Livelihood

by | Jun 11, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Nine

Customer Satisfaction 83%

My dad and I pick up a large tub of popcorn from Marcus Theatre and deliver it to a frat house three blocks north of campus. We are so late the stoned college kids seem to have forgotten about the order. I raise my thumb aloft. It’s a subliminal tactic I’ve read about. The customer sees the gesture, they give a thumbs up on the app.

Jumping into my dad’s Honda Accord I open the UberEats app and queue the next delivery. Two apple pies from the McDonalds on the east side of town have to be picked up, then delivered to the west side of town.

“We have to be quick on this one,” I tell my dad.

Nodding his head, we roll down the street slowly as if we were in a parade. We pass by Smitty’s Tap. It’s not yet noon, but there’s a few vehicles in the parking lot. I’d give anything to stop and have a beer. Ride out the rest of the day on a barstool.

At a red light my dad asks for a snack. I rummage around in the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle lunch box that sits on the center console. My mom packed us apple slices, chocolate pudding, a couple Lunchables.

My phone dings: Thumbs down from the college kids. Dammit.

Customer Satisfaction 82%

 The apple pies arrive cold. Another thumbs down. My rating drops. Earlier in the week I received a warning email from corporate; if my ratings dip below 80%, I’ll be banned from UberEats.

 We pick up an order from Starbucks. My dad wants to take Sixth Street all the way across town.

 “The app says we’ll shave off five minutes if you hop on the interstate,” I tell him.

My dad’s worn the same buzz-cut since he’s served in Korea. “I hate the traffic this time of day,” he says, rubbing the bristly hairs on the back of his neck.

“This arrangement won’t work if we can’t deliver the orders on time.”

The arrangement is that after my third DUI, I no longer have a valid driver’s license. So he drives, I deliver. With my previous record, including one felony—which, in my defense, I knew MacBook Pros were expensive, I just didn’t know they were felony expensive—I’m a forty-year-old man who didn’t get a call back when he applied to Arby’s. My court fees are due by the end of the week and if I don’t pay up I’ll have a warrant out for my arrest.

My dad grips the steering wheel tight. “You’re right, Scotty,” he says.

On the highway he tries to merge into the wall of traffic but we’re going too slow. Instinctively, I stomp down on the floorboard as if there’s a gas pedal down there.  “Dad,” I say over the roar of a semi truck thundering past us with its horn blaring. “You have to go faster.”

A pony-tailed man driving a Pruis with a flock of colorful rubber duckies glued to the dashboard careens around us brandishing his middle finger. “Jimmy, I’m eighty five years old,” my dad says without further explanation. As if that explains anything. As if that’s going to help us deliver these two lattes.

Customer Satisfaction 81%

The latte orders are so late the thumb down appears blocks before our destination. I mull over what to do next. Besides perhaps a moral incentive, which I am able to quickly brush aside, there seems to be little reason to follow through with the order. I decide to go rogue.

 “Here,” I tell my dad, handing him one of the lattes.

“Oh, I don’t know Oliver,” he says. “It’s a bit late for caffeine.” We both look at the dashboard: 1:00 pm. “Just drink it,” I tell him, queuing up our next delivery. Maybe a shot of caffeine will help him drive faster.

Customer Satisfaction 80%

We pick up two Mountain Dew Baja Blasts from TacoBell. Things are looking good, but my dad has to stop at a Culvers to pee. At the delivery destination, a nondescript house in a nondescript suburb, a middle-schooler opens the door to greet us. He’s wearing JNCO jeans, and a mischievous grin. Next to him his buddy is recording me with his phone.

“Didn’t you read the note?” he asks. Customers can add their own instructions. I didn’t read his, but I nod my head and smile. The ice in their drinks is long gone, the soda probably flat and warm. But I had those JNCO jeans when I was a kid. The thumbs up still feels within my reach.

“Nice pants,” I tell the boy.

His face twists in disgust. “Are you hitting on me?”

The other kid pans the phone from his friend to me, back to his friend.

“What? No,” I say, raising my thumb. “Dude, definitely not.”

Customer Satisfaction 79%

When I try to queue another order, a pop-up error message flashes across my screen; my account’s been suspended. We’re parked just down the road from Smitty’s Tap. My buddies are there, probably playing pool, pairs of double-bubble bottles of beer lined up along the bar. I told my dad this morning when we left that I was done with drinking. But I’ve said that before. If I told him to, he’d drop me off, no questions asked.

My dad’s drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, squinting against the sun. He looks old. I’ve put him through so much. “You could ask your mom for the money,” he says.

I could. That’s the problem. If I ask, I have a feeling I’ll be trading a jail sentence for a sentence living in their basement.

He loudly rips apart the plastic on a Lunchable, thoughtfully chews on a cracker. “Or we could try the other one,” he says.

“What other one?”

“DoorDong or whatever.”

“DoorDash” I say, already downloading the app.

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