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12 Secrets of FedEx Delivery Drivers

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

They carry little package scanners that look like Star Trek tricorders. They can deliver to literally any street address in the United States. And with an average of 13 million packages delivered daily—many of them containing consumer merchandise—they beat the brakes off Santa’s productivity. They’re FedEx drivers, a smart and efficient fleet of employees who represent the final step in getting your goods right to your doorstep.

With the company’s 160,000 vehicles experiencing peak volume in time for the holidays, Mental Floss asked several drivers about some of the lesser-known facts surrounding their job. Read on to find out why they’re sometimes followed, why they hide packages, and what happens when they have to pee while on the clock.

1. NOT ALL FEDEX DRIVERS ACTUALLY WORK FOR FEDEX.


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Surprised? So were we. According to Ian, a former driver in Ohio, FedEx Express and FedEx Ground are actually two separate entities. “Most of the routes for Ground are contracted out to save money,” he says. “People can purchase the routes [from FedEx] and then hire their own drivers.” While that shouldn’t affect the consumer all that much, Ian says that he sometimes encountered people who were upset that, as an Express employee, he couldn’t pick up Ground packages. Ground drivers also tend to handle the larger, heavier items that aren’t being sent overnight. “Express can be more business and paperwork,” he says.

Another key difference: FedEx Express drivers often get sleek Mercedes Sprinter vans, while Ground has to settle for whatever their contractor wants them to use. Ian drove for both, but when he was a Ground driver, “I didn’t have any heat or air conditioning. In winter, it was like driving a giant freezer.”

2. THEY’RE NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE CELL PHONES IN THE TRUCK.

Although Express trucks are fancy, they’re not loaded with GPS or other high-tech distractions. According to Tony, an Express driver based in Georgia, the company frowns on having electronic devices of any kind in the cab. “None of the trucks even have radios,” he says. “You’re supposed to leave your phone in the back with the packages.” Headphones and earbuds are also prohibited, although Tony says some drivers use a wireless Bluetooth speaker up front to stream music from their phone in the back. For directions, drivers use map books—but most know their route well enough to not need the help.

3. THEY CAN EARN BONUSES FOR NOT SMASHING YOUR STUFF.

A FedEx driver carries a package
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Despite the occasional security camera footage of FedEx and UPS drivers tossing packages over fences or otherwise trying their best to use boxes as footballs, the reality is that drivers have no desire to mishandle your goods—just the opposite. "If a driver does throw packages [or] break stuff he'll be cut very quickly,” says James, a Ground driver from Washington. “My contractor has a bonus every month. It’s like $50 to $100 for doing good. It’s an equation [based] on how many mis-deliveries and late pickups I have. If I come clean with nothing wrong for the month, I get the full bonus.”

4. THEY CAN TELL WHEN YOU’RE SHIPPING SOMETHING VALUABLE.

People tend to try and cloak more valuable shipments by using a little misdirection: Ian says he’s seen a number of packages sent along in diaper boxes to throw people off the value of their contents. “They can weigh something like 80 pounds, or as little as five ounces, but it's never actual diapers,” he says. He can also tell if people are shipping ammo—it rattles—or blood, but the latter is a bit of a cheat: Biohazards are clearly marked (or should be). "And no one wants to spill them."

5. THEY MAY NOT LEAVE A PACKAGE BEHIND IF THE NEIGHBORHOOD SEEMS SKETCHY.

A FedEx driver stacks packages
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For packages where the sender doesn’t require a signature, FedEx employees are left to use their own discretion on whether to leave a package unattended or reserve delivery for another day. If the address or neighborhood seems run down or otherwise at a higher risk of theft, they may opt for the latter. If not, they’ll do their best to make the delivery discreet. “I go out of my way to keep packages secure and out of sight from the public,” James says. “For instance, many houses have pillars, so I try to conceal the package behind them so it’s hard to see from the street.”

6. THEY WISH YOU’D PUT UP A HOUSE NUMBER.

One of the top reasons your package might be delayed? Because the driver doesn’t know which house is yours. “People are bad about not putting numbers on their house,” Tony says. “I’ll wind up driving up and down the road, trying to figure out which house I need or which entrance to use.”

