Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Pizza Diaries, Part 2: What I Wouldn't Give for a Flux Capacitor

My first week as a pizza delivery driver, all I could think about was what I would do if I were ever invited into Doc Brown’s DeLorean.  I guess the first thing I would do is pay a visit to my twenty-six year-old self and beat the shit out of me with my LSAT study guide.  And then I’d rip up my Grad Plus Loan application. 

But according to the most senior driver at the pizzeria, I was supremely lucky. 

Drivers at Papa John’s have to make pizzas and wash dishes in between deliveries, "Reed" informed me.   At the local mom-and-pop pizzeria we worked for, on the other hand, drivers basically just sat around during slow periods.

“Reed” had worked at Papa John’s for a number of years, and held a bit of a grudge from what I gathered.  Maybe his bitterness stemmed from the time he had to wait for a seventy-five year-old naked woman (with some hygiene deficiencies) to sign her credit card slip before he could escape to the welcoming bosom of his rusted-out, Clinton-era Corolla.  Or maybe it started the afternoon he had to watch the first-in delivery driver scamper away with four separate deliveries while Reed stared dejectedly at the blank order screen in the kitchen’s expediting area.  A blank screen is the bane of every driver’s existence.  A blank screen equals no pending orders equals no hope.

“There’s not even an industry term for taking four deliveries at one time.  I guess you’d have to say he took two doubles.” 

“Doubles” are a driver’s dream.  You get to take two orders out at once, which saves on time and gas.  And you get double the tips.  “Triples” are better, but a triple is the unicorn of the pizza delivery business.  No one’s ever really witnessed one, and only the youngest, least experienced drivers believe in its existence. 

Reed swept me under his wing immediately.  I liked to think it was because he saw me as Eliza Doolittle with a thermal delivery bag, someone he could mold into a street-savvy driver who knew all the shortcuts and speed traps.  In reality, I think he was simply relieved I spoke English.  He’d been waiting to unload some Papa John’s angst for a while, I could tell.

I would be lying if I said I feigned interest in his Papa John’s saga because there was no feigning on my part.  My brow involuntarily furrowed as he described the scores of no-tipping customers he had encountered.  The mobile home parks with no marked addresses as far as the eye could see.  The Super Bowl Sunday when two of the cooks called in sick and he got stuck manning the oven rather than raking in tips on the biggest pizza day of the year.

I got lucky, Reed told me.

I wished I felt that way, but that first week of moonlighting as a pizza delivery driver, I felt anything but.  I had been hired in the span of about twelve minutes, nine of which were comprised of me filling out a single-sided, one-page employment application.  Had I been convicted of a felony?  Did I have any violations on my driving record?  When was I available to work?  No, no, and any night after 5:30p.m.  Once they saw my clean driving record, I was in.

I didn’t really have any time to consider what I was getting myself into.  I accepted the job immediately and was to start only a few short days later.  I could wear whatever I wanted, aside from a company-provided polo shirt.  I also received a hat, which was optional.  Before my first shift, I changed into my uniform in the restaurant bathroom.  I took one glimpse of myself in the mirror and decided the hat had to go.  The hat I could not bear.

I kept my head down while walking through the main area of the restaurant, just in case I ran into any colleagues.  I wasn’t ready for that kind of radical honesty just yet.  I should’ve opted to keep my head down while on deliveries as well.  The first time I was met with a sympathetic look at a customer’s door, I was mortified.  I had really sunk to a new low.  “I guess everyone needs a job,” the bleached-blonde forty-something woman condescended.  A peek over her shoulder into her living room revealed a serious hoarding addiction, and yet, she felt sorry for me

But after I got over the initial shame, I started to have a little fun with it.  My favorite driver, “Lou,” was a Thai man who spoke kitchen Spanish.  “Estoy cerrando!” he would declare to the cooks in faux exasperation.  “Y tu tambien?” 

We called each other “partners” since we were scheduled to close together on Mondays, and then eventually on Saturdays.  “Hey, path-nah!” he would greet me on those evenings.  While we waited for the order screen to light up, he provided me with remedial Spanish lessons, while I regaled him with descriptions of what I would feast on when I got home. He loved to hear what my husband would be cooking for me on those nights, since he was divorced and mostly ate at the pizzeria.  Employees got free meals anytime.

Lou took care of me, while Reed taught me to look out for numero uno

Lou:  “No steal tip.  Whatever credit card slip say, I put in computer, even if zero.  You no want that stress on your conscience.”

Reed: “You know, if you get an order over a hundred dollars, and they tip you in cash, you can just tell the managers you got stiffed, and the restaurant’ll pay you ten percent.”

The one mandate on which they both agreed?  Avoid complaints at all costs.  Any driver who received a complaint about his or her driving was automatically suspended for three shifts while the restaurant investigated. 

That, incidentally, is what pizza delivery has in common with the practice of law.  One can be incompetent as hell, but can continue to practice as long as he or she flies under the radar.  If the Bar gets wind of any shenanigans, one’s career can be toast.

My time travel fantasy did not disappear overnight, but it gradually faded from an all-consuming obsession into a tolerable foggy notion in the back of my mind.  I tried not to feed it too much, but I did develop a ritual I would perform at the beginning of each shift.  As I drove away from the pizzeria with my first delivery each evening, I would listen to Huey Lewis and the News’ “Power of Love.” 

What can I say?  It helped.


  1. I know one man who was a physician in his country of origin. He is now a medical translator. However, he foolishly believes that this nation holds all the keys to his kids' success. He is an incredibly kind person. But I cannot buy into the irrational optimism.

    My wife told me that one of her highly educated co-workers moonlights by waving a goddamn Little Ceasar's sign, on the side of the road. At least, she makes $25 cash for 3-4 hours of work each night. But, we are all a bunch of entitled whiners, according to the Boomer pigs.

    1. I always wonder how people get those sign-waving jobs. Only $25 for 3-4 hours of work sucks!

      I don't know how to feel about people who sacrifice so much just so their kids can grow up in the U.S. On the one hand, there are many opportunities here. Think about how many people there are who have brief moments of genius and end up making millions. Spanx, anyone? Facebook? Twitter?

      But then again, these days, it is almost impossible for young entrepreneurs to take risks because so many college graduates are saddled with student loan debt. Maybe that's why so many moguls are dropouts?

  2. I have to say you are a brave woman. A lot of people will not "stoop" to something they see as below them to help out their family. I'm not saying delivering pizza's are below you. Just some do see it that way. And you are willing to do what it takes for your family.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I know a lot of people see pizza delivery drivers as the lowest of the low, and it was hard for me to see the sympathetic looks on customers' faces. (One woman, however, gave me a huge tip just for braving the mean streets.) But I ended up learning so much about myself from doing it. Mostly what I learned is that I am always the same person, whether I am practicing law, being an assistant, or delivering a pizza. And I learned that I really do love my husband because I never would have done it without him to come home to. :)