There is sort of the assumption that people who work in the “service” industry are some how less than human. The folks at the gas station, grocery stores, and retail shops. I’ve worked a fair number of gigs – my first was at Subway Sandwiches & Salads, where I was a “Certified Sandwich Artist.” This was WAAAAY back in ’94, in Columbia. Mike Eshoo, my neighbor, told me that I’d never get the job. Well, I did, and worked there for a year and a half before trading the forest green uniform for a blue polo and a job at Blockbuster Video.
A seasonal gig at Sam Goody’s followed; then a delivery job at Domino’s. Ever since I took my first delivery, my employment has somehow seemed to revolve around pizza delivery. And why not? It pays great. Delivering at Domino’s became managing at Domino’s, and moving to Towson to attend college sent me on to drive at Papa John’s. I worked at a crappy little mall pizza-shop one summer for extra money, and now I drive for a little independent shop called “The Pizza Connection” and a Domino’s franchise in a rural part of northern Baltimore County.
It was in ’98 when I first started driving, and I’m finally finished with college. My degree in creative writing is just slightly better than useless, but there is good news – my sister got a job in Hawaii and lives on the beach (which means when I visit, I don’t have to shell out for a hotel!). The point is, my whole working life has been in the “blue collar” aspect of it.
I’ve been yelled at, cussed at, spat at, and assaulted. I’ve been chased by angry dogs, and threatened by irritated customers. I’ve been scared for my life, and sometimes I’ve just been so exhausted by the whole ordeal that I wonder what the point of anything is. A fucking paycheck? Is any of this worth that? I mean, I guess if I don’t want to live on a vent by the Inner Harbor, yeah, it’s worth that.
I have two great jobs now. Well, perhaps not “great” – but the best working conditions I’ve had in a while. The income is good, the co-workers are great, and most of the customers are also wonderful. But it is the ones who aren’t that get to you, the ones who call me “the pizza boy”, even though I don’t look like a ‘boy’ – I’m 26, and many people think I’m older than that. Probably the most humiliating moment was when a middle-aged, upper middle-class guy, after handing me money for the pizza, considered the matter for a moment, handed me an extra buck and said, “I guess you have to make a living too.”
I don’t know that I can really describe what I felt when he said that. I mean, I appreciated the extra money – every dollar helps, especially on a tipped income, when I’m putting miles on my car every day. But there was something in the tone, his feeling sorry for me, that really pissed me off. I’m not worthless, I wanted to tell him. I almost have a degree (this was a year or so ago), I’m a writer. I will do things, I will make a name for myself, sure it might not be easy, sure I won’t have things handed to me on my platter, but dammit! Don’t you fucking dare feel sorry!
Tonight I took a delivery to a rather large house, a few miles from where this earlier incident had taken place. There were cars parked on the lawn, and a large group out back laughing and having fun around a barbie. One woman saw me, and pointed to the back door “Someone there will have money.” Someone else saw me, a guy in his mid to late thirties, and shook his head no. “I got it!” he said.
I placed the pizzas on the table, made a joke about the price (I told him it was $400, it was really $40 something), and was surprised when he made a joke in return. He handed me a $50 bill, and when I reached into my pocket for change, told me: “No change, I used to work for Domino’s when I was in college. I know what you guys go through. Thanks for bringing this out for us.”
I thanked him, and left. My whole night was brightened by this one random guy who made me feel like I was not a worthless human being.