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Like everyone else, the highlight of my 2020 Christmas was being alive and healthy and seeing the people I love alive and healthy.
But a close runner-up was watching with amazement as an army of delivery people managed to drop a seemingly-endless stream of boxes onto porches and doorsteps.
In a year when the pandemic delivered a collective shot below the belt to malls and stores, Americans let their fingers do the walking and spent their money online.
Those millions of purchases, made through mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers, meant that someone had to process each order, box it up for shipping, and send it to a gift recipient or the person who ordered the item.
COVID-19’s March debut flung back the curtain masking the American economy and scared most of us with the realization that the simple, almost automatic acts of buying groceries, restocking toilet paper and paper towels and obtaining any number of other essentials depends on a giant, mostly-unseen army of people who work in warehouses and drive all manner and size of delivery vehicles — not to mention farmers and factory workers.
During my morning walk two days before Christmas I said hello to a United States Postal Service carrier who told me he would still be on his appointed rounds late that evening.
Multiply that hard-working carrier by a million and you begin to grasp the complexity involved in ensuring a modern economy functions and delivers the goods, pandemic or no pandemic.
If you want a real clear look at how the U.S. economy works, take a multi-day train trip across part of our continent-sized country. As you clatter and rock along the rails, you pass by acres of warehouses and truck terminals. Freight trains pass you with flatbed after flatbed loaded with trailers or container boxes full of goods.
The hard-working people dressed in postal service blue and United Parcel Service brown are the tip of the economic iceberg when it comes to feeding, clothing and filling shopping orders for Americans.
Warehouse workers and production line employees box up and prepare for shipping millions of orders without, it seems, barely missing a beat. I ordered a flag from a company in Seattle and told myself, “Shoot, I’ll never see this by Christmas.” Wouldn’t you know the thing arrived in my office on December 24.
American highways, secondary roads, Main Streets and city streets, country lanes and suburban cul-de-sacs are the workplaces for long-haul truck drivers, delivery men and women and people like the guy I spoke to who was logging the first hour of a 12-hour day.
Maybe it had to do with the pandemic, but it seemed like every manner of truck and delivery vehicle got thrown into service this holiday season to ship boxes from Point A to Point B. It reminded me of the Dunkirk evacuation in spring, 1940 when the British assembled a rag-tag fleet to rescue their army trapped in northern France.
Lives and a nation’s future hung in the balance during that heroic endeavor 80 years ago. Obviously, the stakes weren’t as high during this holiday season, but I’m one guy who is grateful to everyone who works a warehouse shift or drives a truck or dons a USPS or delivery service uniform.
You may not be magicians, but it felt like magic every time I saw a new box on the porch. Thank you.
Thor Jourgensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org