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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

These Pizzas Won't Deliver Themselves, Part I

(I've decided to split the post up into two parts, since it naturally worked out that way.)

These Pizzas Won’t Deliver Themselves

By Michael “America is Great” Pape

When I drove my car down into and over the inverted hump that separates the pizza place (heretofore referred to as simply “PP”) from the rest of the parking lot, it was ominously cloudy outside. The temperature was about 70 degrees, which is typical for this time of year in Dallas. The date is April 10, 2005, and I was reporting for pizza delivery duty. What follows is the story of just one of my many long nights at the PP.

I decided to tell my story tonight in my ongoing effort to do two things: inform my readers about my life; and, do something productive with my pizza delivery time. By that I mean more productive than just making cash money. I had no idea what would happen during my shift – I would leave that up to chance/fate/God. I didn’t even know if I would get any deliveries (although if I went to work one night and got zero deliveries, that night would definitely be the last night I worked in that particular place, sho’ nuff). My intent was to capture the “typical”, and with it the essence of what I do four and sometimes five nights a week. I assure you now that the things I will describe for you are true and real to the best of my memory – I’m not making any of this up just to make this story better. Some of the characters described are gruesome, so watch out. I’m also not throwing in any Adaptation-style gunplay, because I respect you more than that.

My night starts like all my other nights. Like I said, it “looks like rain”, which could mean a disastrous night of driving through flooded streets and trying to find cover from hail. Dallas has a horrible drainage system, and just about every street you need to drive down to get anywhere could double as a poor man’s dirty swimming pool if there weren’t so many cars trying to trudge through it. So there’s that hanging over my head -- literally. I walk into the PP, and see that the good manager (read: the competent one) is working tonight. Good manager is leaving in two weeks for a job at Braum’s, which may or may not mean my firing is imminent. I’m always afraid the new managers won’t understand me and why I’m important.

You see, the untrained eye could interpret me as a bad employee when that eye first gets a look at me. The main issue with me is that I don’t answer the phones, because I used to answer the phone pretty much all day at my other job. All the managers I’ve had at the PP have understood this, and not given me a hard time about it. However, there is always the danger that the next one won’t understand. It is my fervent hope that they get the dude from our store who just trained to be a shift (low-level) manager to be the second manager. I highly doubt that will happen, because our General Manager needs massive amounts of help to do things, and the thought of him running the store without someone like good manager running it for him probably gives our bosses the screaming cold sweats. If it doesn’t, it should. General Manager, if left to his own devices, will probably reduce the store to rubble within a year. In the strip mall there will be an open space in-between the Asian Nail Place and the UPS Store where PP used to be. Oh, well -- If the new manager doesn’t “get” me, then I’m probably gone anyway.

When you start a night of delivery for my particular PP, you get a $20 “bank” at the start of the night to make change for the customers on deliveries (2 fives and 10 ones). You’re not supposed to carry more than that $20 around with you on deliveries, so customers, don’t be trying to get us to change your $50 bill. You have to give that $20 bank back at the end of the night, less the 65 cents per delivery you get from the PP. For example: If I make 10 deliveries in a night, I have to give $13.50 back, because 20-6.50 = 13.50. This is unimportant, and not a fun fact since it doesn’t qualify as “fun”. Sorry. I clock in (with the manager’s help, because PP doesn’t want you to just clock in yourself – the manager needs to put in an approval code. Pause for a moment with me and think about the level of mistrust PP has for its own employees that it won’t even let them clock in without supervision) and get my “carsign”, which is a approx. 3’ x 1’ x 1’ lighted monstrosity you attach to the top of your car with magnets. I have written before about the carsign and to what extent it’s hated by the pizza delivery community, so I won’t rehash that. I will tell you that since there aren’t any “top of the car” carsigns available (well, actually, there is one, but its bulbs have burned out. General Manager has been talking about replacing the bulbs for a month now. I’m telling you, he would reduce the store to a smoking pile of rubble if left alone) I am forced to use what I call a “window hassle” carsign – one that affixes to your window via suction cups and a padded “arm” that you stabilize by rolling the window up and pinning it. The hassle required to accomplish this (not to mention plugging it into the battery of the car) always puts me in a bad mood, and tonight it’s even worse with the possibility of rain. You see, your window is open a crack when the carsign is in there, and open windows tend to let rain in where closed windows would not. All of this is a bad sign. Get it – bad sign? Ha!

