Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This past Tuesday night I headed over to Paces on business rather than pleasure. I was there to do some undercover investigation on the new Paces delivery system, and Gail Engmann ’14 had generously allowed me to shadow her during her shift as a delivery person.
“Let’s get you a bike so we can ride together,” she said. “Usually, I work alone, but—” I was too lost in reverie to hear the last part of her sentence. Flooding my mind were images of a Lone Ranger pedaling down darkened paths, steam from a Paces chai streaming out behind her.
I was soon to find out that the life of the Lone Ranger is less adventurous that I had imagined.
The first thing on the agenda was to wrestle our bikes down from the second floor of Tarble. As we trudged up the stairs, I whipped out my tape recorder and put it to my mouth in a style I hoped would seem journalistic in a jaded, “oh, look at what I happen to have in my hand” kind of way, not a “I’m totally going to narrate everything we do for the next hour and a half” kind of way.
Abby: We are now walking up the stairs to get the bike. So, what would you say is the most exciting part of your job?
Gail: I just really love riding a bike around. And, I certainly love replenishing Swatties as they are tirelessly working away. I come in with their pita and hummus or their BLTs and they’re so thankful. And I get great tips. And Paces is a great atmosphere to work in. [Opening door] Oh my god, this is so weird. This door usually takes me about ten minutes to get into every single time. It’s weird that I got it on pretty much the second try.
We managed to fit both of our bikes in the elevator and park them outside, next to the dumpsters. Next step: wait for an order. As we waited, Gail explained the delivery process to me.
G: So, once I know there’s a delivery in, I’ll go over next to the counter and they’ll have each slip, they’ll just lay them out, and it’ll say the name, the dorm, or whatever building they’re in, their number, how many items they have – not what they’ve ordered, but how many items they have, which can get confusing. It’ll have a big “D” on it, circled, just to let me know that’s delivery, that’s for me. So, once everything is ready they’ll usually bring it out to this counter. If I’m waiting for an order and I’ve been waiting for a while, I can check in the kitchen and look at the shelves and the table and usually the slips will match up with wherever the order has been placed, so I just make sure we’ve got everything in order, all the items are set, things are almost done. Once everything’s ready to go, I’ll take it out.
As it turned out, the opportunity did not arise to take anything out. As Paces filled up between 10 and 10:30 PM, Gail regaled me with anecdotes about life on the road.
A: Before you said that work you alone as part of this job. So, does it ever get lonely?
G: [Laughs] Does it ever get lonely? No, because I’m in constant contact with people. The only time that I’m truly alone is when I’m on my way to a delivery. But I’m in here and even if I’m not necessarily with a friend, this is a very hip and live atmosphere. If it’s really busy, I might be in the kitchen helping out with dishes. I’m constantly trying to figure out whether deliveries are coming in, what’s ready, what’s not ready. And I get to meet new people who I deliver to. Sometimes, I make small talk, sometimes I don’t. I try charming them a little bit so they give me some extra bucks. I’ve made over 50 dollars in tips.
A: In one night?
G: This semester. 17 dollars is my record in one night.
A: What’s the average tip for one order?
G: One or two dollars. I’ve gotten less than that. Least I’ve gotten was probably 20 or 50 cents. 50 cents was from a good friend of mine, actually, so I forgave her. [Laughs] And then somebody gave me a ridiculous tip once—somebody gave me like a 5 dollar tip. The food they ordered wasn’t even that much, too. I was very shocked.
A: Could’ve gotten a BLT for that, almost.
G: I know, right? Could’ve gotten a whole ‘nother meal. I don’t know, I don’t understand it. And I always get really pissed when they don’t tip me at all.
A: I’ll put that in block quotes.
G: [Laughing] No, please don’t! I mean, I still get paid for this job. I think I have the highest pay grade. So, you know, even if I don’t get tipped I’m still getting something. But, I mean, I do my very best to be courteous, to be considerate, to find out exactly where you are on the phone, to get deliveries out as soon as they’re ready, so of course I appreciate a little sumthin’ sumthin’. It doesn’t matter anyway because I’m still getting paid. And this is just a fun thing for me to do.
