Greg Matson of Tacoma, 67, retired from the United Parcel Service June 10 after 43 years, 37 spent driving.
Seventeen of those years were delivering packages on the Key Peninsula.
“I always wanted to work outdoors,” he said. “I drove a route in Tacoma for most of all those years, and being out on the peninsula was kind of like a dream come true.”
In 1979, Matson was earning his Master of Divinity degree at Northwest Baptist Seminary in Tacoma when he heard UPS was hiring. He went to the center in Fife and was hired on the spot.
The pay was good, but “I never left my studies,” he said. “I was involved in a church in Gig Harbor for 20 years, and a lot of that time I was on staff there.”
Matson drove years in Tacoma and the tideflats before the KP route became available. A more senior driver got it but didn’t like it, and he took over.
“Everybody knows this but there’s just a plethora of wildlife out here,” he said. “There’s a place down at Yeazell Road that has a big carved bear. I was in there one day and the guy says have you seen my bear? And I said yeah, I’ve seen your bear. And he says, not that one, and points to the backyard, and there are two black bears 30 or 40 feet away just sitting there looking at us.”
Matson made 80 to 100 deliveries a day, driving about 130 miles over 10 or 11 hours. “There would be days where something would go wrong and I’d put on another 30 miles,” he said. “If you make a mistake at Devil’s Head and you’ve gotten all the way up to Key Center, that’s a big mistake.”
Drivers are required to take one 30-minute break and to work no more than 14 hours. If the weather was poor, Matson would doze in his driver’s seat.
“When the weather’s good, I’d go to the end of Rouse Road, before you get to Whisky Beach,” he said. “There’s a nice, quiet place there with a little hill where I could take a nap, use my vest as a pillow and my jacket as a blanket. I’d literally dream for a few minutes, and I’d feel refreshed and ready to go ahead again.”
When Matson first started on the KP, he was responsible for every delivery south of Lackey Road. “Now in the last couple years, as the population has grown, my route has shrunk to where I’ve lost everything north of Home,” he said. “I would begin at the Home post office and do everything south, and that would still be 80 stops and 130 miles. I even lost Herron Road.”
He also lost contact with many regular customers. “Occasionally when there’s a day that’s much lighter, my route will expand further north and I kind of like that because I get to go back to areas and people I haven’t seen in a long time. There’s a lot of people that I haven’t had a chance to stay in touch with,” he said.
And Matson has many friendships to maintain on the KP.
“There’s hundreds of people out there that I know,” he said. “I was invited out for one couple’s anniversary celebration. Another guy has a portable mill. I’m interested in that. That’s one of the things that I liked about the area. People would have these great ideas or they’re trying something, and I get a chance to see what they’ve done and how they like it.”
That customer with the mill helped Matson transport a downed madrona given to him by another customer from the other side of the peninsula. “We trailered it back over to his place,” he said. “We put his portable mill on it and slabbed about half of that. I’m coming back out there with my own equipment, and he’s graciously agreed to help me learn how to do that.”
The biggest challenge Matson faced on the KP wasn’t the long days or lost packages; it was snow.
“It’s kind of an unspoken rule that you don’t return to the building with packages; you’re out there until everything is delivered,” he said. “At Christmas time, the load can just be incredible. Ten o’clock at night I was on a hill and suddenly I’m losing it. It took me 45 minutes of inching back and forth without braking to get back down.”
But sometimes great memories are made in difficult times.
“I was putting on chains at the Key Center Corral one night,” he said, laying in the snow. “Someone passing by stopped and gave me a hand. People will help you out. People pulled me out of the mud many times. I had a lot of opportunities for things like that.”
Like that time he locked himself in the back of his own truck.
“There was a hole in the bulkhead door that separates the driving compartment from the package compartment. If I could reach through it, I could pull the chain and release the lock on the door, but my hand wouldn’t fit. So, I stayed in the truck until I spotted somebody outside through that hole. I started banging on the walls and yelling, and he opened the door from the outside for me.”
Matson said he has no immediate plans for retirement but is thinking about a small home with a large shop. “I’m really interested in milling maple and madrona and making furniture. I’d like to take a class in doing stained glass. I want to put all of my own stained glass in (a shop) in strategic sunrising and sunsetting places. I don’t know how to do it, but I’d like to learn,” he said.
“I’ve thought about leaving Tacoma and buying somewhere that’s more rural, but I’m not really sure yet. If I found what I wanted (on the KP) I’d certainly look at it.”
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