7. THEY CAN USUALLY TELL IF YOU’RE TRYING TO SHIP DRUGS.

A drug dealer counts his profits from mailing drugs via FedEx
iStock

While FedEx sorting facilities get visits from DEA agents and their drug-sniffing canines, Ian says that drivers can often tell when someone is trying to make them inadvertent drug couriers. “People will wrap packages of weed in tons of duct tape or use some kind of fragrance to mask the smell,” he says. “It’s all a giveaway.” Sometimes, agents will let the drivers deliver the package so recipients can get delivered to a jail cell.

8. THE HOLIDAY SEASON MEANS A LOT OF PACKAGE FRAUD.

Package volume obviously goes up during the holidays, but Tony says that there’s also an increase in items bought using someone’s stolen identity. “People will order something, maybe thousands of dollars’ worth of leather jackets, and then say they’ll pick it up at the sorting facility,” he says. “That way, they can avoid having it delivered to the address on file with the [stolen] card.” But there’s a wrinkle: FedEx is often so efficient during this time of the year that items they expect to arrive in three days might get there in two. “Then you get people calling up asking who ordered all these jackets.”

9. DELIVERY NOT ON TIME? BLAME YOUR DOG.

A dog looks up at a photographer
iStock

Dogs and delivery people have a rich, occasionally bloody history. If you have a time-sensitive delivery coming, you may want to rethink letting your canine roam the front yard. “Some dog owners don’t seem to understand that if your dog is roaming loose I won’t try and get into your property,” James says. “I know some drivers who know specific dogs and refuse to leave their trucks if the dog is there. If the dog walks up to me I'll pet him and leave the package. But if he gets hostile ... I'll try again the next day.”

10. THEY SOMETIMES GET FOLLOWED.

When driving, Ian would sometimes notice a tail behind him. That’s because some thieves have been known to follow delivery drivers and scoop up packages as they’re being dropped off. “We were taught to keep an eye out for familiar vehicles following us,” he says. “They knew people weren’t at home during the day, would wait until we were around the corner, and then pick up the package.” If you’re ordering something expensive like a TV, this is a good reason to request a signature. “It blows my mind how many people wouldn’t bother paying the extra $2.50 to make the signature required.”

11. THEY WISH YOU'D STOP RE-USING BOXES.

A FedEx delivery box is pictured
iStock

When Tony sees packages arrive from freight trucks looking like they’ve been beaten with baseball bats, chances are it’s due in part because the shipper has re-used a box too often. The weakened cardboard is giving out, forcing employees to label it damaged upon arrival and hope nothing is broken. “We never want to deliver something broken,” he says. “Sometimes we’ll repackage it.”

12. WHEN THEY GOTTA GO, THEY GOTTA GO.

Drivers don’t usually have set shifts. Instead, their day ends when all packages have been delivered, so being efficient with their time is important. When it comes to needing the bathroom, some drivers opt for a detour—others don’t. “I'll take the five minutes and go to a gas station to [pee],” James says. “If I need to go number two I'll go in an apartment building that I know. But I've [gone riding] with drivers who have a big jug in their truck, that they [pee] in. Its gross but understandable.”

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15 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Pool Lifeguards
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Pool lifeguards do far more than just work on their tan: These trained professionals can detect sometimes-subtle indications of distress, shut down dangerous water activities, and keep visitors safe from harm.

But jumping to the rescue is only a minor part of their routine. To get a better idea of what their job entails, we asked several career pool lifeguards about their duties, from working with dangerous chemicals to dealing with poop emergencies. Here's what we learned.

1. THEY CAN TELL HOW WELL YOU SWIM BY HOW YOU GET INTO THE WATER.

Paul, a lifeguard at a private pool facility in Reno, Nevada, says that he can usually evaluate a person’s swimming abilities by how they enter the water. “People who are less skilled and experienced typically lower themselves into the pool or use the stairs or ladders,” he says. “More skilled swimmers do this thing where they jump into the pool, fully submerge, then push off the bottom and start swimming immediately. It's surprisingly common.”

