This is Epth Nation

Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

These Pizzas Won't Deliver Themselves, Part II

These Pizzas Won’t Deliver Themselves, Part II: The Destruction of the Mike

By Michael “America is Still Pretty Good” Pape

I know you want to hear more about deliveries, but I need to first tell you about the Birds, because they’re awesome. Texas has these giant black birds that look like they’re covered in tar all over the place. When I used to walk to my other, non-Pizza-delivery job, certain members of this race of bird would “buzz” me if I walked what they considered to be the “wrong” way around Micro Center. By “buzz” I mean one would wait until I least expected it and swoop down over my right shoulder, close enough that I felt its wind as it passed by. The first time this happened, I was understandably freaked out. Here was this bird (which was practically the size of my 25lb dog, btw) pseudo-attacking me because I happened to walk the wrong way. What was this, bird gang territory? Someone needs to remember what species he or she is, I thought. Needless to say, after a couple of those “buzzes”, I started taking the long way around the building. I considered just bringing a bat to work and showing this bird what’s what, but I didn’t need the stress of being involved in a real-live episode of Man vs. Beast (remember that Fox show?), so I signed a peace treaty with the Birds and wimped out.

I know what you’re thinking, but this does apply to what we’re discussing here, silly. You see, there are rows of big, leafy trees in the parking lot that the PP is located in. These big, leafy trees are loud pretty much year-round here in Dallas, except for those couple of months when it can get below freezing. I say they’re loud because the first thing you notice when you get out of your car is the noise coming from the trees – you have to raise your voice sometimes if you want to be heard over the racket. There are your typical crow-like “caws”, there are noises that sound like carnival rides, and there are noises that sound like electronic equipment shorting out. These are the many varieties of big black birds indigenous to this area, and they apparently all gather for a daily convention right across from the PP.

<>One time, the old manager of the PP made the mistake of parking under those trees. His car appeared to have been painted with poop at the end of the day. There was more poop showing than paint, even on the sides. And don’t get me started on the windshield. Needless to say, he only made that mistake once.

Tonight the birds are especially saucy as I get to the PP. There’s electronic equipment shorting out all over the place. It’s like a sci-fi movie out here. They seem to be trying to tell me something, such as “Your night of deliveries has gone well so far, but don’t get cocky!” Ha…birds…cocky. Anyway, I wonder how many decibels of sound these winged nutjobs are producing, and how that compares to say, a plane or a Jethro Tull concert.

My next delivery takes me to an upper-class area with nice houses. There are a lot of these types of places in my delivery area, but also a lot of not-so-nice places. In my experience, that’s pretty typical. It’s hard to find a 6mile X 4mile rectangle that doesn’t have any trashy neighborhoods in it, especially in a place as fragmented and schizoid as Dallas. This will come up later on, believe me. So I get to this guy’s nice house, and it’s now almost completely dark outside. The house has no light on, because most people prefer to just order pizza and forget about the fact that they ordered it until it actually gets there, at which point they will turn on the light (and/or turn off the sprinkler, put away the rabid dog, get out the checkbook and hastily and illegibly write out a check, etc.). Of course, the houses on either side of my target house have their lights on, just to confuse me. Because I am a professional, I find this guy’s house, even without the light.

Which brings me to something I actually thought of last night on the topic of “why you should tip your pizza guy”. You might be saying to your crappy self, “What is the pizza guy doing to deserve this tip? He’s just bringing this pizza out to me, probably while listening to Radio Disney or something. It’s not actual work. I’ll tip him a very small amount.” This kind of thinking is anathema to me. Besides the fact that: gas prices are now at evil, Orwellian levels, and that the driver is taking the food to you so you can sit on your butt and download music illegally or watch the latest Will and Grace fiasco, and that often times that driver made and cut that pizza in addition to delivering it, and the fact that you are taking up the driver’s time, which in a rush is his most valuable asset, think about this: every night, the driver has to accurately locate as many houses and apartments as there are deliveries. You know how you go to and print out a map if you’re going someplace you aren’t familiar with? Drivers do that, only they have to keep the map completely in their heads. And when one has delivered as long as I have, one develops a head-map of all the streets in the area and the best way to get there. It really is more complicated than most people think. You should see the new drivers try to find houses in the middle of some of these neighborhoods. The streets are like mini-labyrinths, designed so that people like me can’t just drive from one side to the other in a straight line maniacally smacking kids into random front yards with my car’s grill. So tip the driver, because you live in a maze, rathead.

