Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Camp Bullis Part 2

Bullis orders weren't just a pain in the ass for drivers.

Somehow, not a single soldier knew what building they were staying in. They weren't even named, they were numbered. A step outside ever would have solved the issue. We inevitably ended up delivering to the postal exchange building.

Since we delivered at timed intervals, this led to some fun experiences for drivers, at least. Jeremy would wait exactly 5 minutes at the PX and then leave, pizzas delivered or not. Jim, Jeremy, and Rob would often get back into their cars and cackle as they sped off, soldiers windmilling in the rearview.

Everytime I spoke to someone from Bullis, I was somehow physically accosted with idiocy. They mostly ordered for a large group of friends, and the stupidity on offer was offensive. Aside from not knowing where they slept, they had difficulty grasping pizza sizes, would often order 20 ounce sodas thinking that it was enough for multiple people, and never, not a single time, did they ask what everyone wanted ahead of time. The logisticians of the Air Force are astounding. The coordination necessary to organize the people and machines of a base and execute missions is mind-bogglingly impressive.

Not a goddamned one thought to check if their buddies wanted pepperoni or ham ahead of time.  

The couple times I got to ride along with Jeremy to Bullis were very instructional. The car wasn't typically searched, but getting to and then into the base was a nightmarish time sink for a job in which the hour was a very real loss of at least 20 dollars in tips. This is why every driver eventually instituted a strict 5 minute waiting period.

After witnessing firsthand the behavior of the soldiers, I made a conscious decision not to tell any of them about this time limit.  

But these extreme measures weren't enough to get the fuckers to tip. That's a story for next time on the Bullis Files.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Scandal That Gently Rocked Nothing Of Consequence

Bobby was a buddy of Jim and Jeremy and I from high school. One time the four of us went to a movie at the Drafthouse and in the middle of the movie, a waitress approached Bobby, whispered something to him, then went out to the hall. Bobby got up and made out with the waitress for 20 minutes. They'd never met before.

What I'm saying here is that Bobby was stereotypically alpha. He had a magnetic appeal to women that meant he never had trouble sleeping with the ones of his choice.

I don't know why he chose to start fucking Natalie. My first instinct says to make his job easier, but I don't think he did any more work before he and the boss started shtupping than he did afterward. He flat-out admitted he wasn't physically attracted to her. I guess it doesn't really matter at this point. 

This is the sort of scandal that tears workplaces apart. People get fired, feelings get hurt, drama invades every employee's life no matter how disconnected they are, and eventually there is a breakdown. That's why every company in the world has rules against this sort of thing. 

Mahjong hummed along without the months-long tryst making a blip.

It is perhaps a testament to how chronically beyond fucked-up the business was run that when people found out about this, they shrugged their shoulders as if it was SOP. Jim and Jeremy informed me as if bored.  

"But...they do it here?!"

"Yeah, in the driver hallway." (The driver hallway was the only place in the store not covered by cameras, which made my nightly Dr. Pepper exceedingly easy)

"This is like really bad, you guys! Bobby's gonna get fired!" 

"I can't think of a single male from corporate who Natalie hasn't openly admitted to fucking." 

When I confronted Bobby about it, he was somehow even more nonchalant. 

"Well now when I show up drunk she won't say anything about it." 

These are the things that happen in your local pizza place whether you know it or not. People fuck a yard away from where the pizza is cut, leaning over the bags used to bring that pizza to you, in the name of the driver not getting hassled for drunk driving for a living.  

Have fun ordering pizza next time. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Regarding Ron...

Ron was (still is) a driver for Mahjong. He was in his 30's, had a degree in both history and education, and an honorary degree in intense creephattery.


Ron seemed to have difficulty with concepts like "get to know someone the slightest bit before you sidle up behind them and massage their shoulders" or "don't continue conversations with me that you started with someone else without offering me any context" or "some people don't play World of Warcraft so this gibberish is completely meaningless to them". Now, rubbing up on total strangers is some USDA grade creep shit, but it was actually speaking with Ron that was jarring to me more often. 

