Entry 06: Always Tip The Takeaway Rider
I was skint. Nothing new for me. However, this was a special kind of skint.
I had just graduated from university into the backend of the last lockdown. Job prospects were thin, and I was lucky to be holding onto a part-time job. The work I wanted in the creative industry seemed impossible at best, so I signed onto Universal Credit. For nearly a year after becoming a graduate this was my biggest financial achievement.
One day, I was deep into the Instagram algorithm, and an advert for a well-known takeaway delivery company appeared. They had recently changed their work contract from pay-per-delivery to pay-per-time worked. The wage was just over £7.00 an hour, which to me sounded absolutely lavish. My application made its way to them with serious speed.
After the most incredibly disinterested questioning in a video call, I was invited to take my training and induction. Jackpot! Finally, I’d found an easy avenue to bring in some extra cash; I envisaged financial freedom falling into my lap. New frontiers would open upon the shelves of Lidl.
I arrived for my training, moderately excited and naive. A militant, balding, late-thirties Londoner took me and a few others upstairs into the training area of the dispatch hub for central South-East London. He started lecturing us on all things takeaway.
Afterwards, militant, moderately bald man, inspected my bike and asked, ‘Are you sure you want to use this thing? It’s quite old, and you need to go fast sometimes…’ I said I was happy on my bike, and he nodded, probably knowing what was to come.
The wage was just over £7.00 an hour, which to me sounded absolutely lavish.
I made my first delivery. A lovely woman, who lived in the block next to mine, ordered Chinese. She came down – always go down to meet your delivery driver – took the food, and pressed a pound into my palm. I biked away beaming.
My second delivery request arrived. A McDonald’s to be picked up from Waterloo and delivered to somewhere in Kennington. I made my way off to complete with glee. Now, firstly, I didn’t check where I was delivering to. And secondly, the long queue of other riders in the McDonald’s basically spelled out what I was about to get into. They looked tough, tired, and tested. One of them asked where I was heading – a lot of riders bike alongside each other on similar delivery routes – and he quickly wished me luck and went a different way.
No one had explained the reality to me, so I wheeled away to meet my fate. I pedalled down a few back streets to see imposing tower blocks looming. The directions got confusing. The sound of another bike approaching mine registered. My stomach dropped, and a voice – way too close for comfort – with absolute cold, laughing malice, sneered, ‘What you saying, G?’ Fuck. I was getting mugged.
Instead of turning around I began to pedal as hard as I could. A kick went straight into my thigh. The guy was right next to me. I wobbled into a parked car, bounced off it with my other leg, and yet managed to keep pedalling. In the interim, I remember saying something stupid like, ‘What you doing that for?’, which is, upon reflection, a readily answerable question.
I managed to get to the end of the back street and steal a glance behind to see where the mugger was. Oh, how lovely, there were three of them, and one of their shoes had just found its way snuggly into my lower back. That really hurt.
A manic chase ensued from there. I had no idea where to go but forward. I pulled into another street and saw Kennington Lane ahead. One more glance behind… they were still there. All I knew was that if I could get into traffic they’d forfeit the race. By the skin of my teeth I made it into the main road.
They tailed me for a while, then disappeared.
Fuck. I was getting mugged.
Adrenaline took over and I couldn’t fully register that I’d been hurt. My lungs were screaming from the consistent abuse of baccy that I piled on them coupled with this sudden burst of cardiovascular activity. After a few minutes I messaged the dispatch team to say I’d been attacked. No answer.
I found myself worrying that I’d lose the money from the shift if I didn’t deliver the food. Rational thinking processes don’t thrive in shock, so I bit my lip and biked back into the block through another street.
I couldn’t find anywhere to lock my bike, so I crammed it into the lift and ascended to one of the highest floors in the tower block. The doors opened with a groan, and my bike, food bag and battered body spilt out into a corridor. It was nearly pitch black apart from a flickering ceiling light that fed unpleasantly into the nasty atmosphere of the evening so far. A cold sweat broke out all over me: I started wondering how the muggers knew which road I was on, as well as the precise moment I’d be passing for them to intercept. I remember the moment it hit me. It was most likely them who ordered this food. They could mug me, get free food, and a refund for their order never turning up.
At this point I was at the door of the flat. I quietly unzipped the bag, deposited the food outside, retreated to call the lift, placed my bike and bag inside ready to descend, and braved it. I shuffled back to the door, knocked, and sprinted back to the lift. I began mashing the down button frantically expecting the muggers to appear. The doors began to grind shut, and just before they closed I saw the delivery get yanked inside by an unknown customer who barely cracked their door ajar. The flickering corridor light went dark, the doors closed, and I descended.
Just after that my leg gave up and cramped. I messaged dispatch again and they instantly paused my shift upon seeing the previous messages I had sent. I returned to the training centre where I had started my new job just an hour or so before. I then understood why my training felt so militant, and why the moderately bald man had said I would need to ride fast at times. Whilst I was filling out a mandatory police report, managers at the hub assured me this wasn’t common. I told them regardless, I’d rather be skint than skinned. Right on cue another rider came in and asked to file a report: someone had just held a knife against his neck. And right after that, another rider turned up talking about the gun someone pulled on him last week. They sighed and told me to buy blinding spray or a rape alarm.
I wish I could say I’ve tipped my takeaway riders since. But I’m still skint. And hardly ever order takeaway. If you’re reading this, and you’re not skint, and order a lot of takeaway: always tip the takeaway rider!