Twice a week I ride the city streets as a food courier. I wear a bright, neon orange hat. I want everyone to see me. I yell at no one and at everyone.
The new pick up location is 145 W. 17th Street.
I curse the changing lights and spit on the rain-slicked pavement. I pedal faster. Someone honks. I rush forward towards the next red light. Always forward. The cars glide across but one is turning, so I pass in front of it because I know that it will make that turn. I don't think about if it doesn't. Maybe I do.
The total is $97.77. I hand the credit card to the hostess. She comes back with a receipt. She wears the black trim dress of a front-of-house girl. Easy smiles. Pulled back hair. I sign. She hands me a bag. Inside there is food that I will not eat that night. Maybe ever.
I am ready for my drop off.
Your drop off location is 800 Sixth Avenue. 26H. I have twenty minutes. I will be there on time.
This goes on for more than twelve hours on Saturday and again on Sunday. I ride the city streets, pushing forward. I feel the city around me. Breathing. Yelling.
By midday, I've rushed six deliveries. I sample the cold-pressed juice that comes in plastic containers with small lids. I am waiting on line for thirty minutes for cookies so I buy one for myself. It's the best cookie I've ever had.
I wait on long lines for those who would rather not wait on long lines.
I keep moving. The roads in the city are lean and dark. They are pocked and bruised. They are stripped raw and pinstriped, mounds of gravel spitting at me from below. Car tires roll over them and it sounds like rocks crashing against a tin roof.
I ride the city streets to pick up and drop off food, drinks, snacks, drugs, clothes, and other things. There are more and more of us around. Postmates, Caviar, Munchery and Homer. Company names slapped on stickers, thermal bags, and neon vests. Our phones blink and scream. ACCEPT or REJECT? We are a small mass, moving loudly, swarming building lobbies, waiting by service entrances, riding elevators. Our tipped helmets shield our haggard and dirty faces. Our music plays for everyone to hear.
There's more and more of us. A whole class. Cursing. Yelling. Some never yell. Never blink. Some ride bikes crammed with empty plastic bags and fixed with small electric engines. Their bikes sound like small hovercrafts, rolling smoothly over the tarred green bike lanes. Some ride fixed—no brakes.
If you are early for your pickup, do not wait inside. Wait outside until your order is ready.
I hold the door for those who go inside to eat. I am a paying customer but they know that I am paying for someone else. Always paying for someone else. Another courier is waiting inside, his face lit only by his phone. He is the tallest person in the restaurant and is wearing his helmet on backwards with a neon red boxed bag on his back that is knocking everyone over. He sees me and nods. On his way out, he stops next to me. "Never accept a job from here. The wait is too long," he says and walks out. I nod.
A NEW JOB IS AVAILABLE. I accept. Six one-liter bottles of water, three bottles of electrolyte water, two smart coconut waters in a box. The pick up and drop off are less than a block from each other. I laugh and curse this lazy person. When I am working, I curse everyone. I am paid to move goods on my back. I hate handing people bagels and sushi and bottles of water and crinkle cut fries, but I always answer to the loud screech of my phone and never turn it off because there is always a job and there is always more money to be earned.
The bottles of water and boxed coconut are dropped off. The customer opens the door just enough for me to see that he is rolling hard on ecstasy. I smile at him and say, "Thank you."
Earned $5.17. Ten minutes. Apartment 6H, sixth floor. Hundreds of floor plans. Apartments A to L. M to Z. Deliveries only. Rate this customer: exceptional.
It is 4 AM, and I want to go home, but I can't sleep. I accept an order and read the notes. PLEASE. LOTS OF HOT SAUCE. FIRE. There's a fast food open late on 8th Avenue. A guy waits on line with his tongue out. I can read the food names off the sign but I don't know what they mean. "Shredded and packed." Small packets of hot sauce clutched in my hand, oozing inside. The couple in front of me is going to have sex after they eat here. They'll smell of beef and cheese. My heart is pounding. ORDER NUMBER 310. I grab my food and run out.
The cold air makes me dizzy and I spit. Soft horns are playing out of my speakers. I am alone in the city at night. Pushing forward. My phone screams. ACCEPT or REJECT? It is 5 AM. Breakfast for those who want it. I accept.
This first appeared on MUNCHIES in February 2015.