5 Ways Delivering Food Is Like Living in a Tarantino Movie
The first job I ever had was working as a delivery driver for Mr. M's, the shadiest sandwich shop in the history of creation. "Mr. M's sure is a strange name for a sandwich shop!" you might be saying to yourself, and I couldn't agree more. The only reason the place was named Mr. M's is because the business that was there before us was a sub shop called Mr. Jim's, and my manager cunningly realized that it is far cheaper to simply remove two letters from the sign than buy a whole new one. The front of the building literally read "Mr. __m's", with the eerily naked spacing of those two missing letters staring out at you like a photo in a child's obituary, demanding to know how the world could've allowed this to happen. That sentence also describes what it was like to work there for a summer.
Here are five of the most terrifying misadventures I had as a delivery driver for the most nefarious restaurant ever built.
Nothing About My Employment Was Legal and Everyone Thought I Was a Murderer
I got the job because I happened to see a Help Wanted sign in the window and walked in to ask about it. The manager looked like Ted DiBiase if he'd blown his knees out, nursed himself back to health on nothing but meatball subs, and then choked a man to death over a poker game. The interview he gave me consisted of two questions -- "Do you have a car?" and "Can you start tonight?" This was roughly the same interview process faced by Dennis Haysbert in Heat.
I answered "yes" to both questions, so I started that night -- he just handed me a stack of cash and sent me out to deliver sandwiches until 2 o' clock in the morning. He didn't even check to make sure I had a driver's license. For the first two weeks I worked there, the manager knew literally nothing about me beyond my first name and a general description he could provide the police in the event of my disappearance. He didn't ask for my last name, my address, or my phone number until the day he gave me my first paycheck, which I watched him type up on a personal computer in the back office. Incidentally, the "back office" was a balsa wood hobbit hut he had constructed for himself next to the fire exit behind the kitchen. It occurs to me now that in all likelihood I was never an official employee.
For example, this is pretty much what every payday looked like.
Because I was a 150-pound teenager who had never worked anywhere before, I did my best to say as little as possible to anyone so that I would seem cool and mature. This resulted in everyone referring to me as "the serial killer" and assuming that I was on all of the drugs in the universe. So if you called in a sandwich order to Mr. M's late one Saturday night, you'd hear the guy taking your order shout out "Hey, we got another delivery for the serial killer!" just before he hung up the phone.
When an impending shutdown finally forced us all to go get food handler's cards, it consisted of us driving 30 minutes out to a rec center on the opposite side of the city and watching an instructional video from 1993 starring a bunch of 12-year-old children offering helpful tidbits like "Don't bleed in the soup" and "You can't serve gray meat." I have no idea what audience this video was intended for, but I watched intently to see if any of the kids were trying to blink "Save us" in Morse code.
I Constantly Walked in on People Masturbating and/or Having Sex
At least once a week I would show up at a customer's house and be told to wait in the front hall (or occasionally the living room) while they disappeared to get their money, and I would be standing in full view of someone either hunched over a computer wrestling out a psychotic orgasm or manhandling the genitalia of a fellow human being. Without fail, every single person I saw doing this had a face like moldy chewing tobacco. "Delivery boy walks into an orgy" may sound like the beginning of a porno until you experience it in real life, where it is closer to the prologue of an Italian horror movie.
I bore witness to more terrifying nudity than Nicolas Cage in 8MM. It's like if Tony Montana ordered a party calzone and then made the delivery guy stand there and watch him take a bath in his giant Jacuzzi tub before agreeing to pay for it. People gave me about as much regard as if the cat had just walked into the room and were content to leave me waiting in a nimbus of penis burps while they looked for their wallets, which for some reason never seemed to be directly on hand despite the fact that they had consciously called in an order for a Philly cheese steak and were presumably anticipating my arrival.
"Here's an extra 10 for heroically keeping your feet after that wave of fuck thunder smashed into you when I answered the door."
I was once left standing in the entryway of a duplex by a guy in a Batman T-shirt watching two bare-chested Lord of the Rings villains sitting in front of a computer in the next room and screaming impassioned demands at the Internet to relinquish the pictures of Angelina Jolie's vagina it was so cleverly hiding. These men were clearly just about to start thrashing baby paste out of their doom spigots, and they wouldn't have stopped if Santa Claus had tumbled in through a secret door behind the bookcase and asked them why they were making their mothers cry.
"Delivery, you say? Just a moment, I'm almost finished here."
I Witnessed Criminal Activity on a Daily Basis, Both Inside and Outside the Restaurant
Mr. M's was located in a strip mall that contained a sex toy dungeon, a gay bar called the Nutty Buddy with a picture of Laurel and Hardy on the side, a travel agency, and a KB Toys. It was the site of a future stop on a ghost walk. I expected Michael Biehn to appear in a lightning storm by the dumpsters at any second.
My co-workers would routinely stand outside along the front of these shops and peddle boxes of the most bizarre collection of stolen wares anyone has ever seen -- random stacks of children's storybooks with gold-lined pages, Happy Meal toys from 1987, a single nunchaku from a Ninja Turtle action figure, a La Bouche CD, troll dolls, and piles of Beanie Babies. They were like shoe boxes full of Gypsy spells. I have no idea why anyone would want to buy anything my co-workers had obviously stolen from a drugstore the previous weekend, let alone why anyone would want to buy a Tarzan coloring book from a guy with a braided ponytail standing on a cracked sidewalk in front of a dimly lit pornography shop with a single entrance, but my co-workers had new things to sell every week.
