The men in brown are on strike. And the businesses at the Rotunda shopping center in North Baltimore who depend on UPS man Joe Beal's daily deliveries and pick-ups are bummed.
The strike means scrambling for alternate shipping services and, to make matters worse, missing Joe's friendly face.
Tall, broadly handsome with salt-and-pepper hair, wire-rimmed spectacles, and yes, nice legs, Joe conforms perfectly to the UPS image celebrated in song and film of the buff, sexy courier who drives a matching brown truck and hoists weighty packages with nimble ease. If the company ever agreed to a pin-up calendar featuring the men of UPS, Joe could be Mr. August, easy.
"He is gorgeous," says 26-year-old Jessica Cowling, who works at the Bead Experience, a women's clothing store at the Rotunda. Her assessment is echoed by others, except for Joe himself.
"Maybe a lot of people need to get their eyes checked," he suggests.
He's modest, too.
But to the greater Rotunda community, Joe Beal, 41, is much more than a tall, cool drink of water. He is a friend. His daughter Gracie's photo is thumb-tacked to the bulletin board at the Bead. The folks at the Cook's Cupboard across the way know the name of his Labrador retriever (Bonnie). Susie Henschen, a receptionist upstairs at WPOC, has even been to Joe's house in Upperco to gather Gracie's outgrown baby clothes for her future grandchild.
"Our Joe," Henschen sighs. "My Joe," she says dreamily. "That's how I would prefer it," she says in jest. Her Joe has been married to Barbara Tracey 10 years.
Even Cowling looks beyond the wrapping to Joe's inner package. He's more than a hunk, he's reliable.
"He goes out of his way to do special stuff. He will leave a C.O.D. for us and come back later and get the check," she says.
"Joe's been here longer than I have," says Dorothy Sherwood, the Cook's Cupboard manager. "He's really friendly and he talks to you. He's really helpful with services that UPS doesn't normally do. He's always willing to go out of his way. He will come back if things aren't ready and will hang around while you write [the delivery slip]."
"We're lost without him," says Suzanne Redden, an employee of a marine insurance agency who has stopped by the Bead to say hello to Joe, who has happened by unexpectedly.
His Rotunda friends are "like family," says Beal, who began filling in for other UPS deliverers along the Hampden route that includes the Rotunda 15 years ago and then assumed it full time. He coveted the route for its friendly customers and safety.
When he stopped by the Rotunda yesterday, Beal was dressed not in his uniform browns but in khaki shorts and a breezy, tropical shirt decorated with fish. He brought Gracie with him, who in turn brought her stuffed bunny, Boo Boo. Henschen took Gracie for a walk to examine a nearby juke box while Beal discussed the strike.
Occasionally someone from an office upstairs would spot Beal, wave, and laugh, as a way of acknowledging the novelty of his being there in civilian clothes, hands empty.
He's put in about 12 hours on the picket line but looks tan and rested.
This strike, so far, is not as personally threatening as the last one, a 1976 walkout by 18,000 East Coast Teamsters that lasted 13 weeks. Back then, Joe was a UPS part-timer putting himself through the University of Baltimore while washing UPS trucks. He was forced to take two jobs, working at a gas station and a liquor store, to make ends meet.
Beal graduated in the middle of a recession and couldn't find work. He jumped at a full-time opening with UPS and has remained ever since.
This time around, Joe is better positioned to weather a strike. As he holds Gracie and greets customers who pass by, he appears to be taking the strike better than the businesses he keeps in shoes, cooking pots, jewelry and paper goods.
The strike even has short-term advantages.
Beal, who usually puts in 10-hour days, can tend his garden and spend time with Gracie, whom he ordinarily sees for just an hour a day.
On this day, that means a special pickup on his Rotunda route -- a chocolate frozen yogurt for her from the TCBY shop down the hall.
Pub Date: 8/07/97