The next bad sign comes when a dirty rotund driver I don’t recognize comes in and starts working. He’s on loan from another store, which means he’s going to steal some of our precious deliveries. That’s how we tend to view it anyway. Plus, the people they get on loan from other stores are always loser guys with bad hair – people like me, in other words. I’m not nearly as dirty as this guy was, however. Do we really need another driver here? It’s Sunday night, what could happen?

When I’m not delivering, I attempt to work on other things, in this order (the things I loathe doing the least are on top): Make Pizzas (especially since I’m really good at it, working very quickly and topping the specific way PP wants me to. It’s really not that hard, but for some reason a 16-year-old pothead can’t fully grasp it), wash dishes (a sucky activity that gives me dishpan hands, but one I can do in peace at the back of the store), fold boxes (an activity I can do and think about other things). I will do these things without being told, which is the main reason management views me as a good employee. If all of the activities I mentioned are taken or not in need of my help, then I will look to fill up the Pepsi cooler or go to the bathroom. If I’ve already played the bathroom card, and there’s still nothing to do, I will walk 50 feet down to the Tom Thumb (that’s a grocery store, btw. Not as bad as “Piggly Wiggly, but still a pretty dumb name) and look at magazines. On a good night I will be so busy that I don’t get very far down that list.

My first delivery happens pretty quickly, even though it’s slow. Very rarely do I have to wait a long time right off the bat. It’s 6:20, and I take the “single” (a single-delivery run, which is something we delivery drivers generally try to avoid) out the door. It still looks like it’s going to rain. When I get to the house, a kid who looks like Annyang from Arrested Development answers the door. He has trouble opening the deadbolt lock on the front door. It’s one of those where you have to open it with a key on the inside. You’d be surprised how many people have trouble opening the front door. I’ve had people try, get frustrated, try again, and finally give up and meet me by a side door. Nobody goes out their front doors anymore, I guess. Annyang answers the door and promptly hands me over to a gray-haired Asian gentleman. Nothing else exciting (such as karate) happens.

Delivery 1 (Annyang): Tip: $5.39, 15%. (little did I know it, but this delivery would be the monetary highlight of my night)

Driving back to the PP, I am listening to “Echoes” by Pink Floyd. It occurs to me as I listen to this 30+ minute Floyd extravaganza that they spent the rest of their career trying to live up to and improve upon this song. It is the definitive Pink Floyd song, since you can listen to it and know exactly what Pink Floyd sounds like. Since the song is so long, and they got in all the different types of Pink Floyd sounds in there: Animal noises, bluesy guitar rock, heavily synthed-out mood music, Dark-side-style British float-singing, bass-repeating mind twister, and many many others. This is an example of the things that cross your mind when you’re sitting in the car with nothing to do.

Actually, when I’m delivering my mind is mostly focused on 2 things: Obeying traffic laws and getting to the deliveries the best way possible. I used to not be so concerned with the traffic laws thing, but ever since Richardson declared war on me and gave me two tickets in a single month earlier this year I’ve been ridiculously careful not to speed or make anything but an annoying full stop at every stop sign. It’s made me more patient (I mean it’s made me, as in put a gun to my head and forced me), so I guess the City of Richardson wins. Don’t ever try to beat The Man, kids. He’ll get you every time. Your only hope is to play his game and gradually get more and more bitter and defeated (under the guise of becoming more and more patient). Wait, that doesn’t sound like any hope at all. We’re not free – we just exist so that somebody or some municipality can make some money off us, according to The Man.

Fortunately, The Man is not the only player in town. But that’s outside the scope of what we’re doing here, so we’re going to just let it go and move on…

I get back to the PP and immediately am sent out on delivery #2, which is also a dreaded “single”, because I look up at the delivery screen and I see one going straight West, one going Northwest, and two going south. Since there are 5 drivers and only four deliveries, I will take only the one going west (there’s another reason – the Northwest one is for an apartment building, but it has no apartment number listed. I don’t want to deal with that can of crap right now if I don’t have to). Two singles in a row – bad news.

