The Prince of Delancey Street
Meet Vince Nanni, My Vote for World's Greatest UPS Driver
“I love Vince”… “Vince is the best”… “He’s one of a kind.” … “What would we do without Vince” … “Love” … “He’s my favorite” … “Love him!” … “Part of the family.” … “He’s the Prince of Delancey, for sure” (the last one is mine!)
When you ask people in my Philadelphia neighborhood about their local UPS driver, 65-year-old Vince Nanni, these are the responses. They’re uniform in their admiration. If Vince was to run for mayor of the city, I’d be pretty sure he’d win in a landslide. I couldn’t find a single person to even hint at something negative. “Love” was the most oft-uttered word.
Six days a week, there he is. Swinging his big, brown, boxy truck down our streets. Hauling packages out of the back, sometimes so large that he needs a hand truck to get them down. Coming down the block on foot, a smile on his face. He looks in his fifties, younger with his permanent sunglasses. Stopping to pluck a dog treat out of his right front pocket for the parade of canines he encounters. Talk about love. Bending down over a stroller to welcome the latest addition to the neighborhood. Waving from across the street, a bellow of hello. He knows our names. All of our names. Climbing the steps of one rowhouse after the next and ringing our doorbells, his face fish-eyed as he approaches the doorbell camera. Punching in the codes to our garages or using one of his hundreds of keys to drop off a package safe from porch prowlers. He knows the codes all by heart. Texting us on our phones to say he found another delivery from another carrier on our stoops, put it inside, and oh, “I brought in your trash cans…It’s no problem.”
Smiling. Always smiling. Always friendly. Vince is a constant in a world of inconsistency.
One afternoon recently, I stopped him to ask if he’d be up for an interview. “Would love to do it!” He said, mopping his brow in the 95-degree heat. Smiling, of course.
During his lunchtime, we met at my house. He was prompt, a bit early even. Something he takes pride in, among other things, including his work ethic, his 1977 Corvette, his Thursday night bowling game, his ability to detail a car, his exercise regime, and the two envelopes he stashes $35 inside every week (one for vacation, one for Christmas gifts). Most of all, he’s proud of his two daughters.
Not five minutes into our conversation, he was already choking up. To say Vince wears his heart on his sleeve is an understatement. He’s vulnerable and without artifice and he laughs as easily as he cries. It was a joy of talk. Although he would have never intended it, he’s a walking, talking advertisement for UPS at a time when many of their employees, drivers included, are reportedly looking to unionize to improve pay and work conditions. I had to transcribe our interview by hand. Silicon Valley has yet to invent an AI transcription to handle a South Philly accent so thick.
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Let’s get straight into the burning question. Everybody in the neighborhood says, “I love Vince.” What is it about you that you’re having this effect on people?
I think it’s my personality and upbringing. My Dad always said to me that kindness goes a long way. Everyone loved my dad. My wife used to tease me that I was like Raymond in Everybody Loves Raymond. He wanted everybody to love him. And that’s what I want. I’d like to be remembered as a great guy, a nice guy always. A kid in the neighborhood the other day said, ‘Thank you for being who you are.’ That’s amazing. Yeah, I want to be loved.
When did you start at UPS?
In 1991. I heard it was a great company to work for. Like most people, I started part-time, loading trucks for five hours a night. During the day, I worked at a Slim Jim factory. I was the ‘Spice Guy.’ I’d take naps in my car in between. On Sundays, I’d work at Swiss Farms, the drive-through convenience store. I was working all the time, to make money, right…to support my family and put food on the table. One day at Swiss Farms, this woman drives up in a nice Jaguar. I tell her that’s my wife’s dream car. You know what she said to me. ‘It’s a shame you won’t be able to afford it.’ Well, that’s a terrible thing to say. It stuck with me.
How long until you started driving for UPS?
When I was working part-time, someone told me, ‘Listen, it’s a hard job, but it’ll pay off for you. Hard work will never kill you.’ After five years of loading trucks, I became a full-time driver in 1996. I went from $8.50 an hour to $17, and that was good money back then. Every six months you get a progression, a raise. After a year and a half, I was up to $23. I tell the younger guys now: ‘The money’s here. Make it and sock it away. Don't be like me, 65 years old, working as I do. Make it in your 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Use your 401K, take your stock and pension.’
