BRADENTON -- David Nieto joked that he said goodbye to his family right after Thanksgiving.
So did Carmen Nunez.
Ray Baker, too.
Such is life these days for the 28 couriers at the FedEx Bradenton Station at 4605 18th St. W., where they're counting down to Christmas as the volume of packages they deliver and collect goes up and up and up.
Especially Monday, projected as the busiest day in the 39-year history of the American global courier delivery service company.
A record 19 million packages -- more than double the usual daily volume -- were supposed to be moved around the world.
What seemed like at least half that amount was endlessly rolling down the long conveyor belt Monday morning in the sprawling warehouse here.
"It's probably in the thousands," operations manager Larry Berke said. Through Christmas Eve, "the volume fluctuates, but today's the busiest."
Two teams of workers off-loaded packages big and small from large air freight containers while couriers sorted them and loaded them onto their delivery vehicles.
All within an hour's time.
"This is what we do -- sunup to sundown," said Nieto,
a 30-year FedEx man. "We spend very few hours with our families and then we're back at it again. You've got to step up and give a little more. People are depending on us."
It was a common sentiment up and down the line.
"When I go to a house and deliver a package, people love to see me -- 'Oooh, thank goodness you're here,'" said Nunez, an 18-year FedEx vet. "That makes me happy."
Even if it means a steady diet of 11-hour workdays.
"That's what it is. It's busy constantly," she said. "We spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families. We have to love each other."
Each courier averaged more than 100 stops Monday and returned with more than 300 pieces for shipping that evening to Tampa International Airport and flown to the FedEx hub in Memphis, Tenn.
"This is a seasonal area with a lot of volume from Thanksgiving to Mother's Day," Berke said. "It's much higher than the rest of the year."
They get their share of unusual packages, too.
Like the one Monday with "Perishable. Live Harmless Reptile" written on it.
What kind of reptile was anyone's guess.
"One time a box turned over by itself on the conveyor belt," Baker said.
"That had a snake in it."
A 25-year FedEx man and the senior full-time employee at the station, he's due to retire next month.
Believe it or not, Baker says he will miss it -- the pre-holiday craziness, included.
"You get the Christmas spirit going, the hype of the whole thing," he said. "You get that camaraderie meeting the same people over a period of time, even if it's only for three to five minutes a day. You get to be part of the family at work, too.
"I could've retired a month ago and skipped all this, but I enjoy the season and decided to stay through the start of the year."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix