonoma
  • Shutterfly
  • Hickory Farms, Harry & David

Source: UPS

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