There'd be times when I was cutting pizzas and Ron was talking to Jeremy. I couldn't hear them, but it was always pretty apparent that Jeremy was baffled beyond the capability for response. And when he would take a delivery out, Ron would saunter over and continue the conversation he'd started with Jeremy completely seamlessly.  

"Haha, that was pretty funny, man. Show me the fox." 


"Jeremy was trying to show me the fox." 

"You know I couldn't hear what you two were talking about, right?" 

"Yeah but I just wanted to say I agree. I gotta take this delivery. Make sure to tell Jeremy to show you the fox." 

About a third of conversations with Ron were mind-numbing non sequiturs with you trying to play catch-up in his hopscotch of madness, another third were him telling you all about World of Warcraft, and the last third were in-jokes he rarely shared with other people, like, "Show me the fox." 

After a couple weeks of prying, Jeremy and I found out that, "Show me the fox," was a product of one of Ron's blisteringly insane conversations. He was making a joke based on the idea that Jeremy was getting a tattoo of a fox tail sticking out of his butthole, as though a fox had burrowed into him.  

We resolved to start paying more attention when Ron talked.

But as creepy as he was, there was no denying that he also had a way of making you fear for your life!

One time, while folding boxes in the back, I noticed something tucked behind the electrical box for the store. I asked Jeremy what it was, and he walked over and pulled out an enormous fuck-off butcher knife. He explained that Ron kept it back there for reasons unknown. 

I decided eventually to confront him about it, and here is, as verbatim as I can recall, how that conversation went:  

"Hey Ron...I saw this, ah, knife, behind the electrical box in the back. Jeremy said it was yours." 

"Oh yeah, I always gotta have it back there." 

"Oh...why exactly?"

He looked at me darkly and said only, "Just in case."

At this point my pants were just filling with shit. I knew I was about to die. The smell of shit-fear was his trigger, he was going to strike. I could see how he'd do it, he was so much bigger than me, someone was going to clean the cornmeal-dredged shit off my dead--

"Gotta go! Show me the fox!"

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Camp Bullis, Part 1

Mahjong didn't pay mileage to the drivers. Their money came from hourly wages (7.25 in the store, 4.25 on the road), tips (their real source of income) and the tiny stipend from the delivery charge (the entire delivery charge was 2.25, drivers got 50 cents of that for every order they took out). 

So right off the bat, it's apparent that taking multiple orders in one trip was pretty cost-effective and profitable. 

Now, the most universally reviled delivery amongst the drivers was the ones to Camp Bullis. The demand from Bullis for pizza was so high we had to take timed orders, one every hour from 3 to 10 or so, and there'd usually be 7 or 8 orders in each one. So why did drivers hate it so much?

It all has to do with why the demand was so staggering. Not a single other restaurant delivered to the army base. Let's take a look at the typical restaurant's delivery map radius.
It's a circle, generally speaking. Now let's look at Mahjong's map radius.

Ok this is pretty normaoooWHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SPIKE. That can't be normal. Bullis was 11 miles away from Mahjong. That's a 22 mile round trip, which wouldn't be so bad if every single denizen of Bullis wasn't an animal. 

Now I've covered the morality of tipping already, and I'm not saying that the soldiers at Bullis were bad people necessarily, but the army does specifically target 18 year olds because their morality is more easily malleable, rather than 24-26 year olds more likely to be in their physical prime.  

No one at Bullis ever tipped. I rode along with Jeremy a couple times to see it with my own eyes. This was a conscious decision on their parts. It was malice. I saw Jeremy hand these people their orders and the receipt to sign, and on the tip line, they wrote a 0 with a slash through it. When they handed it back and saw the look on Jeremy's face, they'd laugh and walk away with their pizza. 

The distance and their tendency to never tip had swiftly made every other restaurant stop delivering there, but Natalie saw only dollar signs.

Eventually this will be a story of triumph, of how the drivers trained the soldiers in the only way they understood. Until that time, though, Bullis is a seething bucket of the broth you would get from boiling maggots.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Meet Natalie!

