The Guy You Thank Through the Closed Door. Essential Worker Profile #4

E. is a veteran and a recent graduate of film school.  Bravely joining students half his age and making a thesis film about being reunited with his son.  He’s famous for his buoyant sense of optimism and lightheartedness.    Here he describes his day-to-day delivering for Doordash in the Northwest San Fernando Valley.

“I put on the work gloves and a handkerchief I have in the kitchen – one that says, “I love you,” I got left over from Valentines.  I would cover myself from head to toe – was a little bit in fear… When I was doing deliveries in the beginning, I was cautious, but I don’t think I was in gratitude so much. I would get a lot of those three-dollar deliveries and wouldn’t accept them.  I would only accept eight- or nine-dollar deliveries, but then, one day – I heard the news that in my apartment someone tested positive.  It was the moment I paused…”

“And I did a delivery that day.  Someone was so grateful I was able to do a delivery.  That it kinda sorta changed how I was looking at it…Oh, I can be of service this way.  That is interesting. So, I started doing the three-dollar orders, ’cause maybe someone doesn’t have the money  to pay more than that.  Especially with everything that is happening.  Which led to more tips.  Like I gotta nine-dollar tip. On a three-dollar deal.  It doesn’t always work out… I still don’t accept anything less than three dollars, ’cause business-wise it doesn’t make sense.

For those unaware of the devil math of the modern app based rake – believe me, they stick it to the delivery people, the stores, and the customers.  For drivers– The price -per-mile is often at or below the standard deduction you would use on your income tax return. He breaks it down further:

“Seven miles for three dollars…?  Which is really like fourteen miles, ’cause you have to go there and back, you know… it doesn’t add up.  Business-wise.  I try not to do three dollars for three miles ’cause then I lose money.  Paying for gas and the car.  But I’ll accept a three-dollar order for 1.5 miles.  If it is on my way to another delivery, I’ll do it. ”

“Lately (the delivery charge) has gone up.  Everyone’s drinking alcohol.  So, I’m delivering a lot of alcohol.  I deliver from a place called Total Wine. A lot.  It will say 12 dollars delivery charge – but I know, that for whatever reason – people who order alcohol love to tip – the lowest you get is a twenty-dollar tip for booze.  One time I made fifty-five dollars.  Go figure.  They’ll order cases – whether it’s like… hard spirits and beer, cases of beer, along with a case of wine…”

“And then there’s basic foods.  Like Chili’s.  Where we will wait outside in our cars- we don’t even go in anymore- and they bring the food to us. Same as Wood Ranch, Red Robin – people don’t make contact at all.  Basically, I deliver from the restaurants, where I don’t go inside, and then I drop off at the door.  And sometimes there is a little note that says, ‘thank you, worker,’ or, ‘thank you for what you are doing.’ And I really appreciate that.   It makes me feel – that I am doing something for people who really won’t go out of their house.  And I do it without so much fear now.  I feel better about it since I started feeling grateful… I still put my gloves on and my mask on, and when I get home I take off all my clothes – I air dry my mask… with a hair dryer… I do what I can do ’cause I have a four-year-old, you know.. I do what I can control.”

“I tend to call customers on apartment buildings ’cause they are difficult to get into, and what I hear now,  it can exist in the air; so… I try to meet them outside the building.  I just deliver out front now.”

“I deliver to what was a college town, by CSUN (Cal State- Northridge)… by the dorms, but the dorms are now empty, which is weird,  and I deliver at Porter Ranch, and that’s a nice little drive, and I leave it at the houses, you know.  I hear, ‘thank you,’ from the inside of doors.  As I’m dropping off I hear a muted thank you and the kids echo, ‘thank you,’ and it’s adorable.”

“Reseda and Northridge.  People and families – usually, I don’t see any people.  The other day, I was leaving at the door, and I saw a lady come out, and she was not able to pick up her order and– I can’t help myself – I help her get her order in the door.  Whatever I can do to make it easier.”

“I used to take my girlfriend with me, before,  but I don’t anymore. Or my son. Before all this.  The big deliveries – catering companies, things like that, sometimes I would have my son,  so I take him out with me, and he’s four-years-old, and he carries some of the utensils, and they say,  ‘look at our little worker!’ And they give him a little tip.  My little mascot… he looks adorable.  I used to do that.  But I don’t get to do that no more.”