"Wait, is that my La Bouche CD?"
Customers would try to sell us stolen stuff, too. It was like a trading caravan in Sherwood Forest. I got cornered in the parking lot by two girls with iodine-stained fingers who were determined to sell me a bag of women's cosmetics that I'm pretty sure still had shards of broken glass in it.
Also, a solid 30 percent of our customer base would be actively involved in a drug deal when I showed up with their food, either discussing one in detail over the phone or actually exchanging baggies of cocaine for wads of money as I stood there becoming a material witness. I literally had two guys look at me in alarm and mutter something to their ringleader, who responded, "Nah, it's just the delivery man," as if the relationship between crack dealers and the tuna sandwich man was one of legally binding confidentiality. Either that or he (rightfully) assumed I wasn't going to say anything.
"I forget, do you accept cash or bullets? It's cash, right? Yeah, I thought so."
People Routinely Tried to Get in My Car
Most addresses I tried to deliver to in the middle of the night were impossible to locate without a portable spotlight and/or Predator vision. I had to creep up and down totally blacked out neighborhood streets with my high beams on and hope nobody mistook me for the police, or for an anonymous delivery driver with pockets full of cash and a body that could be easily folded into a suitcase and stuffed inside the hollow base of a streetlight along the edge of a Walmart parking lot.
"Eh, he'll fit. Just saw his legs off."
And as you cruise slowly down the street, peering through your window at house numbers cloaked in shadowy mystery, someone will try to get in your car.
This happened to someone at Mr. M's at least once a month. You'll be inching slowly along, staring out the driver's side window like you're trying to decode a leprechaun riddle through the wrong end of a telescope, and you will suddenly hear the sound of the passenger door being opened. At this point, you have two choices -- step on the gas pedal as hard as you possibly can or get raped onto the front page of tomorrow's newspaper.
Sometimes people took the deception a step further and actually flagged you down, which happened to one of my co-workers. He spotted a guy waving to him from the curb and thought he was the person who'd ordered the sandwich, which is a thought that makes a lot of sense when you're hopelessly lost in Stygian darkness on a street haunted by a dozen unsolved murders.
"Ho there, young fellow! I seem to have lost my bearings. Might you be able to point me in the direction of Bleecker Street?"
He pulled over, the guy flung the door open like a circus strongman, and my co-worker took off. When he finally looked back, the guy was gone, swallowed up by impenetrable night. Now that I think about it, that guy was probably a ghost.
I Had to Deliver Sandwiches on Opposite Ends of the City During a Torrential Downpour With Broken Windshield Wipers
Mr. M's was located directly in the middle of a fairly large East Coast city. Not Mega City One, but a decent 100 square miles. My manager was blushingly optimistic when he drew the boundaries of our delivery sphere and inexplicably decided to give us a range of about half of that. You could be two or three ZIP codes away and still call in an order for a delicious submarine sandwich prepared by surly tattooed felons and I would be obligated to deliver it to you in less than 30 minutes despite the fact that the drive itself would take a solid 25.
So one day, an order came in from an airplane hangar about 15 miles away on the outskirts of the urban sprawl, along one of those wooden-billboard-and-abandoned-farmhouse-bordered stretches of highway that can only be described as "werewolf country." As I roared dangerously onto the interstate, clinging desperately to all six months of my driving experience and a sandwich bag so sopped with diarrhea-inducing grease that it was now completely transparent, two things happened. One, the sky split in half with a biblical rainstorm, as if God had drunkenly crashed a riding lawnmower through the side of his above-ground swimming pool. Two, the windshield wipers in my parents' GMC Suburban decided to stop working.
It was like driving the Flintstones' family sedan through a typhoon. I had to stick my head out of the window like Ace Ventura and aim a 6,000-pound bullet down the interstate as best I could. It was the closest I have ever come to drowning without actually being submerged in liquid. It was like being waterboarded by a sorcerer.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, a second delivery order had come in while I was ferociously battling the elements with my face. Cell phones existed at this point in American history, but I didn't own one. As far as I knew, they were still restricted to Michael J. Fox in "climbing up the corporate ladder" comedies. So there was no way for me to know that this order existed until I had fought my way back to Mr. M's with my head poking out of the driver's side window, screaming at the rain like George Clooney in The Perfect Storm. When I got back to the restaurant, my manager handed me the second order and told me it was already 40 minutes late and needed to be delivered immediately. To the bookstore across the street.
It was literally directly across the street -- you could see it through Mr. M's rust-stained front window. Any one of my co-workers could've jogged the goddamned thing over there at any time, or simply lobbed it across traffic like a football, but they all waited for me to get back and do it because I was the delivery driver. So I got back in my wiperless death chariot and drove the shit out of that motherfucking delivery. When I finally arrived at the bookstore, I had been hanging halfway out of my car in a monsoon for almost an hour, so I looked like Christian Slater at the end of Hard Rain. I was shedding buckets of water all over the Dean Koontzes and the Louis L'Amours. The bookstore clerk took one look at me, made an elaborate show of tipping me exactly one penny, and said, "Here's for working so hard."
"No, really! Pick any one you want. You've earned it!"
That guy is probably dead now. So, I guess I win.
Tom is a senior editor at Cracked, a job that only rarely requires him to drive anywhere with his head sticking out of the window. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.