The man in brown
by Dawne Belloise
It takes an enormous sense of humor and well-honed patience to be in the delivery business this time of year, but UPS driver Craig Jackson revels in his job, and is renowned throughout town for skillful delivery of both packages and comic relief.
For 18 Christmases and holidays, Craig has donned the brown uniform, zipping through streets, scrambling through traffic and alleys, and climbing over piles of snow to deliver boxes of all sizes with his smiling attitude intact. He is the closest thing we have to an old fashioned, door-to-door, small town mailman who knows the name of every dog and kid, where you went on vacation, and what’s in the plain brown wrapper he just dropped off at your business.
“I see things that nobody else sees, like pole dancing in an old folks’ home,” the self-proclaimed comedian grins. But he admits that he’s never gotten up in front of an audience with his exquisite sense of humor, which was sharpened by his long solo days spent on the road juggling packages.
”You spend so much time in the truck by yourself that you have to entertain yourself. I tell jokes to myself. This time of the year, I joke with people that I know what they’re getting for Christmas,” Craig laughs, and admits that he loves to give advice based on getting to know people through almost two decades. “Sometimes I’ll tell a husband that a gift’s not right for his wife because she wouldn’t like it and when you see people on a daily basis, you know their likes and dislikes. Sometimes, hubbies need help. I always encourage them to shop local.”
Craig says keeping it local is one thing that keeps him sane. “Less Amazon and more opportunities for the local economy. Amazon has definitely created a lot of work for us.” He delivers about 550 parcels a day during these peak times when the daily average during non-holidays is normally around 250. “I would like to see people shop locally for the things they can get here. In the 18 years I’ve lived here, Amazon has doubled my workload. It has its benefits but it also has its downfalls. It takes business away from the people you know and love.”
Although he jests that before joining the UPS team he was a career pole dancer, Craig’s education and experience was in farm and ranch management. His love of ranching stemmed from all the summers he spent working on his grandparents’ ranch in Oklahoma. He loved the lifestyle it offered and he thought it was the direction he wanted to go. He earned his bachelor of science degree in farm and ranch management at Texas A&M, and he later took graduate classes in agricultural economics but quit and went to work because, he laughs, “I got tired of living like a poor college kid.”
He put his economic savvy to work at a large corporate ranch as a business manager. With 11,000 acres and 84,000 head of cattle, Craig traded commodities and was an accountant for sales and commodity crops like corn, wheat, and milo. Managing taxes and government regulations on the farming side, Craig confesses he didn’t handle it very well, and teases, “That’s why I’m driving a UPS truck.”
After four years, he left the mega-ranch, realizing, “I loved it but it was a lot of hours, a lot of responsibility and I couldn’t justify the pay. Other than that it was a great job.”
Craig grew up in Grants, N.M., and went to high school in Albuquerque. “I had a great childhood. I wish my kids had my childhood. It was a pretty innocent time. The things we did would get you arrested today, or worse, outed on Facebook. As a kid, I was always in mischief.” To those who know Craig, this is no surprise.
“We used to put a purse in the middle of the street with a string on it and people would stop, get out of their cars and the minute they bent down to get the bag, we’d jerk it out!” He once again cracks himself up just thinking about it, and his exuberance is contagious. “We’d glue quarters onto the sidewalk and watch the old people try to peel them off. We were bad. Nobody got hurt.”
Craig recalled a time he and his buddies camped out on the roof of their high school library because, “It seemed like the thing to do that time, wake up, get out of your tent, and slide down a pipe from the second floor to class,” for which, he grins, they got a three-day vacation, but better to be seen and get suspended because, “What was the point if your classmates didn’t see you?” When he wasn’t pranking, Craig was shussing the slopes with his high school ski team, traveling to Taos and Santa Fe.
He is married with four kids. “We met at a wedding. She was a bridesmaid, I was a groomsman,” Craig says of his wife, Alisha Eck, another agriculture economics major at Texas A&M, who also happened to have a boyfriend at the time. “That’s one in my column,” he chuckles. “It was one of those deals where being in the wedding party, we spent a lot of time together that weekend. My friend, who was getting married, told me I needed to ask her out, but her college roommate married my roommate and Alisha didn’t like my roommate so I didn’t like her,” which somehow made sense in a friendship-loyalty sort of way.
However, when Craig spied Alisha in her bridesmaid dress, he found her irresistible. “I thought damn, that girl’s good looking. Loyalty went to the wind.” He asked her to the first football game that fall where the game was mostly in the stands, according to Craig. “The kicker is that there’s an A&M tradition where every time they score you get to kiss your date. It was a total set up. You can’t go wrong with those odds and luckily we were playing a poor team.”
It was a very good game and the couple married in 1996, in Boggstown, Ind. “She was a corn farmer’s daughter. I married the farmer’s daughter. It was before farmersonly.com. I found her on my own,” he hooted. They have four children, Bunk (the grandfather’s namesake) is 18; the twins are 15, Ellie (named after Ellie May Clampett because they were watching The Beverly Hillbillies right after her birth) and Molly (named after the most productive gold mine in Colorado, the Molly Kathleen in Cripple Creek); and the youngest is nine-year-old Cade, named after a TV commercial kid actor that they both thought was cute. “So much for originality,” Craig laughs.
In 1997, Craig arrived on the Gunnison to fly fish—and never left. He started looking for a way to make a living here when the UPS position became available. It took no time at all to pack up his life and wife and move to Gunnison that same year with six-week-old Bunk in tow.
“I had an education, but I wanted something different. I wanted to maximize the income and UPS suited me—it was physical exertion, I’d be outside, and it would justify my ability of being an extrovert on a day-to-day basis and fulfill my love of making people laugh, even if it’s just a 20-second interaction. I love being able to brighten people’s days and hear them laugh as I walk out the door… although, I’m not sure if they’re laughing at the joke or at me, but it still makes them laugh.”
And people are more than glad to see this man in brown, especially kids, because this time of the year, they know he’s bringing the goods. “We’re doing the best we can because we know how much it means to them. Oftentimes it’s an 11-hour day with snowstorms or snow piles and gobs of packages during holiday season. It’s like a paid workout; you just pile up as many boxes on the dolly and run from delivery to delivery.
“I live in Doyleville, a gated community east of Gunnison,” he jokes about the barbed wire fences. “It gives our kids an opportunity to learn work ethic from raising animals. They’re 4-H and raise show lambs. We have wild donkeys that we pack in the summer for camping. We have our own small army of chickens for meat and eggs, four horses, two burros, and three dogs. We have a love for the mountains and open space here and we love to camp together. We ride horses, we ski, and just spend time together sitting at our kitchen table laughing and joking,” he says. The warmness in his voice and big smile on Craig’s face tells he’s found his perfect life.
“A few years ago, I had an opportunity to take over my grandparents’ ranch, but my wife and I wanted our kids to be educated in this valley,” he explains. “We have so many friends and acquaintances who add to the quality of life here and we weren’t willing to trade that… I’m staying. I’m very fortunate to have an opportunity to serve this valley.”
It’s dark and cold when Craig finally gets home to his family, and he heads out to feed the livestock by headlight. But he swears he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s what makes you honest. It’s just quality life and I try to keep it simple.”
He may not have reindeer, but when that big brown truck pulls up, you know you’re going to get just as excited as hearing click-click-click up on the rooftop. And he probably wouldn’t say no to milk and cookies, either.