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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Front & Center: Roy Oki has driven the short route to a long career with UPS

Veteran UPS driver Roy Oki, pictured March 22, 2016, at the UPS facility in Spokane, has logged more than 39 accident-free years for the company. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Michael Guilfoil correspondent

When Roy Oki proclaims, “All good kids love milk,” he’s not promoting dairy products.

The mnemonic device is a way of remembering five defensive driving techniques.

“A” – the first letter of “All” – stands for “Aim high in steering,” meaning look ahead at least one city block.

“G” refers to “Get the big picture” – watch for movement and anticipate the worst.

“K” is for “Keep eyes moving” – check your mirrors every three to five seconds.

“L” alludes to “Leave yourself an out” – allow room for sudden stops.

“M” is a reminder to “Make sure others see you” by communicating with your vehicle’s position, lights and horn.

Following these tips has become second nature to Oki, which explains how he has racked up roughly 1.5 million accident-free miles behind the wheel of his UPS delivery truck. Assuming he can make it safely to Aug. 6, Oki will have logged four decades of safe driving.

During a recent interview, the senior-most UPS driver in Washington recalled ways his job has evolved, how quickly he can chain up in winter, and one of the most welcomed packages he ever delivered.

S-R: Where did you grow up?

Oki: In Hangman Valley. I attended Lewis and Clark High School.

S-R: What were you interested in back then?

Oki: Bowling.

S-R: Did you have a career in mind?

Oki: No, everything just fell into place. I started working for Rosauers in high school. Two years later, someone told me about jobs at Standard Oil – now Chevron – that paid well. I applied and did that for five years. Then Standard Oil gave everyone notice that they were pulling out. I knew a UPS driver, so I put in my application, and here I am. Each time I left one job on a Friday and started the next one the following Monday.

S-R: Apparently UPS was a good fit.

Oki: Yes. I’ve always enjoyed driving. I like being out.

S-R: You began long before navigational aids became common. Was it tricky finding addresses back in the mid-’70s?

Oki: It could be. My first route on the North Side included a neighborhood west of A Street that everybody called Death Valley because the roads wound around so much. That was challenging. Today, UPS uses technology to track drivers and packages. But I’ve been on the same route so long that I can navigate by house lights, even in the country.

S-R: You’ve been driving professionally for 42 years, but your accident-free record is just shy of 40. Were there some early mishaps?

Oki: Two. Both were minor, and happened while I was backing up.

S-R: Have you ever taught driving skills?

Oki: Only to my kids. Once I helped my older daughter move from Missouri to Portland during wintertime, and she was pulling a U-Haul. I told her to watch the trucks, and when the spray off their tires got to be less and less, that meant the water was starting to freeze. I said, “Whatever you do, don’t slam on the brakes or you’ll start sliding.” Pretty soon she said, “Dad … D-a-a-d,” sounding worried. I had her ease over to the side of the road, and she didn’t drive much after that. (laugh)

S-R: Do you have to chain up your delivery truck in winter?

Oki: Yes. And sometimes the main roads are bare but I need chains to go up driveways. One day I had to put the chains on and take them off five times. I actually timed myself. It took me seven minutes to chain up, and three minutes to take them off.

S-R: Does your shift resemble a race?

Oki: A little. UPS sets a (time) standard based on the number of packages, miles and stops you have. They prefer you’re no more than an hour over, but in wintertime they don’t say anything.

S-R: What are your normal hours?

Oki: I typically work from about 8:45 to 6:30, Monday through Friday. The busiest times are Mother’s Day and around Christmas.

S-R: What do you deliver on Mother’s Day?

Oki: Candy. Flowers.

S-R: You deliver flowers?

Oki: A lot of flowers. They’re packaged in boxes – vase and all.

S-R: Do you mind those long shifts?

Oki: No. I grew up on a vegetable farm, working for my parents. Of course, I didn’t get paid beyond a roof over my head and food in my stomach. When I turned 16 and started working at Rosauers, I still worked on the farm before school, and if there was farm work after my Rosauers shift, I might work until 10 o’clock at night. So I was used to working long hours.

S-R: Are your trucks air-conditioned?

Oki: No, and it can get pretty warm in the summer. My route includes dusty country roads, so I close the doors and rely on a fan on the dash.

S-R: What do you do for meals?

Oki: I stop wherever I am when it’s time for lunch. Most of the time I end up at a convenience store called Bob Mart.

S-R: Does seniority allow you to pick your route?

Oki: If one were to open up, I could take it. But I like my Deer Park route.

S-R: Is there a mandatory retirement age for UPS drivers?

Oki: No, not mandatory. We’re allowed to retire when our age and years of service add up to 80. I’m at 102 (laugh), so I could have retired quite a while ago.

S-R: What are some unusual items you’ve delivered?

Oki: Big things have included a couple of recliners.

S-R: Has the size of packages changed over the years?

Oki: Yes. When I started out, the limit was 50 pounds. Then they went to 70, and now it’s 150 pounds per box. When something is that heavy, I try to get the customer to help.

S-R: What else has changed?

Oki: When I started out, we wore long twill pants and long-sleeve shirts all year. Now we have permanent-press shorts, short-sleeve shirts and several hats to choose from.

S-R: Can you recall any memorable customer reactions?

Oki: Once I delivered a box to a young lady, and she was so excited that I asked, “What is it?” She said, “My wedding dress!” I asked, “When’s the wedding?” She said, “Tomorrow!” That was cutting it real close.

S-R: Any other fond job-related memories?

Oki: I got to present the game ball when Gonzaga played BYU (at McCarthey Athletic Center) in January.

S-R: What’s the career outlook for positions like yours?

Oki: Really good. UPS has some huge accounts, like Amazon.

S-R: What do you like most about your job?

Oki: Fellow drivers. And my customers. Many know me by name. If they happen to see me when I’m not wearing my uniform, some look confused until I say, “Think brown.”

S-R: What do you like least about your job?

Oki: Winter driving. I’ll be 66 in June, and after last winter I decided I’d had enough.

S-R: Do you plan to stick around until Aug. 6, your 40th anniversary of perfect driving?

Oki: Yes. I plan to make it to October.

S-R: What will you do when you retire?

Oki: I wouldn’t mind working part time at a bowling alley. I’ve had one 300 game, and an 800 series for three games.

S-R: Will you grow vegetables?

Oki: Probably not. That’s too much work! (laugh)

This interview has been condensed. If you’d like to suggest a business or community leader to profile, contact Michael Guilfoil at