I don’t have to work six days a week. I do because I like money. Italians love cash, they say. So I work Saturdays. I’m not turning down time and a half. Right? I struggled my whole life. This is making gravy. Driving you can make $80,000 a year. With overtime, maybe $100,000. That’s amazing. I thank God every day…. [ Vince stops and wells up with emotion]
Was it a challenge learning to drive that big truck in the city?
I hit a lot of things in the beginning. Even my first day. Mostly mirrors, dings, and scrapes. Judging the size of the truck was hard, and I was always in a rush. Now I just focus and drive slower, and I know every tree branch and turn on my route. I’m 17 years accident-free. When I was younger, I’d try to go down small streets or thread between parked cars. Now I just ‘walk it off’. That’s a saying where you park the truck, grab the package, and carry it to the address, even if it’s far away. ‘Walk it off…Walk it off.”
Tell me about your upbringing.
I was born and raised in South Philly. 2004 Crosky Street. It was a three-story rowhome. Not far from here. My family came from Italy. My Dad worked three jobs. I didn’t see him much. He worked for an insurance company. He also was a nighttime guard and a house painter. My mom was a typical homemaker. She played a lot of bingo. I had two older sisters. Rita passed away. [the words trail away as Vince becomes emotional again] My other sister Isaletta. I couldn’t say her name when I was young, so I just called her ‘Yeah. Yeah.”
What happened with Rita?
Uppers and downers, I guess maybe that’s what they call them. Seems like every week they were pumping her stomach at the hospital. It was so bad. I slept in the first bedroom. She slept in the second. She always smoked in bed and would fall asleep, her cigarette still lit in her hand. As a kid, I never went to bed until she was asleep. I didn’t want the house to burn down, God forbid. I’d sneak into her room and put the cigarette out.
How was school for you?
I wasn’t a good student. I didn’t like school because I wasn’t smart. I was already two grades behind in second grade. No one helped me. My Dad wasn’t around. My Mom wasn’t around. So, I was never gonna handle high school. I mean, I could never do it, not smart enough. So I went to my Dad and said I want to quit school. I had finished eighth grade, but I was already two years behind. So I was 16. My Dad said okay. I wanted to start working and making money. I wanted to buy a car.
Did you play sports or have any hobbies back then?
My Dad wasn’t into sports. He couldn’t tell the difference between a baseball or football because he worked all the time. I would go to the PAL Center [Police Athletic League, a youth development organization in Philadelphia]. I met a guy named Ernie Mayo. He was a retired detective. He was like my second Dad and got me into lifting weights. I’d go there every day after school from the time I was thirteen. We’d play street hockey too. It was really fun. Mr. Mayo, I miss him so much since he passed away. I used to wash his car, and he’d say, “Vince, you should make a clean car a priority, because people see that.” I always keep my UPS truck clean. Years later, I saw him around Rittenhouse Square, in the city. He worked at a gym just to get out of the house. I started going there every Sunday. I’d pick him up at his house and take him there for the longest time until he died. He was my mentor.
What did you do before UPS?
After I quit school, I stocked shelves for a couple of years at a fruit market on 61st and Patrick Avenue [Vince remembers cross-streets and hourly wages like other folks can instantly recall dates or names]. I was making $1.16 an hour. Then I got a job as an order picker at Thriftway Foods warehouse. I was eighteen and making $6.51 an hour. That was big money. Big. Then I was hired by Fleming Foods, another warehouse. My favorite job at that place was driving a forklift. That’s my favorite to this day. It was just so cool.
Was this union work? How long were you there?
