As the year gets warmed up, and we prepare ourselves for another neverending political cycle, I would like to draw your attention to the two best pieces I read over the break. You may have already read them, because they were everywhere for a couple of days, but if haven’t yet, they’re excellent and instructive.
The first comes from Austin Murphy, a writer at Sports Illustrated for 33 damn years before he got laid off. Now, he’s a 57-year-old delivery driver for Amazon. It’s a possible glimpse into the future for many of us (unfortunately, as Seth reminded me, my poor sense of direction and marginal driving skills disqualify me from delivering anything anywhere).
It’s an incredible piece, almost as though it were written by someone with over 30 years of writing experience! It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Murphy, although he never asks for it. He simply describes what it’s like to be a package delivery driver, and he finds a great hook upon which to hang the piece: The need to pee.
Little did I know, while delivering that drug-test sample, that this most basic of human needs—relieving oneself—would emerge as one of the more pressing challenges faced by all “delivery associates,” especially those of us crowding 60. An honest recounting of this job must include my sometimes frantic searches for a place to answer nature’s call.
… The google search Amazon driver urinates summons a cavalcade of caught-in-the-act videos depicting poor saps, since fired, who simply couldn’t hold it any longer. While their decision to pee in the side yard—or on the front porch!—of a customer is not excusable, it is, to those of us in the Order of the Arrow (my made-up name for Amazon delivery associates), understandable.
Murphy, I should add, is better off than most who lose their careers after over 30 years — his wife is well off, and he took the job in order to gain approval for a necessary loan. Mostly, though, I came away from the piece thinking that I should offer the delivery drivers who come to my house free reign of the facilities. It’s the least we can do.
The other piece, over on Huffington Post, was more harrowing. It’s about a “cable guy” (actually a woman named Lauren Hough) who spent several years dealing with hostile customers and, coincidentally, searching for a place to pee. Her tales are darker, although she somehow finds the humor in some of it — she had to work inside the homes of strangers, deal with spiders, sexual assault, and angry people who lost access to Fox News.
I was filling out the work orders and emailing my supervisor to give him a heads-up on a possible call from a member of every cable tech’s favorite rage cult, when his wife knocked on my van window. She stepped back and called me “ma’am.” Which was nice. Her husband with the tucked-in polo shirt had asked my name and I told him Lauren. He heard Lawrence because it fit what he saw and asked if he could call me Larry. Guys like that use your name as a weapon. “Larry, explain to me why I had to sit around here from 1 to 3 waiting on you and you show up at 3:17. Does that seem like good customer service to you, Larry? And now you’re telling 7 to 10 days? Larry, I’m getting really tired of hearing this shit.” Guys like that, it was safer to just let them think I was a man.
She said she was sorry about him. I said, “It’s fine.” I said there really wasn’t anything I could do. She blinked back the flood of tears she’d been holding since God knows when. She said, “It’s just, when he has Fox, he has Obama to hate. If he doesn’t have that …” She kept looking over her shoulder. She was terrified of him. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I just need him to have Fox.” I got out of my van.
Hough spent a lot of time in the belly of the beast — she could spot kids who have been beaten by their fathers, and once had to go into a basement where a man was being held in a cage — a sex thing, not a kidnapping thing. The good news, she added, is that sex workers tip well. And apparently, customers who are high on marijuana are the best customers.
My takeaway from that piece? Never complain if the cable tech misses the time window and tip. I genuinely didn’t realize that tips were expected, but given the grief they have to go through, it’s definitely deserved.
At any rate, I think both pieces were instructive on a number of levels. I had no idea, for instance, what the day-to-day looked like for a delivery driver or a cable tech, and both pieces went a long way toward humanizing those positions. But I also think that it’s helpful for writers to have had experiences like these because those perspectives can offer a lot to their writing. Preferably, however, those experiences come before a 30-year career, and not after (and when ad rates return later this year, please do pitch me your Starbucks barista or Trader Joe’s cashier or cruise ship wait staff stories or those jobs where you’re promised $25 an hour on a flyer only to discover it’s an MLM scheme — as someone who held a number of those positions back in the day, I’d absolutely love a well-written account).
Header Image Source: Getty