Saturday, March 18, 2023

A Day in the Life of a Gig Economy Serf

 To occupy the world of the gig economy serf is a strange place, it's like an island of misfit toys, you don't actually have co-workers yet when we see each other glancing at the app, scanning things, flying around the store, we will sometimes stop and acknowledge each other, maybe talk for a minute but then it's back to the gig. During the pandemic days, when the Breadwinner decided it would be good for me to go shop for people every day, it was a bit more lucrative. Now the tips have dwindled, the distances to deliver have grown exponentially, (who the fuck is going to drive 45 miles one way?) and the number of people using these apps have shrunk. Where there used to be batches galore popping up every time you finished now one might get a message that says it may take up to 30 minutes to get a batch, and then it might be one of those aforementioned shit batches that basically pull the hourly wage down to $9 an hour or something. The other day some guy told me he worked seven hours and made $70... though to be honest i wanted to tell him he must have been doing shit wrong and i even asked why he kept doing it that day? i'd have signed off after a two hours on a day like that.

It isn't all shit though... after two plus years i'm one of the wily old veterans of the gig, know how to pick the most profitable batches and do my best to not drive all over fucking creation. I'm still on my own, very rarely see a customer or speak to them and am basically my own boss, i just have to motivate myself sometimes to actually get out of the house but then i remember the BW could come home early and then i'd be stuck pushing the cart down the aisles of capitalism anyway so like a true red-blooded Merkin i might as well get paid for it. Which brings me to my last batch the other day, it didn't pay great but was really easy and a short drive to deliver so i swiped it up and knocked it out... when i pulled up to the house i remembered the place. 

As i parked at the curb i knew it was an elderly woman's house, Maria was the name on the order and i knew i had been here before, a few times in fact. As i looked up the steps to the make sure i had the right address the first thing i noticed was the stairlift. It hadn't been there the first time i was here nor the second but on the third time, maybe 7-8 months ago, i remember talking to Maria and she was recovering from breaking her foot. She talked about how her kids wanted her to move out of this house and into a place more suited for a now 82 yr old woman who lived alone but she said she wasn't ready for that yet. I smiled and told her a brief story about my dad and moving him into his new place and told her i knew both sides... her kids were worried about her but i understood the need to live on her own, my father was the same and wouldn't have moved to his assisted living place unless he absolutely had to, and even though he was the most rational and intelligent man i knew his children still had to do a bit of convincing. This time as i read the customer notes it stated that the customer used a walker and would the delivery person please bring the groceries inside and set them on her counter. When i first read this in the parking lot i said, what the fuck!... when i pulled up to her house i looked in the rearview mirror and said to myself, don't be an asshole you asshole. Then i grabbed her stuff and made my way up the steps. 

I rang the doorbell and waited... i stood there for a couple minutes knowing that she used a walker and then pushed the button again and i then saw her coming to the door. On the porch were other boxes delivered the day before i'm guessing, not food but goods of some kind as i remembered her telling me she was a cosmetics salesperson, one of those who did home shows and would come to your house and such and i imagined she was quite good at it, in fact she would tell me that it was a flourishing business up until recently when she was diagnosed with an debilitating auto-immune disease. Maria had an easy way about her, friendly and extremely well spoken my guess is she could sell a ton of stuff to her target market. 

When she opened the door i smiled and asked where she would like me to put her things, she said on the kitchen counter and so i took the boxes in while she told me about her situation. She then asked if i could do her a favor and i smiled and said, bring those two boxes in? She said yes and i told her it was no problem. She had a large tuxedo cat who was laying in a box, i bent down to let him check me out and then gave him a good scratch between the ears which he enjoyed so i gave him another one and listened to him purr. While she was telling me about her diagnosis she mentioned how hard it was for her to do things and currently she couldn't get her dishwasher opened and so i told her i'd get it for her, she told me how kind i was and i told her the world could use more of that as i walked back to the kitchen and popped the latch on the dishwasher then made my way back towards the door stopping again to give the big old cat a scratch. 

