Delivering pizzas was completely new territory for me.
My previous jobs had all been through people I had known for a long time, and included babysitting, teaching skating lessons, and working as a camp counselor. Moreover, my previous bosses had all been women, with female-dominated workplaces where I was cared for. None of that applied when I was a delivery driver.
In the first week of my sophomore year of college, I drafted my first ever resume and went to various local businesses asking if they were hiring. The answer was a resounding, “We’re not interested.”
I had no experience in retail or waiting tables, aka all of the jobs I was applying for.
On my second attempt to find someone interested, I went to a local pizza and sandwich joint. They weren’t hiring any wait staff but asked if I’d be interested in delivery driving. The interview was two days later and lasted for no more than 10 minutes. I got the job.
My first day should have sent me packing.
I tagged along with another driver, a guy in his twenties with a ponytail and a scruffy beard, to learn where to park on local college campuses. As soon as we pulled out, he started to warn me about the boss. He told me that I’d been hired because I was cute and that I would be flirted with and to generally watch out. I feared I wouldn’t get hired anywhere else and figured I could just steer clear.
There were parts of delivering pizzas I ended up really liking. I love driving, and on a good night, I’d spend 80% of my time driving around blasting Beyonce or Adele and singing to pizzas. I also loved having the briefest glimpse into a stranger’s life: just their order and their entryway. It was concentrated people watching.
The other 20% of the time I’d spend interacting with customers and hanging out by the oven eating cheesy bread. I got along well with my coworkers, and it was nice to break out of the college bubble.
There were also plenty of times when I hated my job, like when my boss conned me out of tips, made comments about my breasts, or screamed at me for telling a table that an automatic gratuity had been applied. There was also the time that he gave me a night off so that two other young female employees and I could go to his birthday dinner. He would not disclose his true age, but it was somewhere around 38.
On those nights, I was glad to be out of the restaurant as much as I was. However, my interactions with customers majorly differed from the other drivers, all of whom were men. For one, I don’t think they ever had their gender announced to them.
There was the time someone opened the door and said, “Oh! You’re a girl!”
Perhaps I should have sent balloons ahead to announce my gender, an image of a pink stork carrying a pizza that says, “It’s a girl!”
There was also the time that someone opened the door without looking up and said, “Good evening, sir,” before realizing they had assumed incorrectly.
It hadn’t occurred to me beforehand, but the mental image I had of a pizza delivery driver was a man, too. I had learned in an anthropology class and later in a women’s literature class about gendered spaces. They introduced me to the patriarchal idea of men governing the public sphere while women control the private sphere, specifically the home. This fit with the common break down of women serving as hostesses and waitresses, caring for guests within the restaurant, while men went out into the world to deliver and made more than double the hourly pay. (The stated reason was to pay for gas. I did not burn through over a gallon of gas every hour.)
Patrons were also constantly concerned about my safety. At least once a week, someone would ask me to come and stand inside while they signed the receipt or found cash. They’d insist, insinuating or sometimes outright saying that it wasn’t safe outside for me.
Yet they, strangers, could protect me within their entryway. Realizing how gendered these interactions were was probably the most direct real-world example of something I’d learned in the classroom, yet also the most disheartening.
In jobs I’ve had since then across various industries, I’ve been more attuned to the gendered dynamics. I’ve had to respect the genius of a cook who couldn’t properly train his staff. I’ve been disrespected by male colleagues and then forced to apologize. I’ve been talked down to and literally had my success credited to my father, with whom I’ve never worked.
It’s all bullshit. But I’ve also realized how great a privilege it was, and is, that I’ve been able to quit jobs when it got to be too much and not be desperate to get another job right away.
As with almost any job I’ve had, I look back on the experience with mixed feelings.
However, there’s no denying that I learned a great deal that year, in and out of the classroom. So, to any young person called to deliver pizza, my advice is this: sing loudly, pray for stoners, and stand up for yourself.