2. THEY SEE A LOT OF CRACK.

Swimming trunks may be some of the least-intuitive apparel items of the modern world: Get them wet and they’re likely to make for an anatomy lesson no one asked for. “Kids, especially boys, have the strangest inability to notice when their trunks are falling off,” says Marek, an indoor lifeguard in Washington state. “It's usually not a big deal and gets handled when the kid's parent notices and scolds them."

3. THEY’RE AMATEUR CHEMISTS.

Responsibility for maintaining the pH balance of a pool and adding or reducing chemicals to preserve a clean environment is usually the duty of head lifeguards. According to Darrell, a 10-year veteran of indoor pools, handling these substances requires additional training. “This is done at the end of the day and I typically add chemicals twice or sometimes three times a week,” he says. “I add either calcium chloride to control the hardness of the water or sodium bicarbonate, baking soda, to control the alkalinity.” For germ-killing, chlorine and muriatic acid are delivered to the water through a computer-controlled delivery system.

4. SOME VERY GROSS THINGS LURK AT THE BOTTOM OF POOLS.

Some lifeguards are charged with vacuuming the bottom surfaces of pools, which usually produces a composite muck in the canister that Marek refers to as a “diaper”: It’s typically full of hair and gray sludge. But things can get worse. Much worse. “At the summer camp I work at, I've had the pleasure of fishing dead things out of the strainer baskets,” he says. “Frogs and rats. Having seen what comes out of those pools, let's just say that I'm not a big fan of recreation swimming anymore.”

5. THEY DISLIKE LANE HOGS.

Some regulars who use private pools as part of their fitness routine can get a little too self-confident in their skills. “Narcissistic lap swimmers” are a pet peeve of Paul’s. “They can't share lanes and always brag about how they're the best damn person in the pool. It's like, man, I've seen 5-year-olds with a better breast stroke.” (Another way to get on a guard’s bad side: sitting over a lane and dangling your legs in.)

6. THEY’RE NOT ABOVE PEEING IN THE POOL.

It’s a testament to how potent the chemicals are in pools that some lifeguards offering swim lessons don’t mind relieving themselves when nature calls and they don’t feel like getting out. “I know plenty of swim instructors who will relieve themselves in the pool because they don't have much time between lessons and they might be stuck in the water several hours,” Marek says. “One of my former coworkers, and a good friend, has always said that there are two kinds of people in the world. Those that pee in the pool, and those that deny it."

7. IT'S HARD TO PREDICT WHEN TROUBLE WILL STRIKE.

While some lifeguards subscribe to a 15-minute rule—most questionable swimmers are going to get themselves into trouble within 15 minutes of entering the water—Paul cautions that there are always exceptions. “If you're a weak enough swimmer that you would have a problem, you're going to have that problem pretty quickly,” he says. “Though that is only most of the time. Some people get tired and get into trouble later on and some people have heart attacks halfway through their swim. You've got to be ready for anything.”

8. NOSEBLEEDS ARE COMMON.

Irritated nasal passages can be a problem at pools, which means that lifeguards are frequently charged with handling biohazards on or near the deck. “We see a lot of nosebleeds,” Darrell says. “We cover the areas with signage. Hopefully the patron has found a guard quickly if we didn't see it and hasn't left a 50-foot trail of blood on the deck. We then spray the blood with a disinfectant solution designed to kill blood-borne pathogens, wait 10 minutes, then hose directly with water.”

9. THERE’S A PROTOCOL FOR POOP.

It’s the emergency every lifeguard dreads: a fecal deposit in a pool full of swimmers. When that happens, it’s time to “shock” the pool by turning it into a chemical bath. According to Darrell, who considers himself a “poop whisperer,” solids come out first. “Dispersed poop? Everyone out. Scoop and vacuum. The pool is closed for a minimum of eight hours as we now have to chemically burn the water. [That means] basically bringing the chlorine levels up to where even cockroaches would die.” Vomit is slightly less dire: the pool is closed for 30 minutes while the chlorine goes to work.