I ring the doorbell and don’t hear anything. Most, but not all, doorbells will produce a “ding” that’s audible from just outside the house. I ring it again after like 20 seconds, making sure that the doorbell is in fact not getting the customer’s attention. I would estimate that about 10% of doorbells just simply don’t work, and another 10% are functional but cosmetically broken in some way (this is especially true of the small circular plastic “button” doorbells, which one can put a hole in just by pushing too hard). After waiting another 10 seconds I am forced to do the activity at doors I hate the most: knocking. It hurts my sensitive knuckles, you see. At least this gets the customer’s attention. First, the light turns on (some people’s thoughts revolve around themselves to such an extent that they think the light exists solely to help them see, not the delivery driver), and moments later a middle-aged average man opens the door and finally gets his pizza.

Delivery 6 (No Light No Doorbell): Tip: $2.00, 17%.

I will pause at this point to explain that when I say, “Tip: $2.00, 17%,” the only thing in those quotation marks I really care about is how much money the customer gave me. Percent doesn’t help me at all. How well I do in a given night has nothing to do with how big my orders are. It has to do with how long it takes me to get there and how much money they give me, period. A two-pizza order really isn’t any different from a one-pizza order or a 4-pizza order. I still have to drive the same distance and do the same things when I get there. I am mentioning percentage because the customers can often be very percentage-minded, thinking of waitstaff (who get tipped almost solely based upon percentages, for semi-good reasons I don’t wish to get into here). Put it this way: If you live 5 miles away and order a small pizza that comes to 9 bucks and tip me a buck-25, I will want to kill you. If you live 1 mile away and order 4 large pizzas that come to $40, and tip me 4 bucks, I will be relatively happy. Especially if you’re hot.

No night of pizza delivery would be complete without a trip to UT-Dallas, which as I explained in Part One, is actually in Richardson. The UTD apartment complex is easily the most daunting in our delivery area. Its 67 buildings (when I started 3 years ago, it was only 58) were built in annoying circular “phases”, and consequently have wildly different layouts and numbering schemes. The main problem, like I said, is the phases. You have to know which phase your building is in, and exactly how to get to that phase. Remember, this is a University campus we’re talking about, so there are other, non-residential buildings all over the place. Most of the phases only have one entrance. After a while, you realize that it’s way more simple than it looks, because if you can somehow reach the right phase, it’s a breeze to find the building, since there are only 3-12 buildings to a phase. Finding a parking spot can be a hazard, though, especially since the rent-a-cops prowling campus are known overticketer busybodies, and will make you pay if you park in the handicapped spots, which never have a car in them. What a city. Like I said, this campus is in Richardson, which hates cars.

My next delivery is to this massive Gotham-like complex, to a person listed as “VJ” on the ticket. He is almost certainly a foreign student, not only because of the name but also because he ordered his hot buffalo wings with a side order of buffalo sauce. No American would order a combo as taste-bud-obliterating as that. It’s no secret to the pizza industry: Foreigners like the hot food. But the buffalo sauce is supposed to be for the chickenstrips, not for the already sufficiently buffaloed wings. I guess this is what you do when your taste buds have been burned off and you can’t taste normal food anymore.