“I listen to different music.  I’ll listen to N.W.A. from back in the day, to country music — Don Williams and Dolly Partner,  retro Techno, then we’ll go back to EMINEM and Metallica… It depends.  And sometimes the meditative stuff;  some good mind-altering  alpha waves… while I’m delivering.  Sometimes, I just want it to be quiet.   And it’s relaxing.  Or the Black-eyed Peas will be going, “Tonight Is Gonna Be A Good Night” when there nothing to do that night.  … I been caught rocking out in my car by a couple people and they just watch me – well, what are you gonna do. ”

He explained the next part as if traffic I never encountered before.  It did feel oddly foreign to me in this new normal. 

“Before, when there was a lot of traffic, sometimes it took a while to make a delivery and I would only do the weekends, and on the other side (of the hill in Hollywood, or etc)  you can’t park anywhere… but lately, after the Covid,  there’s times when there is nobody around.  On Devonshire… in the evening … and you’d only see one or two cars. All alone.  And the only cars you see are probably delivery drivers, too.  It’s a trip.”

“In Porter Ranch, I like it when you go up there at night, and you get a view of the whole valley.  All the lights.   I’d like to stop and just look – it’s a beautiful view but I don’t stop, wish I would though. But I don’t.”

“Today, I go from three pm to ten pm.  I like to do the evenings a lot more.  I try to hit the rush hours between 5 and 8.30 pm.  Go to a certain spot.  And there will be days where I just start from my place and wait till I get an order.  And head on out.  I usually love Sundays because that is when we get the most orders.  I  take Mondays and Tuesdays off.  And usually do Wednesday through Sunday.   Yeah, but the best days have always been Sundays.  It’s just been a great day.  They stop from one to four, but then start ordering again. Even when things were… normal, there wasn’t a lot of traffic – but now…”

“You know, it’s not the career I want, but it’s not stressful.  And on some days, it can be okay. You zone out. Sundays are my favorite. Let’s put it that way.  If I were to become a millionaire I would still go out and deliver on a Sunday. Go out and deliver some things on Sunday.  Go out and deliver a pizza.”

“It’s not like you meditate, but you are in a place of peace.  It’s hard to describe.  It’s not always like that, but Sundays… and, you know, I think lately with everything… Here’s the thing: you are in the car by yourself.  And your head gets to you…”

I once heard it called windshield time by a truck driver I knew.  A thing.  Like every job, there is a callus. 

“And sometimes… you’re having an argument with someone who isn’t there, you know…? But, for the most part, it is a place to zone out and be like….One.”

“Before this whole Covid,  I felt people were really ungrateful for what you did.  You would feel the snobbishness.  Not appreciative.  One thing was always a pet peeve… it was the whole tip thing.  The app showed me whether they tip or not, you know.   I don’t care if it is twenty-five cents,  but when you don’t tip at all… I feel it is such a slap in the face.  Twenty-five cents or fifteen dollars, fifteen makes me want to work harder, of course, but even if you don’t have anything… a dollar…? What’s a dollar…?  But, when you don’t tip anything… you are not showing any consideration for the driver out there.  And that is why I would cancel on the three dollar orders ’cause it usually meant they wouldn’t tip.”

“I got three deliveries at the same time.  One time.  Cause they were low on drivers – I did a complete mix up and gave the wrong delivery to the different people… and I felt so bad about that.  One of the people I delivered to was super nice – and the other one was a teenager and snooty, and no matter how much I apologized, she said “how can you do such a thing,’ made me feel like a chimp.”

“Stuff like that I never understood.  People make mistakes, I took responsibility.  I even told them, you don’t have to pay me, I just want to fix it.  One time I spilled stuff, it was all over the bag, and I didn’t see it, and you have to man up.  I almost delivered a thousand – close to a thousand– nine hundred deliveries.  I’ve had my mistakes here and there – but less than fifteen, for sure.  I only remember three of them.”

“The tipping has been better recently.  People have been more appreciative. I mean, I want things to go back to the way it was before, obviously, but… it has been easier.”




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