I Took a Job Delivering Pizzas...And Lasted Three Weeks
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I Took a Job Delivering Pizzas...And Lasted Three Weeks

I Took a Job Delivering Pizzas...And Lasted Three Weeks

I love pizza. I've loved it since I was a child. My parents used to joke that I could eat pizza for every meal and be totally happy. I lived and worked in New York City for about five years, and my daily lunch ritual consisted of me walking across the street to a little dollar-slice pizza joint on the corner of 44th and Lex. After a few weeks I didn't even have to say anything to the guy behind the counter. I walked in, stood near the back of the store so I was out of the way of the other customers, and he'd put pepperoni on two slices of pizza and throw them in the oven. A couple of minutes later, they'd come out. I'd give him my money and go back to work, happily eating the best lunch that $3 could buy. We did that nearly every day for five years. I never did learn his name—sometimes I miss New York.

I moved to Hartsville, South Carolina in September 2016. My fiancée was offered a job at Coker College, and since I wasn't particularly happy with my career in academic publishing, we decided to make the move down south. There were other factors, of course: As much as I love New York, it's easy to focus on the negative things like riding cramped subways with strangers, overpaying for absolutely everything, $20 minimums at bars, the general vibe of everyone looking out for themselves, the tiny, 380-square-foot apartment we rented for $1100 a month, and the fact that $1100 in our neighborhood was actually a 'steal.' Then, there was the summer when I killed 11 rats in that tiny, 380-square-foot apartment. 11. Rats. Needless to say, when my fiancée received the offer from Coker College we were eager for a fresh start, in a new town that promised relatively warm winters, affordable living, and fewer rats.

We arrived in Hartsville and I began searching for a job. I had a couple of bites immediately. I interviewed for a sales position at the newspaper, and then for a customer service position with another local business. I knew I wouldn't be able to approach the kind of money I was making in New York, but that wasn't my goal. I had a plan to return to school at night to finally get my degree, and felt whatever money I'd lose in the short-term would be more than made up for by my ability to find a career that I'm passionate about.

Ultimately, I didn't get either of those jobs, and then I didn't get any call-backs for a couple of months. It's difficult to find a job in Hartsville, where networking seems to be vital to the search. That isn't necessarily unique to this area, but it did create a problem for me. The only person I knew in the city was my fiancée, who couldn't hire me even if she wanted to.

I decided to put the search for a 'real' job on hold, and instead enrolled at Coker College for the spring semester. I figured I'd do what traditional college students do, and find a job as a bartender or waiter for afternoons, nights, and weekends. That would at least provide me with some money to pay bills for a few months. Unfortunately, even that proved difficult. I applied for jobs as a waiter and was told they were looking for someone with experience. I applied for jobs as a clerk at places like Walgreens and CVS and never received calls back. I applied for a job doing internet sales for a local car dealer, but the 9-5 schedule created conflicts with school. I applied for more jobs than I can count.

Finally, in a fit of desperation I called a local pizza chain and asked if they were hiring drivers. I was told they were, and I just needed to apply online. I explained my situation to the general manager and he seemed sympathetic, plus a little desperate for drivers, so he told me to just fill out the application and then come in with my license the next day. Excited to finally have a real chance to earn money for the first time in five months, I happily completed the tasks and started work the following week.

I never imagined exactly how dangerous and unrewarding the job of a delivery driver could be. If you're like me, ordering pizza is almost second nature. You don't think too much about the process. You go to the company website, order what you want, and 35-60 minutes later, delicious food arrives at your door. It's a terrific system for the customer, but a terrible, exploitive system for the delivery driver.

For starters, drivers have two wages. I earned $7.25 an hour while I worked in the store. This means that in addition to delivering pizzas, a driver also has to learn and perform all of the duties of everyone else at the store. This can include prep work to ensure there are plenty of toppings available for the day, cleaning the store, working the cash register, and making pizzas.