I get to the third-floor apartment of Buffalo VJ, and I am slightly out of breath as I rap my already-tender knuckles on the steel door. I can see after he opens the door that he is indeed from the Indo-Pak region. I can also see that VJ is doing whatever the opposite of “living large” is these days – living small? I see no furniture save a folding chair and a small end-table, which has papers piled on it. In the back I see a computer and a monitor, both on nothing but the deathship-gray carpeting. This is a VJ who is living simply. I give him his charge slip and pizza, and he signs it and tells me to wait. He goes back into the room with the computer and searches around for something (presumably a tip, since he didn’t leave one on the charge slip). He comes back in a few seconds with a shiny new dollar bill for me. Remember earlier in the night, when I was getting good tips? I am no longer able to remember that. I thank him as I plot his untimely demise. Not really, but what recourse do I have? He has broken the social contract at my expense, and the social contract gives me no way to recover my money. I mean, it’s not like there’s a tipping court. I can’t file a grievance. But I will remember VJ and his Buffalo-on-Buffalo behavior, and next time I will have such a sense of urgency when it comes to arriving at his sparsely-furnished apartment. It’s the only thing I can do.

Of course, I should probably forgive him and move on, since he most likely comes from a culture that doesn’t know any better. So you see my dilemma – people hurt me and think they’re helping me, and I can’t do anything about it anyway.

Delivery 7 (VJ Buffalo): Tip: $1.00, >5%.

PP has just switched to Pepsi products, which means I get to actually enjoy the free soda I drink. I understand that there are Coke people out there, and those people have just as valid a point of view as I, but they’re wrong. Mountain Dew is the Man, and Mello Yello is just Sprite that’s been colored optical tennis-ball yellow.

Night is falling harder and harder on the delivery area; I know I will get to go home soon. But first, I have to take a double going south, which is known as the Bad Direction in our delivery area. Remember how I was telling you that there are a wide variety of socio-economic classes in any 6mile X 4mile rectangle? Well, where I deliver, south=trashy danger, for the most part. I have heard stories of 5 delivery drivers in our area getting robbed since I began working at this PP (most were Domino’s drivers – go figure), and all of those robberies occurred south of our location. There are some nice areas in the far Southwest corner of things, but it’s mostly a big melting pot of people who look like they’re up to something. And I’m telling you this as a white male who grew up with no Mexicans around, ok? I’ll admit it: 20 Mexicans sitting in a parking lot for no reason may not be dangerous, but it sure seems like it is. However, if Mexicans hung out inside their apartments, not only would it drive them crazy, it would probably be more dangerous (with less eyeballs out there). It’s like some sort of prejudiced catch-22.

My first delivery is merely on the way to a bad neighborhood. The guy inside the house answers the door in a Pink Floyd T-shirt. I think about running the idea I had earlier about Echoes being the definitive Pink Floyd song past him, but that would be counterproductive, especially since he’s clearly high. Maybe that would make him more insightful, I don’t know. His eyes are red, and he’s some sort of overbearded neo-hippie. He even has a ponytail. The two quotes from him that confirm that he is indeed on pot:

“Like, what’s in the bag, man?” (pointing at the bag the pizzas are in)

“Yeah, fer sure, man.” (after I thank him)

I would estimate that in my area, about 60% of the after-9pm deliveries I take are to humans that are drunk, high, or both. Among the pot-high, tips vary like they do among normal people, but the drunk almost always tip big. Perhaps this is because of latent guilt over being drunk, I don’t know. For this reason, the Pizza Deliverer’s Union is totally against Prohibition, but has no official stance on marijuana legislation. Off the record, though, whoa nelly -- Somebody pass them a joint.

Delivery 8 (Mr. Weed): Tip: $2.66, 17%.

My second delivery is to the apartment complex known to me and me alone as Mirascumte. For all the apartments I hate, I come up with a “clever” name for them, usually replacing a syllable with the word “scum”, because that’s the way I feel inside. I feel inside like these people outside of me are scum for ordering pizza and sending me to their own personal hell-hole.

When I have to drive to an apartment complex like Mirascumte, I always look at a map and plot a precise route directly to the apartment, one that minimizes my on-foot time. Mirascumte is very easy to deal with (despite it’s Shaq-sized speed bumps) because it has a back entrance that leads me directly to the apartment I’m going to, and I can get in and get out like Sydney Bristow in Alias, without the hot outfits or the guns or Sloane bothering me. As I park in accordance with my plan, I notice a sign by the steps: “No Loitering on Steps”. That’s either a good or bad sign, I’m not really sure which. On the one hand, they’re trying to deal with the loitering problem; on the other hand, there is a loitering problem. I go up to the apartment, careful not to call attention to myself. There’s nothing worse than being south of the PP and hearing an idiot’s voice calling “HEY PIZZA MAN!!” It is a little bit fun to ignore them, but it’s still an icepick to the skull.

