The message “Order ready” flashes across the screen overhead. Giant cardboard boxes wait on the counter, quarter pounders loudly declaring themselves in the center and fries spilling out from the grease-stained edges. Condensation drips down the soft drink paper cups, mirroring the beads of sweat on employees’ foreheads. All wearing black visors, they scamper from one end of the kitchen space to another.
Little children pound against the plastic display containing the toys that come inside the kids’ meals. Some point to the ones they want: a Pua plush toy from Moana. A Bratz doll. Plastic Day of the Dead altars from Coco. Their anticipatory enthusiasm reminds me of how excited I too used to get about kids’ meal toys back in the ’90s. The Poke-balls we could strap to our belt loops. The Rugrats theme park where each individual toy was a ride. Get enough rides and they all fit together like puzzle pieces to create a giant amusement park.
All of these customers and workers (and now, me as well) are either knowingly or unknowingly keeping alive the vision of Ray Crock, the man who weaseled his way into the Dick and Mack McDonald brothers’ dream, co-opting it and mutating it into the fast food conglomerate that it is today.
In addition to driving passengers, I also delivered Uber Eats for a period of time. This scene was from (as you likely already guessed) McDonalds, where, to my displeasured surprise, a substantial portion of delivery requests came from. In general though, socializing with human passengers could at times drain my energy, so it was often a relief to see a request come in with the little picture of the cup and straw (indicating that my passenger would be a meal rather than a person).
Uber Eats can be quite the mixed bag. Among the deliveries I made were a bucket of cookie dough to a customer in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood; a thirty-pack of hard ciders to a very thirsty man; and a bouquet of flowers to their lucky and loved recipient in the outer Sunset.
Alone time. The week of the Sonoma fires—when air was extremely polluted and experts warned people to spend minimal time outside, the number of Uber Delivery orders soared. I spent more time that week driving hamburger, pizza and sushi roll passengers than [I had] any other week prior. And I found it so relaxing.
I reveled in the time granted to spend alone in the safety and comfort of my car; taking full advantage of it to listen to podcasts, record voice memos, and talk on the phone with friends while the comforting aroma of a customer’s chicken tika masala taunted me from one seat over.
Having that time was especially helpful when studying for my medical Spanish test, since I could accomplish two tasks at once by listening to medical vocabulary podcasts with the smell of garlicy curly fries perfuming the air around me.
Sometimes there will be as many as ten Uber Delivery requests back to back. That meant a nice old chunk of alone time and lots of opportunities to fill that silence with Spanish podcasts.
The downside to this: by the time the chain of delivery requests was broken by a traditional Uber one, going back to driving live humans again could prove to be… a bit of a transition (see photo above).
*Freedom to pull over and write things down. As I’ve mentioned in past entries, a lot of the time my ideas for the blog or other writing came to me while engaged in another activity like driving, running, or taking a shower. When this happened I tried to record the ideas in the voice memo or Notes section of my iPhone as soon as they landed in my mind, so as not to lose them. A passenger’s presence in the car limited my ability to do this—but pizzas and pad Thais have fewer qualms with this behavior. This meant I could pull over to the side of the road when convenient, and quickly jot the idea down.
*Guaranteed bathroom and water breaks. When driving Lyft, certain basic needs—such as stretching your legs, getting out and walking around, or refilling your water bottle—can’t always be immediately satisfied.
Sometimes the closest gas station is five or ten minutes away, so drivers are spending extra (unpaid) time driving just to fulfill these basic needs. Accepting Uber Delivery requests guarantees you a spot to do your business and rehydrate, without having to go out of your way (or spend your personal time) navigating in pursuit of one. Many of the businesses I picked up food from were happy to refill my water bottle and let me use their bathroom.
*My car becomes an international food court (accompanied by delicious smells).
I’ll show rather than tell here:
Sometimes, with the bagged meal jostling around on the passenger seat as I drove, I’d worry about not delivering the food in the same condition it came in. I’d worry about it spilling, or rearranging itself into an unflattering appearance (especially if it began as a pristine creation).
I’d think ahead to the angry customer and picture myself trying to redirect his anger from me to the potholes. Then immediately after I’d feel like someone who couldn’t handle taking any responsibility and constantly has to scapegoat.
To solve this and prevent any spillage or food content rearranging, I ended up buying a large plastic box, which the meals rested happily inside from then on out.
*If you’re not discriminating with your “yes’s, you’ll make very little money.
Not that Uber delivery drivers ever make a ton of money—but accepting indiscriminately can really put you in the red. Especially in the beginning when there we fewer Uber delivery drivers than regular Uber drivers, requests coming in tended to be from restaurants located relatively far away (compared to your average passenger request).
Drivers don’t get reimbursed for the time spent driving to the restaurant. The only payment they receive is for the amount of time the food or passenger spends inside the car. One or two trips to a farther away than average restaurant aren’t huge financial setbacks, but a back to back succession of them can add up to become one (if, let’s say each restaurant is 15 minutes away, within six trips a driver has already donated an hour of their time).
You also have to factor in time spent parking and waiting at the restaurant for the food, which is also unreimbursed.
*Locations can be hard to find; restaurants aren’t always marked.
Sometimes the restaurants are not clearly labeled, or have no sign at all. I remember one time I crossed paths with another Uber Eats driver, who was looking for the same fried chicken restaurant that I was. We ended up walking (side by side) up and down the street for 25 minutes in search of it, our faces barely containing our shared displeasure as the wind blew against them.
“They do not pay me enough for this!” he bemoaned, throwing his arms into the air in justified exasperation.
Eventually, we ended up finding the restaurant—tucked into the back of the lot we’d both parked in, and completely unmarked.
*Annoying customers, difficulty finding parking.
One girl asked me to bring her the food to the 14th floor when the elevator wasn’t working, in a neighborhood with very few available parking spots. *See my other entries for the longer, more fleshed-out story.
I could’ve just said no. Custoemrs have power though. Some expect to be treated like kings, and anything less than that will result in them taking an ax to your rating.
In some of my nightmares, I’m plagued by monsters. In this dream though, I was the monster.
For reasons unknown to me, I had not eaten in days, and was now starving. So instead of delivering the Uber Eats orders I’d just retrieved from the restaurants to their rightful customers, I hoarded them to myself.
Pulled over in my car, I was just about ready to begin devouring. First I tore open the aluminum foil of a chicken tika masala burrito. Then I sank my teeth into a cheesy slice of Little Star pizza.
By the time I’d begun twirling udon noodles onto my plastic fork, sirens were sounding in the distance. They grew louder with each bite that I took. Suspecting they might be for me, I dropped the food down on the seat to my right and started the car. The police cars followed on my heels.
The chase ended with me in handcuffs. Outside my car, every Uber Eats client I had pilfered food from stood in a line, identifying the remnants of whichever order had been theirs.
Of his half-eaten Pho, a tech guy lamented: “The Google kitchen’s been closed all week, too. I was really looking forward to that.” **Many tech companies provide free meals to their employees on a daily basis.
Releasing me from the handcuffs, the police officer set a timer on the billboard above all of our heads. He told me I was to drive back to all the restaurants and recover every order I’d stolen before the timer reached zero. Only then would I avoid jail time.
I wake up before I can gauge my success at this task.
*Thanks for reading! Follow us on IG @lyft_tales