It’s gonna’ be $14.47, the big one’s for you, and the small one’s for us.
What? Two? Where do I sign?
You sign the little one, give the little one back, and keep the big one.
As I hand the barely-functioning man, who seems to be under the influence of a drug that must have been at least military grade, the two receipts and my pen, he opens the door wider, using it to prop up the receipt. I watch him try to scribble away at the now sweat-covered receipt. A noise catches my attention, and through the weathered and crooked door I notice a small table; items I had only seen used in episodes of Breaking Bad are spread out messily across it. Behind the table I see a barely-clothed, much larger woman. Sprawled out on the couch, she’s moaning words that only come across as noises that a dying whale would make. The man hands me back both receipts, looks at my pen, then back to me, then back to my pen, decides to keep it, and closes the door.
This was my second delivery, on my second day of work as a pizza delivery boy. And this was going to be the rest of my summer.
This establishment would become my home for my three months off. Most weekdays you could find me here, behind the counter, in the kitchen, or driving, working late into the night. I say late, because most of the time my shifts were from 5 p.m. to anywhere between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.. Fridays and Saturdays, I usually worked until at least 1 am.
What’s it like to be a pizza delivery boy?
To this question, I always give the appropriate response.
Imagine getting an ice cream cone on the hottest day of summer, and when you go in for the first lick it falls to the ground. Imagine having this wonderful dream job, and then you actually get it and you realize that life is meaningless and your dream is dead. Imagine dying slowly.
I have come across nothing worse in my life than working in the pizza business. Solely for three simple reasons:
- People show you no respect.
- Your schedule is broken, and you don’t really know the hours you’ll be working.
- For actually working quite a bit, you’re getting paid about nothing.
Number one: I have witnessed no respect. I’ve been in a middle school sex ed class, I have seen a proud liberal in a room full of conservatives (and vice versa), and I have seen a punk on the sidewalk skate past an old woman and snark at her, telling her that she smelled like dust. Compared to the way I was treated as a pizza delivery boy, being called dust is a gift from God. The boss doesn’t respect you. The customer doesn’t respect you. People on the road don’t respect you. And eventually, you don’t respect you. Actually, the only people who do respect you are your fellow drivers, and only because they know what it’s like to be you. Respect is key in any form of business, and this business, this lock is either so broken no key will turn it, or someone has swallowed the key and won’t cough it back up.
Imagine working the night shift: it’s about 1:40 a.m. and at this point it’s just you and the manager, who we’ll call Bobby. You’re looking to close at 2:00 a.m.. You begin the rituals: washing dishes, mopping the floor, making everything look nice and tidy, and finish at about 1:55. At 1:57, you get a phone call, and because the customer’s always right, you have to deliver it. One twelve piece wings, mild sauce, ranch on the side, and a serving of Cinna-Stix. It’s some college kid at University of Richmond, the worst place you could ever deliver to. You arrive at U. of R. around 2:25 a.m., and with construction going on, getting to the customer’s room is harder and more confusing than usual. You make it to the building, but can’t go up the stairs without a buzz. You call the customer’s phone. No answer. You call again. Still no answer. You call for the third time, and on the third time Chad, or whatever-his-name-is, ends the call after the first ring. You call Bobby, and he makes you wait outside the dorm while he tries to get in touch with the customer, and after standing outside for a good twenty minutes Bobby decides, “He’s probably not gonna’ let you in.” You drive back with those wings, and when you get back to the store Bobby takes them, eats them in your face, and makes you sweep the floors before allowing you to clock out. You get home around 3:10 a.m.
The second reason this job is as bad as burning your hand on the oven, which happens more often than you’d think, are hours. Any job should always come with a secure schedule. As a pizza delivery boy, your schedule is almost nonexistent. You only know your hours if you call in, because the boss is too lazy to actually text you the schedule. Even when you call, the paper copy is sometimes still not there, and you have to wing it. When you actually do get your schedule, you still don’t really have your hours. Your older co-workers decide that, while you are a member of this team, this select, elite team of drivers, your scheduled hours don’t matter as much as theirs. In fact, your hours matter so little, they decide they can take your hours for themselves, and the boss won’t do anything about it.
Imagine informing your boss, whom we’ll call Johnny, you won’t be able to work today; you have an interview at CNU, and you’re taking a day trip. Johnny says this is fine, and not to worry about it. The interview goes great, and your spirits have never been higher. To celebrate, you stop for food with your mom at a nice, homey little restaurant. It’s while you’re taking that first bite out of your sub that that the table starts to buzz. Incoming call from Johnny. Johnny’s demanding you come in because they’re short-staffed. Even after you’ve explained that you’re two hours away, and that he already said you didn’t have to work, you still have to work. Johnny doesn’t seem to care. Johnny forces you to fly past the cars neighboring you. You burst through the front door of your home, quickly grabbing your awful, sweat- and pizza-dough-covered work shirt, and you sprint back out to your car, worried you’ll be fired because Johnny seemed particularly irate. You arrive to the store at 6:59 p.m., a minute before Johnny told you to get there. Johnny is nowhere to be found. Bobby the manager tells you to go home and that another driver, whom we’ll call Tommy, is going to take your place. You explain to Bobby that Johnny told you to come in and work, but Bobby says he doesn’t care what Johnny said, and that Tommy is going to be working your shift instead. Tommy works the hours you were scheduled to work, because he’s older than you and you shouldn’t argue with the older staff, and Bobby sends you home. Your day trip is ruined, you don’t get paid for the hours you were scheduled for, and you don’t hear back from Johnny.
Reason number three: money. Money is the driving force for employment. Obviously. But money in this particular business seems as rare as somebody actually ordering anchovies on their pizza. As a working teenager, at most of the workplaces you end up you’ll find you’re the youngest employee. Because you’re young, coworkers will sometimes treat you unfairly. This is typical of any job, but this job especially. You make most of your money off tips from your deliveries, so it can get competitive at times. If there’s a big order, like a Capital One order, over $180, you can bet your minimum wage-working, marinara-covered behind that your coworkers will weasel their way into taking it. Which is fine. Sure, you’re working, but you’re still just a kid, so who cares if you don’t get the big tip. That’s fine. It’s ragu. Being paid minimum wage and then less than that, however, is not ragu at all. As a driver, your paycheck is unique. You’re paid by the hour, but you’re paid by two different hours: hours in store, and hours on the road. For every hour you’re clocked in store, you’ll get paid the minimum wage, which for Virginia is $7.25. For every hour you’re clocked out on the road, you’ll get paid $4.25. On a good night, a seven hour shift, you’ll have about three hours total on the road. So, for seven hours your paycheck for the day comes out just under $42, at $41.75. Working seven hours on a regular minimum wage would bring you to $50.75.
Now imagine being a 37-year-old man, as one of my co-workers was, working as a pizza delivery boy. This is your only job, and you’re providing for your wife and your two kids. You’re working about seven to eight hours a day, making about $41.75 to $49, plus about $15 in tips. A total of at most around $64 a day. You try to work the bigger deliveries for the bigger tips, but your co-workers obviously aren’t going to let you have them all. On a lot of the deliveries, you’re not tipped at all. This is your only source of income, for you and your family. Some days because there are so many different available drivers, your hours are swapped, and Johnny doesn’t allow you to work that day. This is your life.