Mike Copeland: Driver delivers 30 accident-free years; Amazon center
Larry Plemons has been herding a big brown UPS truck around Central Texas more than 30 years without an accident. But the Bosqueville High School graduate and Robinson resident once saw his spotless record flash before his eyes.
It was just before COVID-19 began its local assault, and Plemons was driving about 9 at night between Meridian and Clifton on two-lane State Highway 6. Bound for Waco, Plemons shockingly realized that coming the other direction a half-mile up the road, a pickup hauling a horse trailer was jockeying to pass an 18-wheeler. Plemons said there was neither time nor space for the pickup to complete the maneuver, that a head-on collision with his UPS truck appeared inevitable.
“The 18-wheeler was not going to pull over, not going to let him by,” Plemons said. “So as I get over, the pickup whips over. We’re practically nose-to-nose. I can see the numbers on his license plate.”
Meanwhile, the unfazed big rig rumbles through the scene, its speed and proximity to the UPS truck creating a suction that pinned Plemons’ side mirrors against the body.
Plemons said just before the faceoff unfolded, he had been pumping his brakes to let traffic behind him know something was amiss. Then, in the blink of an eye, lights bounced off the night sky, the pickup went flying through a roadside ditch, and Plemons’ UPS truck tightroped the highway shoulder before coming to rest, unscathed. No one suffered injuries in the “near miss,” Plemons said, using UPS parlance to describe the incident.
“I was ready to kiss everybody goodbye,” he said of his emotional state during the near-crash experience. “Oh, yeah, it shook me up.”
Plemons said his training served him well during the incident, that his mental checklist while driving includes creating a “space cushion” between himself and other vehicles and maintaining satisfactory “eye lead time,” which is the time and distance a driver visually scans ahead of the vehicle.
He said his wife, Terra, learned about his brush with swapping paint from a story appearing in a UPS publication. He said he is reluctant to share such information, “not wanting her to worry about things like that.” But Terra was properly peeved, admonishing him in no uncertain terms, Plemons said.
He retained his membership in UPS’ Circle of Honor, the highest recognition the company bestows for safe driving. Plemons, 52, said he entered the circle five years ago, when he reached the 25-year milestone.
“It’s good that UPS recognizes drivers for doing well,” he said. “Patting you on the back is appreciated. Places usually tell you only what you did wrong yesterday.”
Plemons worked part-time for UPS while attending McLennan Community College. He considered a career with the Department of Public Safety, but ultimately chose UPS over the DPS, he said with a laugh.
Larry and Terra have a daughter who married last September, another now a sophomore at Texas A&M University. The latter’s graduation will signal his looking more seriously at retirement, Plemons said. UPS drivers are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which negotiates contracts, so Plemons’ pay and benefits have been generous during his tenure.
As a 32-year veteran, he practically has his choice of routes. He now delivers to smaller communities in Bosque County, Iredell and Walnut Springs among them, logging about 250 miles a day. He said his delivery volume might surprise people, considering the sparse population he serves. The massive game ranches that attract hunters seeking elk keep him hopping.
Plemons said he still loves his place at UPS. The solitude appeals to him.
“But with every job there are pros and cons,” he said.
Facing a wayward pickup truck on a dark night qualifies as a con.
Sources tell me the Amazon fulfillment center under construction on Exchange Parkway is 90% complete, and that an opening could come in late summer or early fall. That timetable would match the Seattle-based company’s prediction the $200 million facility with multiple floors rising from a 700,000 square-foot footprint would arrive this year.
Amazon, with an assist from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, announced its plans for Waco at a press conference in October at the Waco Convention Center. The company said it would employ up to 1,000 people making a minimum of $15 an hour, plus benefits. State economist Ray Perryman, meanwhile, applied a multiplier predicting the facility would lead to 3,300 local jobs.
The robotics-heavy facility between Bagby Avenue and Loop 340 primarily will handle smaller items such as toys, books, electronics and household goods, company officials said.
Kris Collins, industry recruiter for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said Amazon now is seeking to fill supervisory positions in Waco.
Amazon spokesperson Daniel Martin had this to say in an email response to Tribune-Herald inquiries: “We haven’t yet begun the hiring process for our facility in Waco, and I don’t have the timing of when that will start, so at this time, I can’t really comment on any of the below questions.”
He promised to let us know when the hiring process formally starts.
Meanwhile, Collins during a recent meeting with business leaders to discuss the the Greater Waco Economic Index said developers typically place other projects around Amazon centers. She expects the same in Waco.
“The thinking is … if Amazon thinks this community is strong and has good employees, others will come to the same conclusion,” said Dan Ingham, a vice president at First National Bank of Central Texas, which hosted the presentation.
Ingham said the aftershocks have begun. First National financed a large warehouse to be built across the street from Amazon.
Other topics mentioned at the session: continued brisk home sales, with properties staying on the market for just a few days, if that; the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce came out of the pandemic stronger than before, didn’t lose members, President and CEO John Bible said. He credited strong relationships with a proactive Waco and McLennan County, which took steps, including making grants available, to keep small businesses operating.
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