The fun of being a delivery person, however, seems to be tempered by inadequate tips, inhospitable weather, and out-of-the-way locations.
A: Have you made any lasting friendships with the people you deliver food to?
G: No, I’ve delivered to two friends I already have current lasting friendships with. I haven’t made any new friends. I have delivered to some people several times, so obviously, we acknowledge that fact, that we’ve seen each other a couple times, and they may apologize for last time they didn’t tip me too well, or last time it was down-pouring, made me come through the rain. That’s the other thing, the weather you have to deal with, which can be a little bit much. At least the weather’s warming up now. So, it’s not as bad as when I first started out in the dead of winter. No, not any lasting friendships but it’s nice to meet new people, see new people, go around campus.
At this point, Gail recounted a harrowing incident in which she had to deliver to the Swarthmore apartments in the Ville during her first night on the job. She tried two other apartment buildings before finding the correct one, calling the person who had placed the order each time, only to be proven wrong. “It was raining, it was cold, it was late, I was tired,” she said. Luckily, however, she managed to make her delivery and received a decent tip for her efforts.
Gail has only ever fallen off her bike once, also during her first night on the job. “I was leaving Hallowell, I believe,” she said, “and there was this slope right by the basement door and I thought that I could just sort of hop on my bike and ride down the hill and go, and it didn’t happen like that.” She ended up losing control, and blames that spill mostly on the fact that her bike is too large for her. “I’m not the tallest gal on campus. I mean, I barely touch the floor with my feet anyway when I’m standing on my bike and this thing was going downhill and I didn’t quite get my footing,” she said. “Wiped out.”
Although I was enjoying Gail’s stories, I realized at this point that I had to get some real delivery experience, no matter what the destination. I decided to ask my roommate to call in for delivery—just so we could approximate a legitimate scenario. First, I had to tell her what to order.
A: So, what do you recommend from the menu?
G: I mean, it’s funny, because I don’t really eat here too much. Actually, Sunday night was the first time I ate here all semester. I ordered delivery, actually,
A: That’s really funny.
G: I know, isn’t it? Loaded nachos are fantastic, I’ve had those in the past. Let’s see …their milkshakes are really great too. God, everything they make looks awesome and I’m always so jealous. Oftentimes when I deliver to friends I sneak bites of their food.
A: Of course, what else could you do?
G: Precisely, precisely.
A: So, maybe I’ll go for the “Classy BLT” and a milkshake, or something.
G: BLT’s are a pretty popular item. I’ve delivered that quite a bit.
At 10:30 I texted my roommate my order (plus a nutella crepe for her) and heard the phone ring at the counter a few moments later. After that, all there was to do was wait—for 45 minutes. My image of Paces delivery people as heroic defenders of all things delicious, stalwart fighters of the stomach rumble, and fearless fighters for fancy sandwiches was fast fading.
Finally, at 11:15, our three “items” were wrapped and ready to go. I decided to call it a night when I got back to my dorm, so my bike went back upstairs. I geared myself for the long walk back to Dana.
Gail placed the two boxes in one of the milk cartons strapped to the back of her bike and put the milkshake in a homemade cup-holder: a dozen paper cups duct-taped together and squeezed into the other milk carton. We set off on my first—and last—delivery expedition. Gail pedaled as slowly as she could, but I still found myself trailing behind, stuck between walking and a strange half-jogging shuffle. She glided gracefully to one of the front doors of Dana, disembarked, and handed me the food.
It had been a perilous ride, but we had made it—in about eighty seconds.
As my roommate ran downstairs with the money, I felt myself switching roles from pseudo-deliverer to consumer. In some ways, I was relieved. It had been rough out there—a person can start imagining all kinds of things in the dark, when there’s “nowhere to go but everywhere,” as Jack Kerouac writes in On the Road. All we could do, I guess, was to “keep on rolling under the stars,” like Gail and Sal Paradise and all the other travelers, delivering their packages of Paces pastries and, in Kerouac’s world, truth.
Photo courtesy of Katie Lin ’16.
Featured image courtesy of Treasure Tinsley ’15.