<>The “scum” who answers the door has a buttchin. I have a friend from High School nicknamed “Buttchin”, and I wonder to myself what he’s doing now. This buttchinned guy does his part in making sure my tips even out to about $3 per, like they usually do. Mirascumte…grr.
Delivery 9 (Buttchin): Tip: $1.62, 11%.

When a delivery driver gets back to the PP, he checks back in and his name goes into a “queue” based upon when the drivers got back. The driver on the top of the queue is “up”, and he has to take whatever delivery is on top. If he is to take a double or a triple, he needs to base it on the top delivery. When you are up, the top delivery is as inescapable as the proverbial death, taxes, and identity theft. I bring this up because when my next (and last) turn comes up, I go to the top of the delivery screen and staring me in the face is the one thing I don’t want to see – “Maham Rd.”

Maham Road has won many awards since its inception – most ghetto street in the already pretty ghetto surrounding area; most Hooches per square inch; most shadowy, dirty, and unsafe apartments on one street. It is lined from start to finish with the most sketchy apartments possible…

(excerpt from Maham Road: Why it Sucks, by me, copyright now.)

I see it up there, and I yell. I audibly yell, and groan, and generally act like a 12-year-old who doesn’t want to brush his teeth. There’s nowhere for me to hide – I must take this delivery. You should know, you people in the ghetto, what your ordering pizza does to the people who deliver to you. It crushes their wills and destroys their entire day. They could have been having the greatest day ever, and when they see your apartment at the top of that list, suddenly all that’s good in the world doesn’t matter anymore. Puppies, America, cheesecake, the NCAA Tournament – none of it matters. The universe has become a dark hand pointing at this one apartment. Do you enjoy making people feel crappy? You might protest this, saying, “It’s not my fault you’re prejudiced against me and my neighborhood – we have the right to order pizza if we want”. That’s really not the point, fool. We’re prejudiced against your neighborhood because of all the crime that happens there, and because of the horrible tips you give us. Get everyone there to stop doing crime and tipping badly, and we won’t groan when we see your delivery on the screen.

When I go to Maham Road at night, I activate my Stealth Delivery Procedure (patent pending), which consists of the following steps:

  1. As soon as I can, I duck down a dark street and take the lighted carsign off my car and put it in the back seat. I take the cable that’s connected to my car’s battery and carefully place it along the driver’s door on the floor of the car.
  2. Take off my baseball-style PP cap.
  3. Drive to the delivery, trying to look as mean as possible without making any eye contact with anyone.
  4. When I get to the complex (in this case, Copper Scum), I look for the building I’m going to, making sure I don’t arouse anyone’s suspicion by looking too intently.
  5. Leave hat off and walk swiftly to delivery from the car. Run back to car after delivery.
  6. Continue with the carsign and hat off until you clear the ghetto, and then duck down a dark street and place carsign exactly where it was.
  7. Laugh to self about how PP has no idea you did this, then cry to self about the subpar tip you just got

A word about Copper Scum, the apartments I’m going to: dark. It’s a maze of twisting roads, dim lights, and massive trees. I think the apartments probably come with a manual on how to hide in the shadows. Even though I’m whining about it, the delivery goes off without a hitch, mostly thanks to the Stealth Delivery Procedures I’ve developed. I see some teenagers, but they don’t seem to be up to any specific no-good. The person at the apartment is high, and this time I get the added bonus of being able to smell secondhand pot smoke. There’s a baby crying in the background, and I wonder to myself if the babies can get high off of secondhand pot smoke, and what a high baby would be like.

Delivery 10 (Copper Scum): Tip: $ 0.94, 4%.

