We were in San Francisco that day; seven miles by seven miles of crazy, weird, fascinating urbanity. I was in the Sierra Nevada 12-bay beer delivery truck, riding shotgun with my driver Jaz. He’s 27, married, with a little baby girl due in 2 months. I had never met him before, but I liked him immediately. Jaz was one of those people who you want to be like. He’s cool without having to say he is. He commanded respect from the people he interacted with. He was a skilled driver, navigating the alleys and streets of the Financial District with seemingly no effort. Exhausted from constant work, he never once complained about it.
I could tell we would get on well when we were staring into the dawn sunlight, headed northbound on 101 along the bay, 98.1 fm playing Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots” for the 12 trillionth time (I worked at that station in my former career. I’ve heard the song so many times my head explodes when I hear it!).
Jaz said, “If you don’t like the station, pick whatever one you want.”
“You’re the driver; driver controls the radio.” I affirm.
“This is your truck too.” I know it’s going to be a good day.
This route was completely different from the suburban ones I had grown accustomed to riding; today we’re planning to do 26 stops; not at retail or 7-11 type places, but many smaller drops at fine restaurants and lounges. There are 30-something kegs, and 300 cases to deliver.
The city had some elasticity to it that morning; not a locked-down gridlock of noise and congestion. The streets seemed to widen a bit for us, allowing us to float through downtown with minimal delay. We found decent parking spaces, close to the places we need to drop the product off. What was also different was how we got into the backstage area of these businesses. You can’t just roll through the front door of mega-skyscraper Embarcadero One; you have to get into the bowels of the building and wind your way up elevators and hallways until you reach your walk-in cooler destination. Jaz knew exactly where to go, and who to talk to. I noticed people liked to see him. He and I were greeted warmly at every stop. There was some ball-busting between the guys who are “regulars”, but it was understood they like each other.
Mid-morning, Jaz asked me how I happened to join the company. I told him about getting laid off, and having a little too much down time, wanting to do some honest work. I told him about my teaching gig at Academy of Art University and the things I had accomplished in my career.
He looked at me, his face contorting into a quizzical bend.
‘What in the HELL are you doing here?”
I laugh. “Hey man, I’m doing a job, just like you. ”
His face untwisted, and he nodded his approval.
I really enjoyed the time on the truck for a couple of reasons; it was rich with material, and a great way to challenge assumptions. I wore a blue delivery guy uniform; it’s a facade that the shallower and more vacuous among us would immediately create a perception about. I liked to engage people to prove their assumptions wrong; not out of a sense of insecurity – I just wanted to see if the people I connect with got it. You can be stupid and be a stockbroker, after all. The facade of the stockbroker is simply more easily recognized and understood; a titan of industry in a $3,000 suit might be the biggest dick you ever met. You can also be bright and wear a blue delivery guy uniform. My hobby was the connection. I like to size up people, and I like to be sized up. I wanted to see if I could find a character in the people I collided with. It wasn’t about trying to prove that was better than the uniform; it was about seeing if a person’s character allowed them to see me for me. I believe this could be accomplished in less than 60 seconds. To fail at this attempt is not a negative; it’s just fun to see who engages and who doesn’t.
I have discovered one certainty on this route; the kitchens of San Francisco’s restaurants are populated almost exclusively by Latinos. I had not seen one, not one…African American, Asian or white person on these travels, except for the Chinese folks working at the Chinese joints. It had some impact on me. I then recalled I was the only white dude on the second shift at the warehouse. The labor force of the bay area is, if not completely, majority brown. This is where they met their obligations to begin the journey to their dreams. We need to remember we have much more in common with folks than we do differences.
Jaz spoke impeccable English, and perfect Spanish, and could freestyle into a Spanglish that was lyrically poetic. I was envious of this talent. As it turned out, mi nuevo amigo Jaz has quite a way with words.
The drivers of delivery trucks know each other; like any business, it’s a small word. The men honk at each other and wave, and holler out “What’s up!” as they stream by each other on the streets of downtown. We had a quick lunch with Tony, a Coke driver. We talked football at a Subway. These people have each other’s backs; Jaz told me a competitor helped him find some of the backroom destinations along his route when he was new. I liked that camaraderie.
At the end of the day, we got a chance to lend a hand to another driver. He had dozens of kegs and cases yet to deliver. Jaz and I grabbed hand trucks and loaded up.
Our destination? A strip club.
Negotiating a stack of Coors Light 2-12 pack bottles down a couple of stairs into a dark room where an admittedly extremely attractive (topless) woman is writhing to the sounds of “More, More, More” by the Andrea True Connection was a surreal experience. I glanced, but didn’t really look. I didn’t want to be Creepy Delivery Guy!
At three pm, we headed back to the warehouse with an empty truck, windows down, Rick James’s “Give It To Me Baby” blaring for the 10 gazillionth time on 98.1. ( see Patrice Rushen reference above). I was tired and sweaty, but felt a sense of odd satisfaction. Jaz and I didn’t speak much on the drive back. We said a lot this day; now, we relax.
I headed back to the San Francisco after getting dropped off at the warehouse. I had to teach later at the university. I showered, put on a suit, grabbed my man bag and laptop and walked over to the Caltrain commuter rail station to catch a cab to the Financial District, the place I had been slinging beer kegs earlier this day.
As the cab pulls away and roared down Townsend Street, I noticed a 12-bay Corona company truck. I recognized the driver. He was loading up a hand truck to make a delivery to Walgreens.
I just left that world this moment and was now headed for my other universe, each unrecognizable to the other.
This is an excerpt from John’s book, “Destination: Reinvention – Starting Over During The Worst economy In A Lifetime, on sale now in the Amazon bookstore, iTunes and Lulu.