Natalie was the general manager of the store for the majority of the time I was employed with Mahjong. 

She was in her late 30's, and a fixture at the company. By every single account she'd slept her way to the GM position, and had apparently slept high enough that she was virtually unfire-able. Which seems like a solid way to run a business. Natalie was like bubblegum that you chewed, fucked, and then never got out of your pubes. 

As manager, Natalie's bonus structure incentivized behaviors like obsessively regulating stock, rationing hours to drivers and insiders with an eyedropper, and coming down with a hellwhip on people she didn't feel were being productive. This mind-numbing lack of knowledge of organizational psychology fell into one of two categories:

Hilarious when it happened to someone else. 
Awful when it happened to you. 

The best part of Natalie's managing style was that she was constantly, constantly in the office. Her judgment of your productivity depended entirely on the 20 minutes she was out of it. My favorite example of this was the time Jeremy, in an effort to show me how easily impressed she was, said, "Watch this." 

When Natalie walked out of the office, Jeremy picked up a broom, spread his legs shoulder-length apart, and stood stock still holding the broom hamfistedly a foot above the floor, staring straight ahead with a glassy look in his eyes.

She jumped upon seeing him with broom in hand. "That's the initiative I like see Jeremy! He's getting extra hours next week!" She moved to the schedule and magnanimously scribbled in a 4 hour shift for him. Beaming with pride, perhaps a tear glistening in her eye, she returned to the office.

Jeremy had not moved a single hair the entire time. When she was firmly in the office, he tossed the broom aside, picked up an order, and left to deliver it.

There will be many stories to come about Natalie and her reign as head shill for Mahjong. But evidence exists, if you'll believe it, that she once felt emotions, perhaps even love.

And I will tell you the story of the precise moment I believe that that ceased to be true.  

Natalie was a cat-lover. A cat calendar was the sole personal touch that adorned the office (her son merited neither a picture nor keeping him in house past 15). It was pleasant to know there was something she loved outside of Mahjong. Humanizing.  

She once had a cat, a kitten really, which she'd stolen from a pair of friends. The pair had gotten the kitten addicted to cocaine as a lark, we're talking really fucked up stuff. Not cool people. So Natalie stole the kitten and over the course of the next few weeks, weaned it off the coke. She bought smaller and smaller amounts until it was well again, and grew to love the kitten.  

Fast forward another month or so, the cat was sick, so she rushed to the vet, leaving it overnight. The next day, the vet told her the kitten had feline AIDS, and that the best option would be to put it down. It was then that she got the call from her supervisor, the Area Manager, Lena (she has lots of stories in the future!). Natalie was needed immediately.  

She protested. The last of her humanity gave her the strength to cry out, she was about to send off a beloved friend.  

But Lena said if she wasn't there within 20 minutes she wouldn't have a job. Natalie sighed, and this is the moment we freeze frame on, this sigh. This sigh is the noise of capital eroding the human soul. No screams or whimpers or howls, just a sigh. It's the soul escaping, and the next noise you hear is the crinkling of the skin, as it is now simply a husk. This was the very second Natalie lost her spirit and became the Mahjong zealot.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tips, and the massaging thereof

One thing I learned early on in my Mahjong career is that as an insider, I wasn't going to get tips. There was a tantalizing little line on the receipt I had customers sign, but straight up, the reason anyone ever places an order for pickup is so they don't have to tip.
The cultural mores of American society don't call for it. I understand why people don't do it. But it is an incredible, unbelievable boon to someone making minimum wage. Getting 3 dollars in a day meant the reality of taking in necessary calories to survive was the slightest bit easier. 
At the beginning, I had no rivals for tips, but eventually the competition for the meager sums people would occasionally let slip would drive me to a reasonable facsimile of the drivers's behavior, at one point culminating in me furiously shouting down a fellow insider, but that is Ray, and Ray is a different story for several posts in the future. 
After a couple weeks floundering around without getting more than a dollar here or there, Jeremy showed me a simple trick that increased my tips tenfold. 
"When you hand them the receipt, don't ask them to sign it. Tell them, 'Fill this out and sign it, please.'"
It was so subtle, it was beautiful. Masterful, even. I went very suddenly from getting a buck every couple days to averaging 4 to 7 dollars a day. This way they felt compelled to write on those two little lines, and even though it was mostly zero, a lot more people than before would write in a tip. 
I'm sure there's some sort of psychological experiment to be made here, but all I know is that this one line made me a dollar menu millionaire.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Driving: A Primer