I get back to the delivery place and experience the best part of my night: The going home. I’m tired, cranky, relieved, and a little less poor. My stats for the end of the night:

I took 10 deliveries (about average for a Sunday), made $28.89 in tips (almost 16%) plus the $6.50 I get from the PP (they pay me 65 cents a delivery). I have $35 in-pocket. This night has been perfectly average in every way. Thanks for experiencing it along with me. If I have stopped just one person from getting a job as a Delivery Driver, it’s all been worth it.

Friday, April 15, 2005

A Very Rare Specimen Indeed...

Not to beat y'all over the head with more Papa John's stories, but I needed to share this. Something happened to me on Wednesday night that has only happened twice before in my entire history of delivering pizza. No, it's not being seduced by a girl. That's only happened once.

I start this story with an average delivery at the end of my night...I went to this semi-ghetto apartment and knock on the door, surrounded on three sides by what appears to be garbage. A kid answers the door, he's maybe 13 years old. The bill is $45.42, and he hands me $48. A bigger kid, maybe 15, asks him (never speaking with me) how much he gave me, and the littler kid says "I don't know, like $46." The 15-year-old is like, this won't do at all, so he digs around for some more money. The little kid tells me to wait and they continue searching for some money. Finally the 15-year-old comes to the door and give me $10 and asks for $4 back. "Alright", I'm thinking. I hand him the 4 bucks, and I go back to the store. Good tip to end a crappy night, or so I'm thinking.

About 20 minutes later, a woman calls the manager (the one who's leaving in 9 days, btw) and yells at him because I took "$5 extra". She says "$48 is enough of a tip", and was wondering very loudly why I asked for more. I told the manager that I don't ask for tips, and they just gave me extra money. She complains for a while, and the manager finally tells me I have to go give her the $5 back. I was flabbergasted, but what could I do? This was only the third time in years and years of pizza delivery that I've had to give a tip back. My mind raced back to the first two:
  1. Scraggly man orders ham-pineapple pizza in Milwaukee, he receives pepperoni-pineapple pizza. It's understandable that he was upset (although the pepperoni-pinapple combo is not all that unusual among the taste-bud-less denizens of Dallas, especially if it involves jalapenos), but instead of getting his free extra correct pizza, he demands his check be returned to him by the driver, including tip. As I hand it to him, he says, "I don't mean to be an A__hole here," which helps cement on of my first rules of Human Interaction: Whenever someone starts a sentence with, "I don't mean to be a ____", you can know that they in fact do intend to be a ____.
  2. In Dallas, I deliver a pizza that's supposed to be "light sauce" to an apartment. A quiet and lovely woman answers the door and hands me a some money. Soon after, a crazy man calls the store and demands his money back because the pizza had too much sauce on it. He sends his punching bag (wife? sister? girlfriend?) to the store to return the pizza and get all of her money back. I hand her the money, and she says, "I'm sorry." I don't say a thing. This woman was starring in her own lifetime movie, and is probably dead now. I don't want to think about it. Anyway, we open the pizza box and find the pizza destroyed -- none of it was eaten, and the sauce and toppings were smeared all over the inside of the box, as if a human being had ripped them off the crust in a fit of rage.
So I drove back and the 15-year-old answers, and looks surprised. He says, "No, you just have to give 4 dollars back," and I do that. This (either resourceful or just dumb) 15-year-old has secured me two extra dollars, since he gave me six extra to begin with and only got 4 back. The woman ended up paying me $50 -- how she like me now?

This is one of those things like the Ray Allen Trade or the Work Vacation Time Fiasco of Aug. 2004 -- if I think about them, I will just get unstoppably angry, because I have no recourse in these situations. Had she just come to the door and handed me $50 like a normal cheap person, I would have forgotten about her and the garbage on her porch. But since she's insane, she's now on my blog. And don't get me started on the manager. He needs to tell that lady we don't refund tips, especially since he's leaving in 9 days. Papa John's has so ingrained a hatred of employees into his head that he can't even stick up for them when he has no chance of being disciplined.

Funny work e-mail of the day.