I end up going to the wrong house because the address numbers progress like this, and I’m not kidding: 16019, 16027, 16025, 16043, 16051, 16055, 16059. I’m supposed to go to 16059, and for some strange reason I end up at 16055. I’m just too efficient, expecting the numbers to count up evenly, which they (almost) always do. This is an example of how the Dallas area’s lack of a substantive address numbering policy has made my job infinitely harder. I never realize how ridiculously simple and elegant Milwaukee’s address numbering is compared to other cities. I first discovered this when I moved to Rockford, IL, which is a total disaster addressially speaking. Not only is the city stinky and dirty, but also in much of the city, the addresses are 3 whole blocks off what they should be (i.e. – 800’s between 10th and 11th streets). They use names instead of numbers for most of their streets, and change those names in the middle of the city for no apparent reason except to confuse people. They also have the super-confusing “street-avenue” number thing going, where you can be at the cross street of 5th and 8th, which you’re supposed to know means, “5th street and 8th avenue.” Remember, we’re talking about Rockford here. Dallas has its own set of problems, starting with the aforementioned non-standardized incremental progression of house numbers. That is a relatively small problem compared with some of the others, though.

The biggest problem with Dallas street numbering (and this was determined probably hundreds of years ago by people long dead, so I can’t even yell at them) is something it shares with Rockford: the fact that when you cross into an adjacent city, the numbering scheme totally changes. For example, half of my delivery area now is in Richardson, the other half in Dallas. On one particular street, you have numbers from 500-1000 on the Richardson side and 8000-9000 on the Dallas side. Why can’t Richardson use the Dallas numbers? Is it because Dallas doesn’t have a handle on their numbering scheme and Richardson didn’t want any part of it? Probably. Do I blame them anyway? Yes. Streets (especially ones that run straight North/South or East/West) should have the same number assigned to them, no matter what town they run through in the Metro area. Let’s say that number is 1000. Streets on one side on that street should count up from 1000, and streets on the other side should count down from 1000, no matter what town you’ve crossed into. It’s that simple.

But it gets better. In Milwaukee, you can tell what side of the street a house is on based on whether the number is even or odd. In Dallas, it is the same way. In Richardson, however, it gets death complicated. First of all, the city is divided in the middle by an East/West street named either Belt Line Road or Main Street (depending on which side of the North/South divider street you’re on. Uggh). In my area, it’s Belt Line. Anyway, this street is counted as “0”, and the numbers count up from it going North/South on both sides (actually, they count up from 100, but let’s not split hairs). This is not the complicated part. That part comes when you realize that the even and odd sides of the street switch when you cross Belt Line, so that if you were looking solely at one side of the street you’d see the house numbers: 107, 105,103,101 (Belt Line) 100, 102, 104,106, etc. It flips. In this way, Dallas is bad, but Richardson is totally screwed up, probably on purpose in their Operation: We Hate Drivers. Seriously, what possible purpose does this serve other than to confuse people who are crossing the most important road in Richardson? I live and work in a city run by lunatics.

Where was I? Oh, yes, at the wrong house. I ring the doorbell and this teeny bopper holding a cell phone answers the door and promptly bangs her head on the edge of it. She makes a face like “that really hurt”, and I successfully resist the urge to laugh. Dad comes and informs me that they didn’t order any pizza just as I see the wrong address in big gold numbers in front of my face. Yes, sir, I am an idiot. I glance at the bopper as I leave, and she’s still looking like her head hurts and it’s my fault. Which it partly is, I suppose. Oh, and I forgot to mention the fact that the trees in the front yard of the house were toilet papered, which since it was 7 in the evening probably meant that it was done the previous night and they just didn’t clean it up all day, which is kind of disturbing.

I go next door to the correct house and a guy who looks like Coldplay Smith (you know, the guy who’s with that Paltrow chick now. Chris somebody-or-other) answers the door, never realizing that I delayed his pizza a minute by going to the wrong house. He or somebody else nailed boards into the big lower branches of the tree in their front yard, which provide a nice level place to sit in the tree. Or maybe his kids are just too dumb to climb a tree normally, I don’t know. I didn’t ask.

Delivery 2 (Coldplay): Tip: 3.77, 23%.