To this day, if you walk into my old Mahjong, and crank your head directly to the right, you will see a poster encouraging you to join the team. Among the collage of ethnically diverse, smiling* men and women, there is a blurb espousing the apparently insouciant lifestyle of a driver.

"Do you want to drive around in your own car, listening to your own tunes? As a driver at Mahjong, you can get paid to be your own boss on the open road."

If you're picturing a man sliding over the front counter, pizza bag in hand, giving a cavalier grin before he settles into his car, then flooring it for the horizon with the Beach Boys cranked so he can make it home in time to take his best gal to makeout point, you haven't read any of this blog prior to this point.

The order queue system was about as simple as they come. First in, first out. You take the order at the top of the screen, which is the most recent, when you return your name goes at the bottom of the list. Somehow the drivers managed to turn this system into a hotbed of human indecency.  

Taking a double was common practice if it was busy, but if you took two orders when it was dead, even if they were right next door to each other, you might as well have had the mark of Cain.  

Drivers had an extraordinarily long memory for being burned. There was a form of politics at work that was fascinating to watch. Deals were cut, rivalrous teams were formed, misdeeds from six months ago were brought up, all with viciousness that would be at home on a battlefield. It ill-befitted men fighting for 4 dollars in tips. These were men fighting to live.  

The in-fighting wasn't simply to take more orders, either. It was to avoid known bad tippers, to seize known good ones, to take doubles or triples at unreasonable times, to foist particular orders upon particular drivers. Ron was often the perpetrator of such heinous acts, being a ruthless motherfucker. In return, he was often the victim when other drivers would team up. It was brutal social efficiency.  

Howard Zinn said: "I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system. I don't want to romanticize them. But I do remember (in rough paraphrase) a statement I once read: 'The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don't listen to it, you will never know what justice is.'" 

Much in the posts to follow will revolve around the drivers and their exploits as they struggle to breathe in their boxcars. I maintain that you should never feel sorry for fucking drivers.

*Never witnessed in the wild.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Layout

(click to embiggen)

1 Front Door 

 Possibly the worst part of Mahjong. Not only did it bring me into the hellpit of my job, but it brought customers. I could see out of it at the cars passing by; the world untouched by hate. It also hosted a constant cavalcade of drivers cheerfully leaving the store and returning with cartoonish sacks with dollar signs full to bursting.  

2 Counter 

This is where I was the face of Mahjong and also the main staging area for me to wish cancer on anyone who didn't tip me.  

I wished for a lot of cancer.  

3 Oven 

This is where Mahjong's pizza went from cold, uncooked, sludge-filth to just sludge-filth. One of the two sources of overwhelming heat which made employment at Mahjong a human rights violation.

4 Make Line

The soulless assembly line of the store. Luckily, I managed to dodge learning to make pizzas for the first 8 months of my illustrious career.

5 Office

Tiny room for managers to sit in lamenting the fact that they made 9 dollars an hour, were 40, were having their souls eroded by an ecosystem of vicious capitalism, and that some unknown employee was ruining their shot at a bonus due to the massive losses incurred by daily Dr. Pepper theft.

6 Soda Cooler

The soda cooler. If it had any use other than keeping my Dr. Peppers cold, that information has been lost to time. Shamefully, the administrators of the cooler would allow all sorts of other sodas to clutter up the place.

7 Rack 

 The heat rack where pizzas were kept before being flung wildly at customers. Major social center, especially when an opportunity arose to beg for a mistake pizza.

