By Andrea Brown, Herald Writer
An old cedar fence taught Jim “JJ” Johansen how not to drive.
He clipped it making a tight turn and lost a year of safe driving from his UPS record. The fence was cheap to repair, but that didn’t matter.
“I really shouldn’t have driven up the driveway,” Johansen said. “I was in a hurry, not looking at the situation.”
That was about 20 years ago. He still delivers packages to the home.
“I walk up the driveway instead,” he said.
The fence remains in good standing and so does the driver.
Johansen, 55, received the UPS Circle of Honor award last year for 25 years of safe driving. It’s a coveted award attained by about 6 percent of UPS drivers worldwide.
“An analogy is a perfect game of bowling. It takes skill and it takes luck,” he said. “The other part is that you have to have a desire to be a safe driver. My grandfather drove semis and I had that desire to follow him and he had 42 years of safe driving.”
Johansen has driven more than 600,000 miles in the big brown rig. He does about 130 deliveries a day in north Edmonds. It’s a scenic, winding route of houses with long driveways.
Dogs. Driveways. Other drivers. Those are his three worst nightmares.
Dogs usually can be controlled with the biscuits he carries with him at all times.
“They know which pocket they are in,” he said.
Pulling into a driveway is easier than backing out an 18-foot truck.
“Roughly a third of all accidents happen while backing,” he said.
Yeah, he appreciates the irony that his only mishap was while going forward.
As for motorists, well, they are not to be trusted.
“It’s nuts what you see out here on the road. People pull right out in front of me. Incredible,” he said.
“People don’t take driving very seriously. It’s all about getting from Point A to Point B as fast as they can do it.
“Oh, and make cellphone calls at the same time. Or put their makeup on. Or feed the baby. Or have the dog in your lap.
“I’ve seen it all. The people of Edmonds are fortunate I have a very poor memory, otherwise my memoirs would be really popular.”
Johansen took over the Edmonds route 22 years ago.
“I got lucky. Nobody wanted the route,” he said. “Most guys had seniority and had routes they liked.”
He knew the area.
“I grew up a mile up the hill and live a mile and a half away,” he said. “I graduated from Edmonds High School. When I started the route, my in-laws lived on the route and my ex-in-laws.”
The people on his route are more than customers.
“I’ve gone to weddings,” he said. “I’ve gone to funerals.”
His UPS career began in the Everett warehouse while a community college student after serving as a helicopter crew chief in the U.S. Army.
The task-focused delivery service fit with his military background.
“You get to wear a uniform,” he said. “And you have to get it done.”
He landed a route driving before the invention of Internet sales.
Now he’s like the Santa Claus of Amazon. His brown sleigh is packed with boxes of goods ordered online: books, tools, electronics, clothes.
“Shoes. Oh. My. God. Shoes,” he said.
It keeps him on his toes.
“Someone coined us as industrial athletes, that’s what we are,” he said. “It keeps you in shape, but it beats you up.”
The trucks have improved in recent years, with power steering and more head room.
Johansen, who is 6 feet tall, used to have to remember to duck at the doorway 250 times a day.
“I had dents on my head,” he said.
He works out of the UPS Canyon Park Center in Redmond.
“There are two drivers who are older than I am,” he said, “but I have more grandchildren than they do.”
His UPS rig is loaded when he arrives, and he can’t go home to his wife until it’s empty.
It makes for a long work day, but Johansen makes time to help out new UPS drivers.
“He serves as a mentor for younger drivers and imparts that mentality of safety on them,” said Jessica Scrace, UPS Northwest District spokeswoman. “We’re proud to have drivers like him who are so committed to helping their communities through their focus on safe driving.”
Not many will wear his badge of honor.
“There are about 102,000 drivers around the world,” Scrace said. “There are 6,484 Circle of Honor drivers.”
Johansen is a mentor on another safety topic: early cancer prevention.
An elevated PSA was detected during routine lab tests last year.
“The doctor said, ‘You have prostate cancer.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I was completely in denial,” he said,
“I had that da Vinci robotic surgery. I got back in the saddle right away.”
Local Circle of Honor
These Circle of Honor drivers either live in or deliver in Snohomish County. Next to their name is the number of years they’ve driven with no accidents.
Daniel Martinez, 25 years
John Misich, 25 years
Scott Libak, 25 years
Dominic Giordano, 26 years
Mitch Stirling, 26 years
Dean Penaluna, 26 years
Mike Torrence, 26 years
Jeffrey Gastineau, 27 years
Marvin Anderson, 27 years
Terry Gordon, 28 years
Curtis Long, 31 years
Roger Cohrs, 33 years
Scot Graham, 34 years