My next delivery is a “double”, and it’s to two separate humongous apartment complexes in the corner of the delivery area. It’s going to take a while to make this trip, so settle in. Delivering to apartment complexes is much more evil and annoying than delivering to houses. First of all, you have to find the apartment itself, which is not always very easy since there are as many numbering schemes out there as there are complexes. In general, they usually number the buildings up from “1”, in a giant clockwise circle. Some apartments have seemingly numbered their buildings at random, however. It’s like some sort of test, this finding of apartments. The only way you get better at it is through experience. And inter-building, numbers are a total crapshoot. They tend to (in about half the apartments we deal with) be formatted like this: building number/floor number/apartment number. So, if you get apartment 1412, you could guess that it’s in building 14, the first floor, towards the left side (since the numbers have a tendency to count from left-to-right). But there are exceptions to this all over the place, so again it just takes experience with the individual complexes to know where you’re going. Or you could just use a map, located in the metal bin at the PP for your convenience.

Apartments also have gates, which in my experience are stuck open only about 40% of the time. The other 60% you have to wait for somebody to go in or out, which means you go in whatever gate they use, which could mean you have to go in the wrong one and then drive through the entire apartment complex to get to your building. This can be a real problem because of the dreaded speed bumps. For me, the less said about these car-killing safety nazi implements the better, especially since I’ve covered my feelings about them in a previous essay. On this particular delivery, I got stuck behind a 350Z that was taking the bumps a little too seriously, and speeding up as fast as possible in between. It was funny and annoying at the same time, like Gnosticism.

The apartments I’m in now have an inner clockwise circle in addition to the large clockwise circle that goes around the entire complex. It’s actually very confusing at first, but if you know where you’re going it makes getting places a comparative breeze. As I walk up the steps (steps being another disadvantage of delivering to non-first-floor apartments) to the apartment, I notice two citations taped to a door. They’re taped next door to where I’m going, and they are from the State of Texas, telling whoever lives at that apartment that they’re in big trouble. I couldn’t see what kind of trouble it was, however. I kind of planned to check them out after I gave the pizza to the customer, but that didn’t work out.

I knock on the customer’s door, and a bearded man answers and steps outside. I always think they’re hiding something when they do that, like a slavery ring or money counterfeiting operation. I give him his pizza and he signs the credit card slip, and at this point he’s an ok and perfectly normal fellow. But after I give him the pizza box he opens it and looks inside to make sure the order’s correct. I call these types of people “pizza checkers”. Now, I totally understand why people do this. You may be one yourself, in fact. They are probably scarred by the one time they mistakenly got anchovies and jalapenos on their pizza, and now they’re fanatical about making sure their pizza is correct. Here’s why it’s a bad idea to check the pizza while the driver is still there:

As a driver, I have no power to do anything for you except deliver your food. I am not a manager, and if your order is wrong the only thing I can do is go back to the store and tell them. If your pizza is wrong, you can call the store and get another one delivered for free (though you better tip the second driver, punk). You have won the pizza lottery, and you get two pizzas for the price of one. If you make me go back and tell them, they will have to call you anyway when I get back to the store. You’ve delayed things 10-30 minutes. If you make me give your money back (which has only happened twice in my history of pizza delivery), then you’ve really delayed things, and you’ve made the person who handles your food angry, which if you think about it is a pretty stupid thing to do. I’ve had people come running out of their house as I’m starting to drive away, complaining that they’ve got the wrong pizza. That’s a waste of time and exercise. I understand you think I might have given you somebody else’s order by mistake, but still – go back inside, call the PP, and get your love. It’s that simple.

And I don’t carry parmesan cheese packets on my person, because that’s just gross.

Delivery 3 (Pizza-Checker): Tip: $4.00 – 22%

I drive down the road a mile to my next Apartment complex. On my left is the new Research Facility that Texas Instruments is building in partnership with UTD (no, that’s not a disease. It stands for the University of Texas at Dallas, which perversely is smack-dab in the middle of Richardson. In fact, this facility they’re building is on the Richardson/Plano border). A couple of weeks ago the construction collapsed and some people were injured. I hope to get a job there when and if it’s finished. On my right there’s one of Richardson’s 50,000 walk/bike paths. I live in a city obsessed with the idea of parks. They’ll put a park anywhere, just so they can claim there’s a park within a half mile of you no matter where you are in the city. Health- and body-conscious people are running in the twilight. They all look kinda tired.

My next delivery to a dude named Boyd, which causes me to shudder, as I recall the last “Boyd” I knew. He was a dishwasher at a Pizza Hut I worked at in Rockford, and he and this other dude would regale people like me with stories of their gay party escapades. There were many girlish costumes and double entendres involved. I don’t want to hear that, especially from two 40ish husky and hairy men with funny voices. Plus, Boyd smelled like feet. So I’m anticipating that particular repellent Boyd when I deliver this.

