How I Get By: Een dag uit het leven van een bezorger tijdens Coronavirus Panicmaart 18, 2020
Everybody looks at me now like I’m a rat during the bubonic plague. I mean, I’m a bike messenger; normally they probably think of me as a disgusting person. But this is way worse. I ride for DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Postmates in Philadelphia. That’s not really the way you’re supposed to do it—all at once—but it was one of the ways you could make money fast, before the coronavirus.
Saturday nights are usually super busy obviously, but this past one wasn’t. That was the first day I realized that I wasn’t bringing in as much money as I usually do. I typically make around $50 a shift, usually $100 during dinner if it’s decently busy—from about 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.—but I made maybe $60 that whole day. And it was the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, too; some restaurants were beginning to voluntarily shut down, but they technically didn’t have to yet. College students were still partying and going to bars. They didn’t seem to give a fuck. That night, I went to pick up a taco from a place, and the chef was annoyed that they had a delivery order because he wanted his boss to shut the joint down. He’s saying this to his co-workers, as I’m just sitting there, waiting for the food.
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The restaurants, though, have been super appreciative. They all ask me how I’m doing, and if I’m still making any money. A lot of them tell me that they think people don’t realize they’re open. The fact that some of them are still open for takeout is just an afterthought. At the moment, it seems like everybody just thinks Chipotle is the only thing open. All these restaurants are fucked; the workers are all afraid of either getting sick or not going back to work. The employees weren’t talking about anything else. The only places that aren’t fucked are big chains. Chipotle can offer free delivery because it has enough resources to do that.
[Editor’s Note: DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Postmates have recently all made changes to their businesses in an attempt to keep customers safe and restaurants afloat. DoorDash has waived commission it usually charges restaurants for 30 days and helping deliver food to those in need; Uber Eats, along with also waiving commission feeds, has pledged to provide 300,000 meals to health care workers and others on the front lines of the outbreak; and Postmates, while providing some commission-free meals, is rolling out “non-contact deliveries” to prevent close interaction among workers and customers.]
Also, it seems as if a lot of the fancier restaurants have shut down because they’re not staying open just to do takeout. But those were always the good orders. You’re delivering to clientele more likely to tip you because they have higher incomes; now I’m delivering fucking Papa John’s, and you know you’re not getting tipped on any fast casual or fast food. Fair enough.
I thought that most people would be appreciative of me for doing this. I thought I’d be getting fat-ass tips. I’m not getting fat-ass tips. I don’t even think people are thinking about it. Maybe for them the switch is, they would have gone out to lunch or dinner, but now they have to settle for fucking delivery. Or the people who might have usually gotten delivery are now cooking. There’s a whole hierarchy of disappointed diners, I’m sure of it.
I’ve had maybe one or two that said, “Thank you, Matt,” and used my name, which was new and nice. But more often than not, I think they want me gone because they’re worried I’m going to infect them.
On Monday, Philadelphia announced that it would limit all restaurants to takeout and delivery at 5 p.m. I delivered for both lunch and dinner, before and after that went into effect.
First Stop: A Diner
I started at about 12:30 p.m., 1 o’clock. There was only one guy in there. It was dead-ass quiet; the only thing you could hear was the news playing. A really friendly Philly woman gave me the food. I opened the door with my gloves on. So the only thing I have touched, with my gloves on, is the handle of the food bag. I delivered it to a pretty empty office building. The woman who ordered the food was careful not to touch my hands when I passed her the bag
Second Stop: A Chinese Restaurant
The restaurant was barren, and there was a sign on the door that said, “Only to Go.” A woman wearing a surgical mask pointed at the bag I was supposed to grab. I delivered it to the front door of a fancy apartment complex in Center City. The guy was in pajama pants and a surgical mask. I really can’t tell who’s sick, or who is working from home in their pajamas and taking precautions when they step out of their apartment. And normally more upper-class people make me go up to their apartment door. Not today.
Third Stop: Chipotle
This had the most people in it by far. I guess it isn’t hard to be more than zero or one, but there were about 10 people, acting like you do in a Chipotle: eating, talking, eating burritos. I saw another courier and gave him the customary head nod. This is where I washed my hands, too. I decided that I would wash my hands at every third restaurant.
Fourth Stop: A Korean Restaurant
I picked up some Korean food before dropping off the burrito. They were playing that song about piña coladas, and people were eating in there. I had to sit and wait for a bit, because the food wasn’t ready yet. I did wonder if people didn’t want their food mixed—like, I put the bag of Korean food in my backpack along with the burrito I had grabbed earlier. No one told me not to.
I delivered the burrito to a finance bro in a high-end building. He came down to the lobby wearing basketball shorts and a peacoat. He was also on a conference call. He said something to the effect of, “Thanks, brother.”
I went to another fancy apartment complex to drop off the Korean food. The guy at the front desk told me to bring it up to the person on the seventh floor, but when I got in the elevator, I called the customer. He said that he’d prefer I leave it downstairs. So I took the elevator back down and left it at the front desk. That’s never happened before.
Fifth Stop: A Burger Joint
Dinner time, around 7 p.m. It was dark inside, except for the menu lights behind the counter. There were maybe eight kids who worked there just sitting at the tables, just fucking around. You had to knock on the door—it looked closed—and they came out with the food. I chatted with another bike courier named Dave. It was his first day ever. He was a nice guy, but clearly it got me wondering how many other people were looking at this as an opportunity. Like, delivery is a way to still make some cash. He was just shoving the food into a tiny backpack.
Also, I’ve realized the only people outside seem to be people walking their dogs.
Sixth Stop: A Fancy Mac and Cheese Spot
At this place, for an additional fee, you can get CBD hot sauce added to your macaroni. It’s that kind of joint.
The woman behind the counter didn’t know if she had all the exact ingredients to make the customer’s food, but she said that she really needed the business. Fuck it. Now isn’t the time for everybody to get exactly what they want. She put on a disposable glove to swipe the debit card, and then asked if I’d let everybody in Philly know that she is open for delivery and takeout—especially when people get tired of cooking their own food.
When I delivered this food, it was like a hostage negotiation. I called the customer, and he told me to put the meal on the stoop as close to the door as possible. Then I watched him open the door about halfway, look at me, and snag the food as quickly as he could.
This article has been lightly edited for clarity.