Hi everyone. From time to time I get an e-mail at work that I just have to share with you all. First, some examples of past e-mails:
(Computer Supplier) in June with the release of their new Web claim and order system referred to as "_____" will be requiring when applicable on all warranty parts replacements for the technician to provide the PC-Doctor failure code.
The thing is, this is very important information. Couldn't they put it into a clearer sentence than that? Then, there's the famous spell-check replacement error, the best example of which I received on 9/2/2004:
please forward this part back to (Computer Supplier) and email me tracking information and I will cc Jim so he is aware that part is coming back to him. Terrie processed this with an incorrect PO number and that is where the confusion came in I am sorry for the incontinence this may caused.
Now that's funny. In the same vein is an e-mail I received today, from the same lady who caused all the "incontinence" last September:
Please email me tracking information that part is going back to (Computer Supplier) on so I can update fiancé with this information so we will receive are credit on this part.
Where do I start? Of course, she means Finance. She misspelled it, Outlook put the accent on it automatically, and she didn't notice. She also leaves out a couple of definite articles, but maybe she's an ancient Greek? Oh, and she needs to revisit the whole "our"-"are" discussion from grade school. I don't mean to be snarky, but this is this the kind of woman I should be trusting to tell me what to do?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

All the News That's Fit to Mock

It's that time of week again. Don't you love it? How come nothing exciting ever happens on Wednesdays anymore? The top 4 stories on Google News are as follows: Some dude named John Ratzinger is looking strong in the Pope race (even though the conclave isn't voting yet); terror suspects are awaiting trial in England on charges they plotted to blow up Wall Street; Andrea Dworkin, of all people, died; 25,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Indonesia because they think a volcano might erupt. You have speculation, thwarted news, a death nobody cares about, and more speculation. It looks like it's time to dig like only I (and everyone else with the internet at their disposal) can.

Another non-story: Looks like your Crazy Uncle who won't use their credit cards on the internet was right to be afraid of identity theft, except for the fact that none of the "thousands of people affected" have reported any problems with their identities being thefted. Are the thieves just waiting around for the voices in their head to tell them what to do? Is it just one guy, who now has such a backlog of identities it will take him 4 years to get to them all? Just a thought.

The new album by Starflyer 59 is out. Hey, it's news. If I don't let you know, who will? The thing is, I have a bunch of those "free song" caps from 20-ounce bottles of Dew (8 and counting), and I would like to use them on this album. That would make me happy, especially since I've already replaced all the Joy Electric songs that were stolen from my car on a cold day in some month I can't remember right now. But even though the Starflyer album was released yesterday, ITunes is like, "It doesn't exist, holmes." I don't know why ITunes has to speak jive.

Japan is now joining in with Europe and the U.S. on the fun of legal action against music fans for sharing music with other people. I told you it was a slow news day. I just can't find anything. um, Britney Spears confirms what we all didn't care about: she's pregnant. Looks like it will be a while before she'll be able to fit into that schoolgirl uniform again. Let me state along with America that we don't trust this Federline guy's motives.

It's amazing how many people in Hollywood catch this disease. Somehow we thought Joaquin Pheonix was above all this, but no.

There's a City Council candidate in Mississippi who's signs are being stolen off the lawns of his supporters. Why? His name is Rick James. Of course, with a name like that who needs advertising?

And it's about dang time we started hunting cats. I'm so proud of my home state. I've always known that cats were a menace, and it looks like we are finally going to deal with our silent killer.

On that note, peace out.

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.

Working Hard, People

I've been working on a big piece describing my night of delivery on Sunday -- it's taking up all my writing time right now. Sunday night wasn't particularly interesting, but I needed to do something productive with that time, so I took notes and now I'm writing about it. We'll see how it looks after I'm done. I may post the whole thing, I might post it in installments, or I might just post excerpts. Here's and excerpt, to whet your appetite:

a fisher-price basketball hoop

It's going to be awesome! If I get it done by tomorrow, it may be the biggest blog posting day ever, with Wednesday being news day and all.

In other news, working so much is really beating me down, so if you're planning on hiring me to do something for you, you should do it now before my brain turns to jelly.