I get to the apartment and find that Boyd is a normal man with a crew-cut that judging by his car went to the cult-school Texas A&M. He’s very polite, and that’s good.

As I drive out of the complex, I see a fisher-price basketball hoop three feet off the ground, with four hick-looking kids playing basketball on it. They are about 10 feet from the main traffic flow, and at least one of the boy kids is shirtless and shoeless. I will close the tale of this delivery by pointing out that when these hick kids get hit by cars, which they surely will, the parents will probably sue the drivers and the apartment complex, which will lead to more speed bumps. The world is a very screwed-up place.

Delivery 4 (Boyd Crewcut): Tip: $3.07 – 20%

As I go on my fifth delivery, a single to a house I know very well, I notice that the clouds have cleared a bit and it no longer looks like rain. The dusky sky is peppered with puffs of clouds here and there, but in between them you can see what would be patches of blue sky during the day . In the east, things look bad, but I know the storm is moving northeast, because I checked the Doppler radar before I came to work. The radio is still broadcasting the message from 6:30 about a severe thunderstorm warning for the whole listening area (which since I’m listening I’m assuming would include me), even though it’s now after 8. I am in the clear on the weather front, despite the pleas of the outdated radio weather report. Also, they sent a driver home, so I got to take the carsign crap off my window and place his “car-topper” on the top of my car instead. By changing carsigns mid-shift, I hope to express to management my displeasure with the window carsign situation, and how ridiculous I think the window carsigns are. Management neither notices nor cares. That’s life at my PP.

Like I said, the house I’m driving to is a house I know well, well enough to know it from just looking at the address. I’ve probably been there 15 times over the past 3 years. It’s a “fixer-upper”, and this dude is always working on it when I get there – painting, stripping the floors, wiring electricity, etc. When I first started delivering, the house was like an empty burned-out shell. It had a nice pool in the back, but the overall impression I got was the previous owners had totally trashed the place, which probably got the man a good deal on a nice house in a nice neighborhood, with the only drawback being the fact that the wasn’t an inch of space on the thing that didn’t need work. He’s slowly brought the house into respectability, and in the process gotten himself a large loud-barking dog, which I have only heard and not seen. He always puts the dog away, possibly out of embarrassment over its ugliness. These are the things you speculate about when you’re in the car on the way to a delivery. It’s a lonely job, and like all lonely jobs, it helps to have an imagination while you’re doing it.

When I get to the house I am surprised by a fetching young brunette woman with well-manicured fingernails. The guy is nowhere to be seen, but I can hear him back there holding the dog. She hands me the check with an attractive hand, and I realize that the house and the guy have jumped to the next level. The progression is: If you get a house you have to fix up yourself, and then get a hideous dog, you can get chicks, and quality ones at that. This is a lesson for us all.

Delivery 5 (The only girl of the night, but I don’t know that yet.): Tip: $4.44, 21%.

Right now, I am flying high again, like Ozzy Osbourne in that one song, only without the drugs. Tips are good, the window-topper is dead to me, the rain has dissipated without even hurting me a bit, and I haven’t had to visit the ghetto once. This is turning out to be a great night. There are only 5 deliveries left (again, I don’t know this yet), and the sky’s the limit. What will the rest of the night bring?

Here’s a hint: I don’t even approach that sky.

3 Comments:

  • At 1:29 PM, Blogger Flybeard the Sailor said…

    Please give us part two of the story. I'm so intrigued. You should make this into a book. Seriously. The Perks of Being A Pizza Delivery Guy.

     
  • At 7:22 AM, Blogger Mike Pape said…

    Part Two is coming soon. I can't envision any scenario where it doesn't get done by Sunday.
    I should make this into a book, shouldn't I?

     
  • At 12:38 PM, Blogger Flybeard the Sailor said…

    Totally. I'm so enthraled. It helps me get through the day (or the one day that I read it). I already gave you a name, and I'm not even looking for a little kick-back for that, I just want more of these fabulous stories. I was going to say that it could be a "reality book" like reality t.v. or reality movies, but then I realized that would be a documentary. Either way, start writing. You have an impatient "administrative specialist" (secretary) waiting.

     

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