While I was out on a delivery, my pay dropped to $4.25 an hour. The assumption here is that the driver will be tipped by the customer, which will make up the difference and ensure they are paid at least minimum wage. The store is passing along their responsibility to pay their employees directly to the customers. If the customer doesn't tip, then the driver is simply out of luck. There are, of course, similar compensation models in restaurants and other industries where workers rely on tips. However, the major difference between the delivery driver and the server at a restaurant is the actual driving part of the job.

Think about how much you hate driving to work. Now, imagine if your entire job was driving. Imagine spending four to seven hours a night in a car, driving along winding back roads with 55 MPH speed limits while the guy behind you wants you to go 70 MPH. That's annoying enough when you're just trying to get home after a long day of work, but it's even more annoying when you're dealing with it all night long, and you know you're only making $4.25 an hour while someone else is putting your car and your safety at risk.

The store I worked at had a massive delivery area. Drivers would often have to drive from downtown Hartsville, SC all the way out to McBee, SC. That drive can often take 22-28 minutes, depending on traffic and the exact location of the customer in McBee. Once the driver delivers the pizza, he then has to drive another 22-28 minutes back to the store. That means, for almost an hour of driving, the driver has only made one delivery. They've put around 35-45 miles on their own car, and used their own gas in the process. If the customer doesn't tip, or doesn't tip well, then the driver may barely break even on the trip. The pizza chain itself doesn't have any real risk here, of course. The chain is still getting its $35 for the product it made and sold, and it's only paying the driver $4.25 for that hour, so whether or not you tip the driver doesn't have a real impact on their bottom line; it only impacts the driver.

On my first night as a driver, I had a delivery in Hartsville, about 15 minutes away from the store. I was searching for a road that my GPS said was coming up on my right, but I didn't see any indication of a place to turn on the horizon. I finally saw the little dirt road, and once I made the turn, my headlights shone on three beaten-down mobile homes in the middle of nowhere. A pack of dogs were running loosely throughout the 'yards' to my right, and I couldn't tell if anyone actually lived in these homes or not. My little Ford Focus slowly made its way up the dirt path, on what appeared to be the side of a very large, steep hill, as the dogs ran alongside the car. I finally found the address I needed. It was at the very top of the hill, the most remote building in this dark, seemingly deserted neighborhood. I was delivering a pizza by myself, to someone I've never met, in their beaten-down trailer, at the top of a hill that could only be classified as a street in the loosest definition, with a pack of dogs roaming not far in the distance. All for $4.25 an hour, and the $0.41 tip the customer gave me.

Before accepting this job as a delivery driver, I had never spent much time actually thinking about the process. I never thought about the fact that there were all of these parts of town that I'd never want to walk or even drive down, but someone will have to deliver food to those places. I never thought about the fact that there are legitimately bad people, opportunistic people, known criminals, and people who should probably be in jail but just haven't been caught yet, who still order pizza—and someone has to deliver food to them.

I lasted about three weeks before deciding the risk was just too great. I had put 1,500 miles on our car in just three weeks, I had filled up the gas tank several times, and had too many close calls out on the road. In that time, I learned that these big pizza chains are legitimately exploiting their drivers. They're taking advantage of the driver's resources, and passing the responsibility of payment to their customers. After a few days on the job, I had started keeping track of my tips: Over those three weeks, the average was around $2.00 per delivery. Approximately 25% of my customers didn't give any tip all. On my second-to-last day, someone tipped me $8.50 on an $11.50 order and I almost hugged him. But those are few and far between.

The reality is, delivering pizza is a dangerous and unrewarding job. I'm one of the lucky ones. I had the ability to test the job out and then decide it wasn't worth the risk. I'm not the first or only driver to ever figure out they were being exploited. I'm just one of the few that have options. One of the few that can afford to quit and find something better. All across the country, pizza chains are following this model, and many drivers are financially trapped. They can't afford to quit because they desperately need that paycheck in order to put food on the table for their families. They don't have any choice but to do their part in helping these large pizza chains earn tens of millions of dollars in profit every year, while risking their own health and vehicles. All for $4.25.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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