Yes, back then it was a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. You took your time and did your job. Then one day, a boss comes up to me and says, ‘You’re following the rules, but you’re a better worker than this. You can do better.’ Ever since that day, I was a runner. I worked hard and quickly and I was very good. I was always a runner. The company went bankrupt though. Then I got a job through my brother-in-law at a Getty Oil refinery. It was unsteady work. You might work for three months, then get off a month. I didn’t like it. I’m a South Philly guy, a nice person. You got guys from out of state. One day a guy got so pissed and wanted to fight me. ‘Are you kidding me,’ I told him ‘I’m not a fighter. What are we kids?’ He eventually became my best friend, but I was so upset. I cried in bed that night and told my wife I wanted to quit.
Tell me about your family.
My wife Cheryl and I got married in 1981. We met four years before that. At the time, I was 20. She was 16 and already had her own apartment. She had a rough childhood. My friend introduced us. It was at a disco in Jersey called Someplace Else, and I was wearing a white suit like John Travolta that I bought for $99 on South Street. It was cool and nice, you know. Then we went out the following week and saw a movie with Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn. Once we were married, we moved out to a nice little house in Folsom, PA. We had two daughters. Cheryl wanted to be a stay-at-home Mom. Whatever made her happy, made me happy. Both our kids went to college, and they’re doing great. Maria works in fashion. Deanna works in advertising. My wife and I were married for 25 years. But we got divorced. It’s my greatest regret. I was heartbroken. [Vince looks down at the table, tears welling] Maybe we got married too young.
Walk me through a day in the life of Vince at UPS.
I wake up at seven. I always shower the night before and shave. Back when I started there were no tattoos or beards allowed. Now it’s a little looser. I eat Cheerios for breakfast. I try to eat good and healthy. I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never smoked or drank alcohol either. I don’t even curse. Before I leave, I do a hundred pushups. My commute to UPS is about 25 minutes. My Dad always said, ‘You should never be late for work. There’s no excuse.’ So, I’m always early. I head out in the truck by 9:15. It's already loaded with packages by then. I always tip my loaders. It’s important.
The day is boom…boom…boom. It goes like that.
First, you must get off the Next Day Airs. Commercial by 10:30. Residential by noon. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so nothing fazes me anymore. When I first started, I was a mess. I’ve been doing the same route in Philadelphia now for fifteen years straight. I could do it with my eyes closed. I’ll start at 19th and Walnut, then do the 2100 block [at this point, Vince rattles off every street, cross-street, on his route…it takes a couple of minutes and is somewhat dizzying.]
I have lunch around noon. They give you an hour. I take thirty minutes. For fifteen of that, I go to the gym and do some weights. For the other fifteen, I have a sandwich. I switch between PB&J, chicken salad, and egg salad that I make at home. If I need to go to the bathroom, there are places along my route that I can use.
Then it’s back in the truck. I arrange my shelves, marking packages along my route with my pen. Low to high, like I was taught. Old school. And go boom…. boom…boom. You have to expect the unexpected. Sometimes a street is closed or it’s the weather. But I’ll usually punch out around 7:30 p.m. Most days, I work 10-11 hours. I’ll walk over 25,000 steps and deliver somewhere between 250-400 packages a day. The weight limit used to be 75 pounds. Now it’s 150. They want you to call for help if you need it. But I’m old school and do it myself with the hand truck.
When I finally get home, I’ll do some more push-ups. Also, pull-ups and leg raises. Sometimes, I also work out on my heavy bag. By 10:30 p.m. I’m in bed.
How do you like your route? The neighborhood.
People are genuinely nice around her. Well, there was this one guy. He just had a bad attitude. But that’s okay. He asked for a favor, I did it. I want to keep my customers happy. Mostly, the people are amazing. They always hug me. I’ve seen babies grow up into young men and women. I thank heaven for this job. No high school education. Quit school at 16. I’m making this kind of money. Nice people. How can I complain about anything in life, seriously? I’m healthy. I’m grateful.
Do you plan on retiring?
Maybe next year. It’s physically exhausting, this job. The heat, as I get older, I can’t handle it. The other day I had to walk everything off because they were shooting a movie on Spruce Street. I got home. I was so wiped out. I worked too hard. I shouldn’t have done it. But I have a lot of pride in myself. I wanted to get it done. But it’s going to be hard to leave. Everyone around here is like family to me. I just love what I do.
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We’ll talk again in a week. As always. Same time, same band, same place.