10. A CROWDED POOL CAN BE SAFER.

The more patrons in the water, the harder it might be for a lifeguard to keep track of everyone. But, Marek says, having too few people can be just as much of a problem. “Crowded pools have the benefit of holding your attention better. If you've got two patrons in the water, it's easy to get bored and zone out."

11. ARM BANDS REALLY ANNOY THEM.

Those inflatable arm bands worn by children? Lifeguards hate them. “They may pop, which would probably be unusual, or they may leak slowly,” Darrell says. “But that's not the real danger. Although they will keep a small child afloat, this is assuming the child has the strength to keep their arms down in order to keep their head above water.”

12. THEY DOUBLE AS JANITORS.

At Paul’s private pool, lifeguards are expected to perform tasks that would usually be reserved for a maintenance crew. “Cleaning is a part of the job,” he says. “Many pools don't have janitors so the bulk of making sure the pool looks presentable is up to the lifeguards.” They’ll even set up tables for parties and clean the bathrooms.

13. THEY HAVE STRATEGIES TO KEEP FROM ZONING OUT.

Guards have all kinds of tricks for not letting their attention wander from swimmers: they keep their shoulders square with the pool, they count how many times a song plays on the radio, and they rotate positions every 15 minutes. “A wandering mind is a dangerous thing to have while actively guarding,” Darrell says. “I count patrons. I go through scenarios in my mind.” Cell phones are usually prohibited: getting caught with one can be grounds for termination.

14. POOL NOODLES ARE THE BANE OF THEIR EXISTENCE.

While people are welcome to bring their own noodles to public pools, Darrell prefers they didn’t. Instead of being used as flotation aids, they wind up getting used as chew toys. “They end up with bite marks and chunks ripped out of them,” he says. “I often wish we could purchase noodles made out of foam that tastes like something rotten to discourage this.” Darrell will not directly seize a noodle from a tiny guest, but if he happens to see one abandoned, he will grab it. And he will not be sorry.

15. THEY’RE NOT BABYSITTERS.

“I think my single biggest peeve when it comes to guarding is parents who assume that we are there to babysit their children for them,” Marek says. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Lifeguards are there to supervise and ensure a safe, and hopefully fun, environment for all. It's incredibly selfish and irresponsible to assume that we are there to watch your one child when we've got hundreds of other people to keep track of. We are there to mitigate risk and respond if something does happen, not to babysit.”

All images courtesy of iStock.

This story originally ran in 2016.

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10 Secrets of Ice Cream Truck Drivers
Cindy Ord, Getty Images
Cindy Ord, Getty Images

Ever since Good Humor founder Harry Burt dispatched the first jingling ice cream trucks in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920, kids and adults alike have had a primal reaction to the sight of a vehicle equipped with a cold, sugary payload. Today, ice cream trucks spend May through October hoping to entice customers into making an impulse beat-the-heat purchase. To get a better idea of what goes into making ice cream a portable business, Mental Floss spoke with several proprietors for their take on everything from ideal weather conditions to police encounters. Here’s the inside scoop.

1. IT CAN GET TOO HOT FOR BUSINESS.

The most common misconception about the ice cream truck business? That soaring temperatures mean soaring profits. According to Jim Malin, owner of Jim’s Ice Cream Truck in Fairfield, Connecticut, record highs can mean decreased profits. “When it’s really hot, like 90 or 100 degrees out, sales go way down,” Malin says. “People aren’t outside. They’re indoors with air conditioning.” And like a lot of trucks, Malin’s isn’t equipped with air conditioning. “I’m suffering and sales are suffering." The ideal temperature? "A 75-degree day is perfect.”

2. THEY DON’T JUST WANDER NEIGHBORHOODS ANYMORE.

An ice cream truck sits parked in a public spot
Chunky Dunks

The days of driving a few miles an hour down a residential street hoping for a hungry clientele have fallen by the wayside. Many vendors, including Malin, make up half or more of their business by arranging for scheduled stops at events like weddings, employee picnics, or school functions. “We do birthday parties, church festivals, sometimes block parties,” he says. Customers can pay in advance, meaning that all guests have to do is order from the menu.

