“I’m delivering food so people don’t have to put themselves at risk. The least they could do is say thanks”

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“I’m delivering food so people don’t have to put themselves at risk. The least they could do is say thanks”

I had just started my dream job when the pandemic began.

After two years as an international student and two more years as a computer repair technician, I was finally a financial advisor, just like my dad had been back in India. I had one client and was trying to persuade four others to sign on with me when the first lockdown was put in place.

Everything crashed overnight. I couldn’t meet potential clients in person, and speaking to them online wasn’t as effective. It seemed like no one wanted to pay extra for a financial advisor to tell them what to do with their money. By June, every penny of my savings—for my wedding in March and my permanent resident application—had been used to pay my bills: rent, car maintenance, car insurance, personal insurance, cellphone. I started paying my bills with my credit card and paid back only the minimum amount. I was in debt.

I decided to put my career on hold and find a way to earn money. In July, after being unemployed for four months, I was lucky to get rehired as a computer repair technician. The lab I worked at was 30 kilometres from where I live in Malton. There were eight of us, all wearing masks, safely spaced out. I worked from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., earning $19 an hour. I love repairing computers—I love fixing things in general—but it wasn’t what I’d dreamed of.

I was able to cover some bills, but the job didn’t help with the four months’ worth of debt I had accrued. So I signed up to become a food courier with Uber Eats and Skip The Dishes. I had driven for Uber a few years earlier while I was finishing school. Back then, it would take minutes to get a fare, but those days were gone. No one needed to go anywhere, so there were no ride requests.

Uber Eats was a different story. As soon as work was over, I got in my car and went online. I would pick a random eight-kilometre route—through a neighbourhood, take a U-turn and start again—and within minutes, I would have orders. Every night, I would work three to four hours, and I’d earn roughly $50 total. Eventually, with both jobs, I paid off my debt.

Oddly, the delivery work made me happier than the computer repair job. Maybe it’s because I got to explore new places and restaurants and interact with people. In November, I decided to be a food courier full time.

I worried about Covid-19, of course. So did my family: they wish I would quit. But what I do is an important service. If I’m delivering food to people, I’m the only one who can get infected. If I don’t deliver to these people, they will all go out to get food and they may be more at risk. They could be old and have weaker immunity than me, a young, 29-year-old healthy guy with good health and good immunity. There are more chances I can fight back; they might not be able to. Worse, they might have kids who could get infected.

It’s been okay so far. If I’m standing inside the restaurant, people usually keep the required distance, but when I’m standing outside, there are some drivers who don’t distance or wear masks. I’m as careful as I can be. Uber gave us the option to get PPE from them for free, but I buy my own. I have a friend who supplies them and sells them to me cheap: $8 for 50 masks.

Skip The Dishes doesn’t give us any PPE but they pay us a little more money per order. They have a minimum price for each order. It doesn’t matter how big or small, near or far it is, Skip will give me at least $6. With Uber there is no such minimum.

“I feel like people have lost their humanity” says Abhimanyu Arora, who says customers often won’t even look at him. “It’s like they don’t even want to see me.”

Even though I was making just enough to pay all my bills as a food courier, the expenses were piling up because I was covering longer distances. In the last four months, I’ve driven more than 1,500 kilometres. I once drove 37 kilometres to pick up food in Vaughan, just north of Canada’s Wonderland, and deliver it to Toronto. I’ve been to the dealership twice to get the car serviced, in October and December, spending close to $450 in total. I spend around $50 on gas every day. There’s not a single dollar I can save.

Last week I was not feeling well so I took a Covid-19 test and sat at home for two days waiting for the results, to avoid possibly infecting other people. I missed out on around $300. I had to do extra hours afterwards to make up for that.

My biggest struggle during this pandemic is the way people treat me. I feel like people have lost their humanity, their sense of love and respect for others. The one thing that makes me feel bad about myself as a delivery driver is that no matter how hard I’m working, people don’t seem to appreciate me at all. I don’t expect a tip because these are hard times for everyone, but the least people could do is say thanks. But during most deliveries, people don’t say anything; it’s like they don’t even want to see me.

It was raining a lot one day. I was delivering McDonald’s to someone in an apartment building. I was standing on the pavement outside the glass door of the lobby, because drivers aren’t allowed inside. I was wearing my mask and extending my entire arm as far as it would go and leaning forward so I could maintain proper distance and keep the food dry in the small covered space. The customer didn’t come outside. They yelled at me to leave the food, even though the ground was wet.

I didn’t feel good about myself at that moment. I often feel just as bad when I go to pick up an order from restaurants. When I ask if I can go to the washroom while I’m waiting for the food to be prepared, they all say their facilities are closed or out of order. Some have told me that washrooms are for guests only. But there are no guests. What does that mean? Who am I? If I’m picking up your food from inside your restaurant, am I not your guest?

Some fast-food restaurants used to have a bell so food couriers could make it known they’d arrived for a pickup. Those bells have been removed almost everywhere, probably to reduce contact. Without the bells, it’s hard to get the employee’s attention, and wait times have increased. Sometimes the order is ready but there’s no one to hand it over, so the food gets cold and the customer gives me a bad rating.

If the food is wrong, people get mad, too—they don’t understand that the couriers don’t see their order, and we certainly don’t open it to review what’s inside. Once, after making a delivery at a hotel, the customer called me. He said one of the items was missing. The food we collect is always in a sealed package. I didn’t take anything out or eat it. I told him to call the restaurant, but he just blamed me. It’s not fair but that’s how it always is: the restaurants make the mistake, we face the consequences.

Delivering food is a sacred job; it makes me happy that I’m able to give people some relief or a moment of joy. I’m doing this to survive financially but also because I just want people to stay at home as much as possible. The doctors are working so hard. I don’t want us to make their lives harder.

On New Year’s Eve, I delivered food to Humber River Hospital. I’ve been there a couple of times. I’ve picked up people who were visiting family members in the hospital, or front-line workers. That always helps me keep perspective. I try not to stress. They are doing their jobs, and I am doing mine.

As told to Fatima Syed