Maria was tall and thin, her grey hair was straight and shoulder length and her eyes were this clear light blue, at 82 she was pretty woman and i thought that she must have been stunning in her youth. There are times when i deliver to the an older person, hell i'm fucking getting there myself, when i realize that they'd like to talk, that the past few years have probably seen them stuck in their house or apartment more than they'd like to be and that they enjoy a little human connection. As i made my way towards the door i stopped and asked her if she needed me to do anything else? She said no and that i was such a sweet person to help her, she handed me a $5 bill though i wanted to hand it back but i realized it was better to take it. I mentioned that i had delivered to her before and she smiled and said yes that she remembered me. 

At this point she told me to wait because she wanted to give me some things for the BW, hand cream and such, the things she sold. She told me how well her business had been doing until this disease and how she often got up feeling sorry for herself and then would remind herself that she had lived a good life, that at 82 she was playing with house money, how after the pandemic the life expectancy of an American woman had dropped to 78 so she figured she was ahead of the game. I smiled and told her she's right and that though the disease was obviously not the best thing that at least she still had her mind, that she was sharp and eloquent. I explained how that was one of my only fears, the dreaded diseases that steal the mind and how i could deal with the physical things as long as the old noggin' still worked. I had mentioned playing basketball and the toll it had taken on my back and knees, she lit up and told me she was from a family of basketball players, how with my height she thought i must have played and i smiled again and told her that i had played in college and how now i coached, had coached both my sons though only one still played, and how just last week i had coached my last game. She told me about her son and about her brothers, all of whom played, she mentioned her husband who had obviously passed and who one could tell she missed and loved. The conversation lasted around ten minutes and then i said i should probably get back to the gig and she smiled at me and said thank you again, that it was so nice of me to do all those things for her and i said it was no problem at all, that i was glad to help. 

I walked out the door and waved goodbye as i made my way down the steps to my car. The gig economy is a shit way to make a living, if you can even make a living at it. Mainly i think it supplements incomes especially now that the pandemic has receded in the collective mindset of the country less people use this service and earnings are tougher to come by. There are always complaints and people feel even more inclined when for the most part we gig workers are faceless entities, like fairies or dwarves who magically drop off shit on the porch and scurry away... and in a way they're right, to be honest the last people i want to see are the moneyed housewives of South Fayette or Upper St. Clair in their Lulu Lemon threads chatting amiably away on the phone while pointing where to put things... and then i get a batch like Maria's. Yes in a cruel and uncaring universe it felt pretty damn good to help this woman out. Felt good to do things i wasn't paid to do or even there to do, to take ten minutes out of the day to talk with someone who obviously wanted to talk, who probably didn't see as many people as she used to, who buried her husband and who knows how many friends. The fact that she felt comfortable with a 6'4 stranger who hadn't shaved in over a week and was dressed in dirty work pants and a flannel with a tattered winter beanie covering his shaved head, the fact we talked like old friends laughing and telling stories, it was one of the best parts of the day. 

I've found that these encounters are the perks of the job... delivering to people who not only need their groceries but who need to talk for a few minutes and i've found that i enjoy stopping and having a conversation with them. Often it's women because as we all know they seem to outlive the men and they, for the most part, are friendlier and want to talk but there is the occasional man as well... and it's always in the eyes, the gleam or spark or whatever you want to call it, that someone has taken an interest in them. It's saddens me at times to realize why they relish these conversations, mainly because they don't have them, in a society predicated on youth we forget or neglect those that have lived it. Maria was the youngest, most youthful 82yr old i've met in awhile. And yet i know someday i may drive by that house and notice the chairlift gone... i'll know why... and i'll think back to this cold March day and the conversation we had and i'll smile at having been fortunate enough to have given such a lovely woman a brief slice of happiness. World could probably use more of that shit if you ask me. 

1 comment:

twin said...

this reeks of good energy... ;)