Imagine this: After a moderately busy day at work, I’m sitting in my La-Z-Boy making saltine and peanut butter sandwiches.
One side of my brain (I’m not sure which– possibly the inside) is busy mentally writing a letter to the cracker company. “Dear Zesta, I should start out by saying I quite enjoy eating your saltine crackers. I find them pleasing to my palette and very reasonably priced. However, as I was sitting in my La-Z-Boy eating saltine and peanut butter sandwiches I realized a potential quality control problem with your product. When I get to the bottom of a sleeve of crackers, occasionally there is one left over. Each peanut butter saltine sandwich I make uses exactly two saltines. I was wondering: is there supposed to be an odd or even number of crackers in each sleeve? Personally, I would prefer to have an even number. Which leads me to my question: what should I do with the last cracker? I tried using both one and three saltines with peanut butter, but found the results unsatisfactory. Any information you can provide me on this matter would be greatly appreciated.”
The rest of my brain was busy processing information from earlier in the afternoon– the shorter days, the first significant snowfall of the year, the icy roads I had to navigate all morning and, of course, the trailer park where I got a UPS truck stuck twenty miles away from the center. It all reminded me (with the exception of the trailer park bit—more on that later) that is was time to write my annual Christmas letter. I jumped up from the La-Z-Boy, looked down at the last couple of saltines, sat down again, finished the last of the crackers, got up again, let the dog outside, decided I, too, had to empty my bladder, grabbed a soda from the refrigerator, and then raced to my computer to start writing. Oh, yeah, and somewhere in there I had the oil in my car changed.
Speaking of automobiles, I just realized that I’ve been driving my Saturn almost as long as I’ve been writing Christmas letters. Based on my personal experience, 1996 was a good year to buy a Saturn. In the seven and a half years I’ve owned this vehicle, it has served me well. However, after consulting my ancient Chinese astrological charts I discovered that 2003 was destined to be “the year of the broken alternator.”
Here is what I learned from the situation:
- When the battery light on the dashboard goes on, hoping it will just turn itself off in a few days may not always be the best solution.
- Anyone familiar with northern Colorado will agree that being stranded alone in a non-functioning vehicle in the complete void of civilization between Loveland and Greeley is not the best way to start an evening.
- When #1 and #2 are no longer just hypothetical situations, it is possible to take your girlfriend’s car to Wal-Mart, buy a new, fully charged battery, install it in the vehicle with the broken alternator, drive to a nearby mechanic for repair work, and finally return the slightly used battery the next day without the woman at the customer service desk realizing what happened. When she asked the reason for the return, I simply said I made a mistake and only needed a nine volt.
September 25, 2003 marked my one year anniversary working at UPS. I’m not sure why, but I expected the day to be kind of special. Nothing too fancy– maybe a nice bottle of wine or some flowers. You know, just a little something to make me feel like I’m important to UPS. But no, UPS just went on like it does every day, completely oblivious to my feelings.
Now that I completely understand / mentally repress everything that happens during the morning shift at UPS, I find my mind occasionally wanders while my body is busy running in and out of the delivery trucks. Just looking at a box moving down the belt can reveal a lot about its contents. Packages from a company such as L.L. Bean have a distinct look and feel that says, “Hello, I’ve got a sweater inside me.” Packages sent from less frequent shippers say things like, “This is a care package for my son who just started college.” Or, “I used to be a box of coco-puffs cereal.”
Sometimes during the spare seven nanoseconds between loading boxes I ask myself questions like, “Come on, now Omar, really, do you even know how long a nanosecond is?”, “Do you like movies about gladiators?”, and, of course, “Who comes up with these street names?” One part of town in Fort Collins is full of “Lord of the Rings” themed street names such as Shire, Hobbit, and Gilgalad. One morning when a coworker asked if a package for an address on Gilgalad Street should be loaded on one of my trucks, I replied with one of my favorite Hobbit songs, “Gilgalad was an Elven-king. Of him the harpers sadly sing…” I stopped only because someone threw a moderately heavy package at the back of my head, but that’s another story. (one I don’t remember, for some reason.)
I made my first official “career move” at UPS in September when I started working as a Saturday air driver. So now, in addition to my usual responsibilities of loading trucks Monday through Friday, I now spend Saturday mornings in a brown UPS truck. After I put on my cute little brown uniform, I deliver packages in the towns of Fort Collins, Laporte, and Belleview. For anyone not familiar with northern Colorado, Laporte is a small town up in the foothills where people go to get away from the hustle and bustle of Fort Collins. Belleview is nestled even further up in the mountains where people go to get away from the hustle and bustle of Laporte, usually with little more than a handful of cows and several high caliber firearms.
Driving UPS trucks has been a good learning experience for me. After one moderately sized Friday night snowstorm, I found out what a UPS truck can and can’t do. It can descend a moderately icy inclined entrance to a trailer park without much trouble. After I delivered the package, I discovered that getting back up and on to the main road was not a simple task. After several failed attempts, I looked around, found some trash to stick under the rear tires, and was soon on my way.
Well, that just about wraps things up for 2003. Will 2004 be the year I resolve the odd saltine cracker mystery? Will I keep working at UPS? Will my coworkers keep throwing packages at the back of my head? If you want to know the answer to these and many other totally unrelated questions, stay tuned for the 2004 edition. Until then, just remember my favorite line from the movie “Office Space.” Bob: Looks like you’ve been missing quite a bit of work lately. Peter Gibbons: Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve been MISSING it, Bob.