8 Cut Table 

 This is where we pulled the pizzas from the oven and boxed them and cut them. It is also hell on earth.

9 Freezer 

 Cold room full of tubs of incredibly fresh pizza toppings, but mostly useful for standing in because being in Mahjong was akin to being on the surface of a dwarf star.

10 Bathroom

Repulsive room where I was forced to take communal shits with co-workers. To this day a container of my pee is in the ceiling.

11 Boxes

This is where we folded and stacked pizza boxes, most easy place to hide from real work.

12 Laundry Room

The laundry room where our sacred aprons were washed, but more importantly, one of the rooms where Natalie's homeless son Josh would sometimes sleep, and eventually the place where he would fuck girls.

13 Dish Sink

This is the place where late at night the closing team would idly spray hot water towards all the things that touch food throughout the day, in vague hopes of getting them clean.

14 Exit

The perfect place for Mahjong's resident smokers to congregate and never get bitched out; better place for me to set foot and get immediately chastized for doing no work.

15 Window Wall

The second source of supreme heat. Working in tandem with the oven, Mahjong utilized the technology of big fucking windows to harness every joule of heat toward the ultimate goal of making every workday feel like it took place inside a human being.

16 Driver Station

This is where the drivers were supposed to check out their deliveries, but instead cajoled, bullied, and conspired together to arrange deliveries in a fascinating form of tribal politics mostly centered around getting each individual favorable tips and fucking over Ron.

17 Bag Area

Perhaps my favorite part of the store, there was nothing particularly special about this area: it was where the heat bags were kept between deliveries. But I loved it because it contained the deepest testament to corporate incompetence I've ever seen. Right behind this bag rack, where drivers were constantly tossing empty bags, were the pair of switches which controlled the fans. The fans meant to keep the poison gases produced by the oven out of the regular gases required for everyday breathing.  

With just the slightest amount of foresight, this consistent line of conversation could have been avoided: 

"Hey, does it smell sort of like we're getting brain damage to you?" 

"Yeah, that's weird, I smell it too, like a faint soupcon of our kids having birth defects?" 

"Drivers must have accidentally hit the 'don't poison us all to death' switch."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our Cast of Characters

Kevin - If it seems like he can do no wrong, it's because he's the one telling this story, chump, so fuck you.

Jim - On top of being to blame for everything, one of my best friends, and a FUCKING DRIVER at Mahjong. Took every ounce of shit heaped on him by the company in trademark stride and bitter humor.

A note for the uninformed: You will hear many, many terrible things that the company did to Jim and every other FUCKING DRIVER. I implore you now not to feel too sorry for them. FUCKING DRIVERS made like 15 bucks an hour with their tips, and they are only to be hated. Harden your hearts now.

Jeremy - Another good friend and FUCKING DRIVER. Darkly humorous. Showed me the ropes at Mahjong, particularly the noose.

Ron - FUCKING DRIVER and professional creepy person. Degrees in both history and education, but due to mysterious legal troubles, barred from being a teacher. Possible theories: due to tendency to sneak up behind people he doesn't know that well and rub their shoulders sensually, his resume is instantly met with an enormous red rubber stamp which says something ominous.

Mitch - Sane person, worked inside with me. My grounding in reality when Jim and Jeremy were on deliveries.

Bobby - FUCKING DRIVER, a severe alcoholic, very charismatic and admirable at least in his lack of fucks to give about Mahjong.

Redding - Stoner bro, incredibly wise man.

Edsel - Old, bird-like man. Completely inscrutable. Invariably answers, "How are you doing?" with "Fair." or "Functioning."

Natalie - General Manager of the store, 30-something, satan. A blend of idiocy and hateful evil so well-mixed that if Da Vinci painted in vitriol, she would be the Mona Lisa.

Joe - Assistant manager, handsome 20-something, one of the few people I've feared for my life around.

Stan - Assistant manager, really great guy, simple and nice. Almost fools you into believing he is happy, but eyes are honest even when we are not.

This is the core of the group, with more to be introduced along the way, of course. But everything in its due time.