Eggstra Special delivery

In April 2020, like so many other professionals in the hospitality industry, the Corona virus pandemic caught me in its crossfire and resulted in the cancellation and postponement of the entire year’s bookings within a span of 48 hours.

Everything had ground to a halt and in order to meet immediate needs, I had taken on a multi drop food delivery job. Suddenly, I was delivering food and grocery orders from a green van to families all over Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. It took a few weeks to get aquatinted with the driving and delivering door to door.

Although I had received training in hospitality, the company discouraged me from directly interacting with customers during lockdown. As a delivery man I heaved pre-bagged groceries from the van and placed them on the customers’ doorstep. After ringing the doorbell or sounding a knocker, I received advice to retreat back to the van to avoid spreading the virus.

Delivering food and supplies to the many villages around Suffolk and Cambridgeshire left lasting memories. Deserted streets and village greens, empty swings in parks swayed in the wind with no sound of children playing. No families or children on bikes and barren pavements bereft of dog walkers.

Even the busiest of roads were void of traffic and smaller streets were hard to drive through in a van because of the many cars parked outside homes and on lawns. It felt incredibly eerie. I couldn’t help imagining these same villages several hundred years ago during the great plague. There was a silence that rung through the air. I knew behind every front door was a family just sitting it out and most likely feeling a sense of fear or dread. Everyone was home but unable to move freely because we were in national lock down.

There was lots of learning on the run. They timed and measured absolutely everything on computers to the minute with each shift. There were individual time slots for each customer. A time to load the van, a time to leave the depot and drive to each customer’s doorstep, and a time to return to the depot to either re load the van or have it ready for the next driver. If one thing went off target early in the shift, then it affected the whole day and you had to race to catch up with big brother.

At the start of lock down, they did not encourage communication with the customer and did not allocate time for talking at the doorstep, apart from saying hello, giving the groceries, saying goodbye, and wishing them a nice day. One of the biggest challenges during lock down was the effects of social isolation. It’s now a recognised fact that loneliness is a worse killer than alcohol and nicotine.

By Easter, a customer would often meet me on a doorstep, so grateful not just to receive groceries but to have a moment of exchange with another human being. It was a moment of normal, even if it was a delivery guy! Some houses I delivered too were single occupancy or housed older folk. I could quickly read which customers were suffering with the overwhelm of being isolated and alone. It was in the aura they gave off.

With the constant influence of the ticking clock and algorithms, it was easy to feel stressed from the pressure to get to the next customer. This is a technological number crunching game, and it’s easy to feel like a ball in a pin-ball machine. This experience re defined for me the meaning of the customer comes first. No way could I ignore the greater need for a little extra humanity, a little extra time at the doorstep to have a human exchange.

I was not going to be influenced by the cold and callous AI system that had worked out how long to spend on each front door step? Where was the humanity in this?      

Many deliveries were for regular customers and so it was possible to build a rapport after a while. On turning up at a front door or walking up a garden path, there were often extremely bored looking children and exhausted parents who stared out at me from windows or gloomy teenagers sitting in the background as mum or dad collected the groceries from door step. Although the virus had stopped my work as a professional entertainer, I decided to always carry a packet of cards in my pocket and an egg box with some realistic rubber eggs.

Once I mastered the ability to ignore the pressure of time, I felt the shared vulnerability in the challenging time we were in together. Why not dispel the gloom and create special moments by injecting a little joy, a little kindness, and some extra levity to brighten people’s hearts and faces? Why not create some moments of magic? I kept the rubber eggs at hand and would ask customers could I just check your eggs to make sure none are broken? Then I switched to the rubber ones and started juggling them, five at a time.

Other times I would have a playing card quietly chosen or thought of only to make it appear in my shoe or stuck to a window, even in their grocery bag, to find later when I had gone. When I climbed back into the delivery van and waved cheerio to smiling faces and laughing children, it seemed somehow spirits had been lifted, both theirs and mine and magic had happened!      


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