It’s the time of the year that every delivery and mail person dreads: the last days before the holiday, where consumerism dictates work loads and long hours and procrastinators bite their nails mumbling promises of shopping earlier next year. “I need it yesterday” is a reality, and luckily the local saints of conveyance rise to the occasion.
After the snow flies, the lifts start turning, and turkey leftovers are long past prime, thoughts turn to getting the obligatory holiday packages out of the valley and into the real world. Derrick Pitt is the manager of The Bubble Wrap, the store of convenience for all things packable, mail-able and wrap-able. He notes a change in volume starting in mid-December. “We’re pretty crazy busy here. You get a large influx, a 50 to 75 percent increase, of people mailing packages out and then after Christmas you get a high volume of people returning stuff to stores. They get all this stuff and then realize that’s not what they wanted,” he said while preparing a tower of packages for UPS and FedEx to pick up.
“It’s not just people returning gifts, it’s tourists and second home owners who ship a lot of things back and forth, especially when the airlines charge extra for checked bags and the price is equivalent to ground shipping and then you don’t have to deal with schlepping it around or losing it,” Pitt continued. “In the six years I’ve been working at Bubble Wrap, I’ve never had anything lost. We do a lot of boxing items up for people, too. Sometimes they just come in with all their stuff and throw it at us and say, ‘Put it in a box and send it home.’”
Both UPS and FedEx pick up and deliver to the store, Monday through Friday, so you still have time, but precious little of it if you don’t want to be that relative they all talk about because you didn’t get it together to send a package out promptly.
Rick Larkin, a local FedEx driver for over 15 years, says FedEx is the go-to for the procrastinators. “We pretty much do the overnight two-day and three-day service that comes in on airplanes. We’re extremely busy the five days before Christmas because we’re the overnight shippers for the last-minute shoppers,” he said, pointing out that cargo can include a lot of perishables like seafood and steaks as people ship holiday food from online sites like Amazon.
“We do a lot of Amazon Prime, which are all two-day shipments, overnight is guaranteed and 99.9 percent of the time it’s always there,” said Larkin. During the deep crazy period leading up to the big day, drivers work 12- to 14-hour days until 9 p.m. and between 60 and 70 hours a week.
“I dread the last five days before Christmas! I haven’t enjoyed Christmas in 25 years,” he said. But there are amusing anecdotes and Larkin recalls a time he delivered a shovel overnight to a second home owner—the shovel cost more in shipping than buying one locally. He’s delivered boxes full of cash, live fish for hobbyists’ tanks, and lunch for reptiles in the form of live mice and crickets.
Many second home owners, as well as tourists, don’t arrive until Christmas week, shipping their entire holiday set-up to arrive before they do—food, decorations, skis, gear, gifts. They start ordering online well in advance. According to Larkin, it doesn’t slow down after Christmas because the visitors also ship in everything from elegant evening wear to food and party favors for New Year’s Eve extravaganzas. “No one gets vacation time during December,” Larkin laughs.
UPS driver Craig Jackson somehow manages a smile throughout the craziness of the season despite having been at it locally for 15 years now. “I’ve been crazy since birth but it increases during Christmas,” he chuckles. “It gets pretty intense and you have to keep your mind focused on the fact that you’re bringing happiness and fun to kids—it’s all about the excitement. You put yourself in that mindset and know it’s a short, intense period and then it’s fun.”
One year during the rush, a kid opened the door to accept delivery and figured out that it was his Christmas gift since the box had a photo of the toy on it. The kid was over the top happy but the mother was unjustifiably furious at Jackson. “I was excited for him but feared for my own life,” he said, only half jesting.
“Skis, mountain bikes and weed, that’s what seems to excite people the most,” Jackson tells. “One year, the guy who was covering for me delivered a package to the wrong address and it turned out to be three ounces of cocaine. Needless to say, snow came early that year,” he jokes. The package was taken to the Marshal’s Office. So much for a white Christmas.
But there was that day back in the abundant snow winter of ‘07 when Jackson had just come down from the road up to the water treatment plant off Kebler.
Mere minutes later, the mountainside came crashing down, the avalanche burying the road and taking out snowmobiles at the Kebler trailhead. “I was thinking, man, that was a close one. I would have been in my own box,” says the man in brown. He claims, “Nothing stops us UPS guys—there’s no snowbank too high, no dogs too fast.”
Even working 11-hour days during the peak of the holidays, Jackson says he thinks it’s a blast, especially since UPS hires on “the Elves,” the Christmas helpers who ride along and run packages across the road. “We laugh all day long,” he confesses. Although there are those after-Christmas returns, Jackson notes that there are even more after Valentine’s Day. “We get a lot of returns going back to Vickie’s Secret or Fredericks of Hollywood because either it didn’t fit or they didn’t get that far with it,” he grins—you fear he notices everyone who’s getting those plain brown wrapper items.
The inscription on the James Farley post office in New York City reads, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” It is not, as commonly thought, the credo of the U.S. Postal Service. The motto was added to the building by its architects, having been translated from an ancient Greek work of Herodotus describing the Persian system of mounted postal carriers circa 500 B.C.E.
Nevertheless, Crested Butte’s U.S. Postal Service workers are also a hardy breed, working 70 hours a week over the holiday crush. Postmaster Jim Wardzinski feels the volume is the same but this year, things are running even smoother since they have another postal worker on board.
Here at the end of the road, you should generally add an extra day on both origin and delivery point for your packages. It may only take a day to get to Denver, and three or four days cross-country but basically December 19 is the cutoff date for priority mail to arrive in time for Christmas.
Just remember the mail truck leaves daily at 2 p.m. sharp so you’ve got to have your outgoing there before 1:45 p.m. Also note that the Crested Butte post office window will be closing early on Christmas Eve, at noon.
Ever since the advent of online shopping, Crested Butte residents have had an amusing time trying to explain why they only have a P.O. box to companies that refuse to accept that as a shipping address. To get around this dilemma, always include your box number but leave out the “P.O.” and you can also include your physical address in the second address line. You can add your box number as a tag after the zip code as well.
By now, you should have gotten all those letters to Santa in the mail. St. Nick has his very own mailbox inside the service window section of the Crested Butte post office lobby where letters can be dropped off. If the letters have return addresses, they’ll actually get responses from Santa’s helpers. Mr. Kringle loves the U.S. Postal Service and says most of the letters he receives still arrive through traditional snail mail. He even has his own zip code, North Pole, Alaska 99705. Canada uses HOH OHO.
In 1912, U.S. postmaster Hitchcock authorized local postmasters to use letters addressed to Santa for philanthropic purposes and the tradition is still going on today. You can write to Santa through the post office folks at 81224 and 81230. One thing’s for certain: You won’t see Santa retiring the reindeer and using drones anytime soon.
For Bubble Wrap hours and shipping needs call 349-9800. FedEx pick up at Bubble Wrap is Monday through Friday at 3:15 p.m. UPS collects packages there Monday through Friday at 4 p.m.