In the stockroom of the pizza chain where I work, an employee training poster depicts a young man dressed in medieval peasant's attire behind the wheel of a late-model sedan, delivering our company's product. He is shown doing everything we drivers should not: speeding, listening to loud music, drinking coffee, dangling novelties from his rearview mirror, and yawning. He presents an abject lesson in how to defy our company's chivalric code. Except for his clean shave and the forest green tights, I identify with him completely.
Much of the joy in this job (and there is a lot) comes from the cowboy romance you try to indulge with your car. Not stuck behind a register or stacking teal plastic salad plates, you finally get what you've wanted since you crept gingerly out of the driveway at 15 with mom in the passenger seat: a real reason to tear it up. I don't speed when I'm off the job--I can't justify the machismo or the speeding tickets--but imagining some shirtless alpha male circling $0.00 on the tip line, I feel, justifies me in revving it like a Duke boy.
Like most of the drivers now, I grew up during Domino's "30 minutes or it's free" delivery promise, so even when I'm far ahead of schedule, I can't help shooting and weaving to beat half an hour. Granted, at Round Table, our standard delivery quote is 45 minutes, and even Domino's gave up after a couple of years, but burned in like childhood catechism, the goal of the half hour pizza is never entirely absent from my mind.
This idealism makes me tear past the coffee shops and ranch roads, bluegrass blaring as the imaginary green digital timer winds down in the corner of my windshield. The idea, of course, is that the sooner we arrive, the more you'll tip, but the performance-compensation theory's a crock. Most people know what they're tipping as soon as they order.
The real let down in this, though, is that when you park the car and the banjo music stops, you see yourself as you must look through the peephole: skinny, shuffling obsequiously on the porch in a blue polo shirt with an embroidered fake coat of arms, holding someone's dinner in a canvas sack.
The fantasy cracks every time, but it's fun to believe in, which is why this particular delivery makes me feel as romantic as the milkman. Some sweet mother in Tulare County, worried that her Poly student son has eaten nothing but cereal for a week, called up to buy him dinner, so I'm showing up with a credit card slip that reads in the operator's girly handwriting: "Mom says $2.00 tip only." At least I know I'm not getting stiffed, but it's still under the $3 standard of respect, and it negates any excitement for the next 15 minutes. For kicks, I pretend I'm taking my DMV test again on the way to Ferrini Road and park in the concrete-tropical apartment complex off Foothill.
I knock, and the son greets me through a Skoal-packed lip: "Hey, bud, how you doin'?" On the kitchen counter, I count three empty boxes of Cap'n Crunch.
"Fine, fine." I try not to condescend as I point out the instructions from his mother 140 miles away, but hell, if he takes offense, I'll just let him know that I'm living with mine again. "Oh, by the way, mom says take it easy on the tip."
"Two bucks? What? Mom's wrong about that one--I'll give you more than that, man." He writes down $3.50 and I wish him well, knowing that Mom looked after both of us tonight. Given a clean slate, I doubt the kid would've tipped more than two. Mom must be the kind of woman who thinks Vatican film bans actually hurt box office receipts.
Back at the restaurant, I cash the order out for $3.50 at the end of the night and leave the discrepancy to be decided among family.
A Los Osos native, Zubin Soleimany is a substitute teacher and grad student now living in Brooklyn, N.Y. His last piece for New Times, "More Tube Time" (1992) was an eloquent fourth-grade demand for his television viewing rights. Send comments to the editor at email@example.com.