LINCOLN PARK — Harrison Bean, 5, is happy the Grinch delivers packages on his street.
The Grinch — or, rather, UPS driver Jermaine Marks — delighted neighbors last week when he showed up to deliver packages to homes in Chicago, green fur, pug-like nose and all. He decorated his delivery truck like a reindeer, with a big, red nose on the front.
On Thursday, after delivering a box to Harrison’s home, Marks paused and saw the 5-year-old in the window. He gestured to the child with his fluffy fingers, in character.
“That was so nice,” Harrison told his dad, Alex Bean. The child’s watched “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” a dozen times this year. “I think his heart must have grown three sizes.”
Alex Bean took a photo of Marks’ display and posted it on Twitter, where it’s racked up more than 100,000 “likes.”
Lincoln Park residents said Marks is a local celebrity.
“He’s a legend of this neighborhood,” said property manager Barbara Garcia.
“He always has his music on in his truck, always dancing and delivering,” said Gloria Abuhasma, owner of Hair Tech Salon. “He’s just a happy soul.”
“Every year, everybody is waiting for his costume,” said resident Sefka Spahija. “He’s something else.”
Marks bought the Grinch-y green prosthetics himself, and his bosses at the delivery company were “totally cool” with him wearing it on his route, he said.
Marks also owns a UPS jacket that’s custom-made to look like a brown Santa suit, staying true to his employer’s color scheme. And around Halloween he’s known to move boxes looking like a werewolf, scarecrow or zombie.
In Marks’ decade-plus along his route on Diversey Parkway, he has also livened up the neighborhood with smooth R&B, Motown classics and — when it’s the season — Christmas hits, all played out of his truck.
It’s this time of year when Marks feels the calling to turn his truck into a reindeer, don his famous jacket and become “UPS Santa.” The Grinch is his latest brainchild, now in its second year.
“Everybody gets a kick out of it. And then they want to take pictures — pictures, pictures, pictures,” Marks said. “I try to stay in character with it as much as I possibly can. Until somebody starts talking to me all serious about their package, then I have to break character.”
Marks likes to laugh at himself. The holiday getup started as a joke: About 10 years ago, Marks told his sister-in-law he was the “Reality Santa.”
“Because all you have to do is order it, and I will bring it,” Marks said. “In my job, you’re gonna see Santa all year round. I’m Santa even when I’m out of costume.”
So, Marks’ sister-in-law sent him a UPS package — with his brown Santa suit and a matching hat to top off it. Over the years, Marks has made it his own, adding fluffy furs, a yarn beard, plushy white eyebrows, a fake belly, boots and a corncob pipe.
The jolly delivery driver doesn’t see himself working anywhere else. He started at UPS 19 years ago at 19 years old. Before he was UPS Santa, he was “Money Marks” — a young man from the West Side pursuing a career as a professional boxer.
A part-time factory job at UPS — with shifts starting at 2 a.m. — supported Marks as he moonlighted as a junior welterweight, fighting bouts at televised events around the country. He took Olympian Terrance “Heat” Cauthen to 12 rounds at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. He got invited to spar at training camps with notable boxers like Angel Manfredy.
The boxer’s lifestyle was physically taxing, and the money wasn’t great. Marks gave himself a two-year window to make it big. Two years passed, and tragic news came: His 5-year-old daughter, Jamarielle, had leukemia.
Marks hung up his gloves and started working at UPS full-time to support his daughter’s recovery. A father of three, Marks was in Jamarielle’s corner as she faced cancer twice: Radiation therapy knocked out leukemia, but then she had thyroid cancer. Everybody told Jamarielle, “You’re a fighter, just like your dad,” he said.
Now 23, Jamarielle Ransom-Marks is a two-time cancer survivor. The experience taught her dad the power of remaining present.
“It humbles you, and it puts you in the perspective of what really matters,” Marks said. “That’s why I always smile. I always have a smile. I try to smile as much as I can, around people, and try to make them happy. That’s my goal.”
Whether in costume or not, Marks never passes up the chance to connect with people on the route he’s made his own: Abuhasma and her hairdressers at Hair Tech Salon, friendly dentist Jeffrey Feffer, his buddies at the AT&T store and the day care workers who can’t get enough of his music.
Marks said he’s seen little kids grow tall, and he remembers one boy who fondly called his musical wheels “The La La Truck.” An employee at 7-Eleven thanked Marks for providing a listening ear after his father died.
“Within five minutes of dropping off a package, you can change someone’s whole day,” Marks said. “I didn’t know I could have that type of effect on people.”
Making people happy, and bringing them presents, feels like a gig with a greater purpose.
“It’s hard work. Especially during a pandemic,” Marks said. “The businesses and the families have all been suffering, and they’re in need of some holiday cheer.”
Marks is already thinking ahead to Christmas next year. He plans to unveil another holiday costume.
“But that’s gotta be confidential for now,” Marks said, laughing at himself again. “I just got to keep everyone on their toes.”
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