Smith: Delivery Boy |

Smith: Delivery Boy

Barry Smith

The office was makeshift at best — abuzz with an unflattering, low-budget telemarketing frenzy. It was essentially a glorified storage unit with uncomfortable-looking chairs and a row of telephones on a folding table. It was 30 years ago, and I was looking to make some extra money. This is where my search took me.

I located the guy in charge and he took me aside to “train” me. He handed me a big 200-plus page map (a San Bernardino County Thomas Guide, if you must know) and a list containing two addresses. Next to the addresses were map coordinates — 514 Pine St., Page 144, G-5. These were supposed to help me find these addresses quickly.

“Find these addresses quickly,” he said. And I did. Because one of my other jobs involved driving stuff around, so I was a master of the Thomas Guide. I could find an address while eating an In-N-Out burger going 80 miles per hour on the 10 and driving with my knee. According to the ad that brought me here, this job also involved driving stuff around. Stick with what you know, I thought. A part-time job of driving stuff around will be perfect. Gas was cheap.

I found the addresses quickly. In the second address the coordinates were off by one. The location fell in the B-4 quadrant, not B-3. I told the guy this and he beamed, “You’re just the kind of person we’re looking for. Let’s get you started.” It was a test within a test. And I’d passed! I’d passed the test that would get me hired for a job I’d do for less than 3 hours before quitting. I’d passed a test that, unless you had some serious visual problems, seemed impossible to not pass. And if you have such visual problems you probably wouldn’t be applying for a driving job. I wonder if they hired people who didn’t pass this test? Of course they did. Still, nothing feels quite like passing a test. Yay for me.

While my duties were explained to me, I noticed other people in the “office” who were clearly veterans. They had the hustle and determination that only near-lethal doses of caffeine can provide. Could I be like them? Did I have what it took to excel at this job? As I was only about 12 minutes into it, I felt that I’d put in enough time to make an informed decision. No. No, this was not at all the job for me. And I still didn’t know exactly what the job was.

The job: The people at the phones cold-call area residents seeking donations for some charity, real or imagined. Those who donate get a free gift — a cheesy American flag or a cheesy tote bag with an American flag on it. I, in my duties as the delivery boy, bring this cheese right to their doorstep within minutes of them agreeing to fork over a check, which I grab from them in exchange for the cheese. In that way, it wasn’t very different from doing pizza delivery. Except I didn’t get tipped. Instead I got paid a ridiculously small sum per successful check/cheese exchange. After each delivery I’d find a pay phone, call in to headquarters and get the next address. Easy.

First delivery: The person meets me at the door and tells me that since hanging up with the telemarketer they’ve changed their mind. They will not be giving me a check. That means I don’t get paid. I wave the flag in front of them as if to say, “Come on, how can you not want one of these cheap plastic things?” They close the door. I don’t get my commission.

Next delivery: pretty much the same thing. Third delivery: They take a flag and give me a check but want to talk for half an hour. Fourth delivery: There’s no answer at the door, even though I can see people inside. Fifth delivery: there is no fifth delivery. I quit. I’d made about $2 in the past few hours. I actually was paying to work at this job, and I didn’t see how that was going to change.

I drove back to the office to drop off the check and all the swag and get my $2 of cash wages. Once again I saw the people on the phone getting donations and doling out coordinates to the other delivery people. These people must have been doing something that I wasn’t aware of in order to make this gig viable. They clearly all have a secret skill that I’m not even aware of.

And in that moment I vowed to never, ever find out what that skill was, even if it took the rest of my life.

Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays.

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