It's the same scene every night. Cars and vans pull up and double park in the small parking lot. People frantically step out of their vehicles with a mountain load of cardboard boxes swaddled in packing tape, being sent to destinations near and far.

They're doing the last-minute shuffle at one of the oldest distribution centers operated by United Parcel Service in Los Angeles.

The facility is located at 1201 W. Olympic Blvd. near downtown's diverse community of apparel manufacturers, importers, exporters, and fabric makers who have until 6 p.m. each night to get their packages to the East Coast and 7 p.m. for delivery to 13 Western states and Pacific Rim destinations.

As UPS tractor-trailers rumble out of the 330,000-square-foot facility on their way to airports in Long Beach or Ontario, UPS's hub, customers queue up inside the small receiving area. Bodies jostle bodies. People are wedged between stacks of boxes.

The line spills out the door and snakes along the sidewalk. To make the most of their time, some customers lean atop their hill of brown boxes and fill out the shipping forms needed to track their packages. Others pull out commercial-size checkbooks and start recording the necessary paperwork.

The bored anxiously watch the steady progression of the line or the new arrivals who seem to perform an acrobatic balancing act as they pile packages atop dollies and wheel them up.

"I can help someone over here," yells one clerk as people look up and inch their boxes closer to the counter.

"Is that going to be a money order or cash?" asks another customer service rep, speaking to a man who doesn't understand English very well and crinkles up his nose in confusion.

Diverse customers

Most of those in line are from another land. They are Indian, Persian, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, or El Salvadoran, reflecting the mix of the downtown business world.

Mushir Khan, who owns America Imports, is a regular customer. Today he is shipping boxes of Indian leather goods to Arizona and Nevada that must be there in the next two or three days. "I generally come here because it is near my office. We close our doors at 5:30 p.m. and then come here before going home. Sometimes it's really hard to get here and get everything shipped on time. It was really busy before Christmas."

Julio Ramero of Importaciones Olvera is sending belts, wallets and various trinkets to stores in Mexico. "I come here every day," he said, noting he ships anywhere from four to 12 packages a day. "It's always like this."

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