Three Underrated Movies:
1) Toys
2) Last Action Hero
3) Airplane II

Thank you for your support.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Incredibles -- Random Thoughts

I haven't really fleshed out all my thoughts on The Incredibles, and probably never will. It was a very thoughful movie, which is not something you expect from something made for kids. Here are some of the thoughts I had while watching:
  • The people in charge of casting the voices for this movie did a tremendous job, in particular their choices of Sarah Vowell as Violet and Jason Lee as Syndrome. I've always loved Jason's manic and exasperated voice, especially as the crazy lead singer in Almost Famous. He has an intensity that's perfect for comic-style animation. Sarah Vowell isn't even an actress(she's a radio host on NPR of all things), but she's perfect as Violet. Hearing Violet call Dash an "insect" was itself worth the price of admission. Everyone else is good, too, without being an obvious choice like Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy.
  • The set design and "look" of everything in the movie is AWESOME. You can sit there and look around at all the stuff, and not even pay attention to the story, and still have fun. Everything looks so cool, and that's really half the point of these 3-D animated features anyway, isn't it? The most impressive feature of the character models themselves is probably the hair. It totally looks like real hair! Syndrome is a bit over-the-top bad-guy-ish, but that's the only one I can think of that didn't just wow my ears off.
  • It has been mentioned before by many others (mostly due to the fact that I'm seeing this for the first time just now, almost a year after it came out), but I can't help nerdily pointing out that the powers of the Incredibles -- stretching, invisiblity/force fields, super-strength -- correspond exactly with the comic book super-team Fantastic Four (coming this summer to a theater near you, btw). Now, Bob isn't a big rock dude like the Thing, but he does have a rock-like look to him, particularly in the nose. And do you think it's a coincedence that when Syndrome grabs the baby at the end, the first thing it does is burst into flame? Human Torch, baby -- the last remaining piece of the Fantastic Four puzzle. Dash is the only one who doesn't fit in.
  • If you look up this movie on and go to the "trivia" section, you will find that there are hundreds of little references in the film to different comic books, movies, rooms at Pixar, etc. This, along with the awesome look and feel of the film, points to a zealous attention to detail. I don't have to tell you about the importance of this in making a good film, or even a good TV show. All the good ones have attention to detail as a hallmark. Plus, it makes things extra fun when you look for all the details. It also makes it enjoyable to watch again (which is something no doubt oodles of parents are thankful for, since their kids are going to want to watch this thing over and over again).
  • Much has been made of the themes of the movie, which are quite unusual for an a kids' adventure. For those who haven't seen it, I will spoil it by saying that the villain does what he does because of a vendetta against "supers", people who have natural super-human powers. He wants to be super himself, but he has no powers, so he works hard and comes up with all these inventions to get rid of all the superheroes and in the end defeat his creations and get the attention of being a superhero himself. He wants to make everyone a superhero, so he will later sell his inventions in order to make everyone a "superhero". He wants to make the exceptional normal, and so keep it from being exceptional. Now, as the story goes, the government has forbidden the "supers" from using their powers, and has put them in what looks like the Witness Protection Program and told them to live normal, quiet lives. The point of the movie seems to be that we should not try to marginalize, lock away, or minimize the exceptional. We should nurture and celebrate them so they can protect us from giant robots. There are the other family-type themes as well, but they're not as interesting to me. I don't know what all this means, but I'll keep thinking about it for a while, which is more than I could say about, say, Shrek II.
  • Most of what the philosophers are saying about this movie has to do with the Objectivism of Ayn Rand, which I hate. It's thankfully not an Objectivist movie, so let's forget this bullet point ever happened.
  • This was Pixar's first PG-rated project, and it features: kissing, real (3-D) danger, and the term "got bizzay", refering to having made babies.
  • This is a funny, smart, and rollicking movie. It actually rollicks. I'm starting to think that Eternal Sunshine and The Incredibles were the two best movies of 2004, and neither one of them were nominated for Best Picture. I am starting to, as they say, pity da foo. In this case, da foo is the Academy. I pity da foo dat nominates Ray.
I give it 4 1/2 out of 5 overpriced popcorns, and I can't really think of any good reason to dock it that half point other than it's animated and often not very subtle. So go see it, if you haven't already.