People at Nike got a bit suspicious when professional runner Lynn Jennings started ordering new sneakers every week, always asking that they be sent UPS.
As it turns out, it wasn’t the shoes she really wanted. It was Dave Hill, her UPS man.
“He looked like Kevin Costner in brown,” she sighs, recalling their long talks on the doorstep.
Four years – and hundreds of packages – later, Dave and Lynn are husband and wife.
“I’m the woman who finally ran away with the UPS man,” she says.
Not that others haven’t tried. UPS men – the humble couriers in tight brown polyester uniforms driving clunky package trucks – have become sex objects of the service world.
Brown-collar fantasies have spilled over into books, plays, television shows and rock songs. In the new movie “Boys on the Side,” Drew Barrymore’s character remarks on the sex appeal of men in uniforms – “especially UPS uniforms.” A tune called “Drive by Love,” performed by the Bobs, a California pop group, describes a romance between a UPS driver and Fotomat clerk and has this refrain: “I can’t get that driver out of my head. He honks his horn and my face turns red.”
UPS, officially known as United Parcel Service of America Inc., gets frequent requests at its Atlanta headquarters to license deliveryman calendars, including one that was to be called “The Buns of UPS.” The company turns them down but doesn’t mind that people find its deliverymen cute. (About 93 percent of its deliverers are men.)
UPS has used sex appeal in its advertising: One of its TV commercials has several businesswomen rhapsodizing about Bob, their UPS man. “Tall, dark and handsome,” says one. “He’s got brown eyes,” whispers a second. A third admits: “I think I have a crush on him.”
Even the company’s phone number is provocative: 1-800-PICK-UPS.
So what’s the attraction? UPS men do have to be in sort of good shape to deliver more than 200 packages a day. And they are unattainable, always on the run. For a few women, the allure is more basic: “He’s the only man I see here every day,” says Michelle Ryals, a shipping manager at Santa Fe Jewelers in Santa Fe, N.M.
Competitors ask what UPS has that they don’t have. Federal Express Corp. insists its drivers are much more stylish than the men of UPS. “Sure, I guess those guys are attractive if you like big sweaty guys in brown shirts,” says a Federal Express spokesman, but Federal Express drivers look far more “presentable in pressed white and navy.”
Female Federal Express couriers have been objects of sexual interest, too. Patti Anderson, a Federal Express courier in New Jersey, says she has received flowers on the windshield of her delivery truck and has been propositioned by dock workers, none of which particularly bothers her.
Ms. Anderson herself admits to wanting to run off with the UPS man on her former route. And such fantasies are widespread. Just ask Sumita Sinha, a Washington attorney. She recalls that as a teenager working at her mother’s store in Morgantown, W.Va., she and a friend
would wait every morning at 11 for the UPS man – a tan, blond, muscular hunk.
“We scheduled our whole morning around it,” she says. “He looked so cool in the uniform, and he always rolled his sleeves up so his muscles would show. He talked a little bit, but never too long.”
Karen Canavan, a 29-year-old marketing executive in Atlanta, first observed the UPS effect as a student at Georgia Southern University, where the campus UPS man was the talk of her friends.
“We would all just stop and watch him jump in and out of his truck,” she says. More recently, Ms. Canavan says, she has taken a liking to a UPS man who works out at her gym.
Rose Davadino, an office manager at Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, a Beverly Hills, Calif., public-relations agency, says she and a man in her office rush to the front desk in the morning to catch a glimpse of their UPS man, Frank. Similarly, Philip Brenton, a buyer at IF, a Manhattan boutique, says he and his saleswomen have developed a special bond with their UPS man, Rene. “We love to talk dirty to him,” he says.
The highly charged atmosphere makes some drivers uncomfortable.
Scott Serpa, a 14-year veteran driver in Seattle, says he once had to change routes after a woman started coming on too strong. “I kept telling her I’m married.”
George Kieffer, a driver in Denver, says he is all for spending time with customers – but there is a limit. “It can be a pain in the neck,” he says. “They’re customers, so you can’t really be rude.
“But it’s like we’re a listening post. Women go on about their hair, and problems with their boyfriend, and their bodies.”
Still, many drivers say they do like to play along, so long as they can make their delivery quotas.
That sense of purpose, that devotion to duty, may be one more thing that makes these men sexy.
“Here’s a man I can count on – even if I can’t count on any other men in my life. He meets my needs and then he’s gone,” says Nan DeMars, a consultant to executive secretaries in Minneapolis.
“He’s a made-to-order fantasy.”
Because UPS men are so reliable, Deanna McKay, an insurance adjuster in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., became quite attached to hers, a tall fellow (6-foot-5) named Jamie Connell. She would call UPS to ask about him whenever he failed to show up. Now, she calls him at home. “The replacement guys are nice, but they’re not Jamie,” says Ms. McKay, who has an enlarged photograph of him on her office wall.
He is flattered by the attention.
Sharyn Wolf, a New York psychotherapist and author of the book “Guerrilla Dating Tactics,” has some special insight into the phenomenon: She grew particularly fond of her previous UPS man, Tony, and has started warming to the new guy, John. Her mother is also a professed UPS lover, recently describing a “spiritual connection” to her deliveryman in Florida.
“Maybe it’s genetic,” jokes Ms. Wolf, the therapist. “But there’s that moment, when he’s handing you the package, and you’re both holding it. . . . It’s very meaningful.”
Especially for home-shoppers. In a recent episode of the CBS sitcom “Dave’s World,” a mother and daughter both were having affairs with their UPS drivers. “You know what a big catalog shopper I am,” said the mother, played by Florence Henderson.
Whatever the animal magnetism a UPS man might possess, the uniform seems to be a big part of the appeal. Jeff Sonnenfeld, a professor at Emory University and consultant to UPS who drove for the company as part of his research, dons his UPS browns a couple of times a semester to make points about corporate image-making. He says students invariably then flock to him after class and in the hallways to compliment the outfit.
“Some of them ask me to wear it the rest of the year,” he says.
“Believe me, I’ve thought about it.”
(Reprinted with permission of The Wall Street Journal. Copyright 1995, Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.)