3. SOME OF THEM DRIVE A MINIBUS INSTEAD OF A TRUCK.

For sheer ice cream horsepower, nothing beats a minibus. Laci Byerly, owner of Doodlebop’s Ice Cream Emporium in Jacksonville, Florida, uses an airport-style shuttle for her inventory. “Instead of one or two freezers, we can fit three,” she says. More importantly, the extra space means she doesn’t have to spend the day hunched over. “We can stand straight up.”

4. THEY HAVE A SECRET STASH OF ICE CREAM TO GIVE AWAY TO SPECIAL CUSTOMERS.

Customers line up near an ice cream truck
Andrew Cowie, AFP/Getty Images

The goal of any truck is to sell enough ice cream to justify the time and expense of operation, so freebies don’t make much sense—unless the truck happens to have some damaged goods. Malin says that it’s common for some pre-packaged bars to be broken inside wrappers, rendering them unattractive for sale. He sets these bars aside for kids who know the score. “I put them in a little box for kids who come up and ask if I have damaged ice cream,” he says. “Certain kids know I have it, and I’m happy to give it to them.”

5. THEY’RE CREATING CUSTOM ICE CREAM MENUS.

An ice cream nacho platter is shown
Chunky Dunks

While pre-packaged Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches remain perennial sellers, a number of trucks are mixing up business by offering one-of-a-kind treats. At the Chunky Dunks truck in Madison, Mississippi, owner Will Lamkin serves up Ice Cream Nachos, a signature dish that outsells anything made by Nestle. “It’s cinnamon sugar chips with your choice of ice cream,” he says. “You get whipped cream, too. And for the ‘cheese,’ it’s a caramel-chocolate sauce.” The nachos work because they’re “streetable,” Lamkin’s label for something people can carry while walking. “The next seven or eight people in line see it, and then everyone’s ordering it.”

6. THEY DON’T ALWAYS PLAY THE ICONIC JINGLE.

Before most people see an ice cream truck, they hear that familiar tinny tune. While some operators still rely on it for its familiarity, Malin and others prefer more modern tracks. “Normally we play ‘80s rock,” he says. “Or whatever we feel like playing that day. We rock it out.”

7. POP CULTURE CHARACTERS ARE SOME OF THEIR BEST SELLERS.

A Captain America ice cream treat
Doodlebop's

While adult customers tend to favor ice cream treats they remember from their youth, kids who don’t really recognize nostalgia tend to like items emblazoned with the likenesses and trademarks of licensed characters currently occupying their TV screens and local theaters. “Characters are the most popular with kids,” Byerly says. “SpongeBob, Minions, and Captain America.”

8. THEY KEEP DOG FOOD HANDY.

At Doodlebop’s, Byerly has a strategy for luring customers with pets: She keeps dog treats on hand. “The dog will sometimes get to us before the owner does,” she says. “If the dog comes up to the truck, he’ll get a Milkbone.” That often leads to a human companion purchasing a treat for themselves.

9. SOMETIMES RIVALS WILL CALL THE COPS.

Though there have been stories of rogue ice cream vendors aggressively competing for neighborhood space over the years, Malin says that he’s never experienced any kind of out-and-out turf war. Ice cream truck drivers tend to be a little more passive-aggressive than that. “I have a business permit for Fairfield, so that’s typically where I’m driving,” he says. “But sometimes I might go out of town for an event. Once, a driver pulled up to me and asked if I had a permit. I said ‘No, I’m just here for an hour,’ and he said, ‘OK, I’m calling the cops.’ They try and get the police to get you out [of town].” Fortunately, police typically don’t write up drivers for the infraction.

10. SOME LUCKY CUSTOMERS HAVE AN APP FOR HOME DELIVERY.

An ice cream truck driver looks out of his window
Roger Kisby, Getty Images

Technology has influenced everything, and ice cream trucks are no exception. Malin uses an app that allows customers to request that he make a special delivery. "People can request I pull up right outside their home," he says. If their parents are home, there’s one additional perk: "I accept credit cards."

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