8.04.08 by Ms Nhatt Attack
It had been raining all week, and we were at the pub talking about all the things that depress us, namely the amount of dockets we didn’t do and the pedestrians that flung themselves in front of us and the amount of water our shoes had managed to retain. Then it came out.
“I’m not a very good courier,” I said to my companion in messenger misery.
“What are you talking about, you seem to do fine”
“Yeah, but I’m slow. Very slow.”
My companion took a long pull on his pint.
“Have you ever lost a package?” He asked.
“No, of course not. Well, yes, but I found it. It had been run over, but I figured if the receptionist signed for it it’s not my problem”
He sighed, and out poured the stories of lost packages, misdelivered envelopes, couriers taking breaks with urgent dockets on board, and the classic, multiple stories of couriers that didn’t understand that permission to post meant that you put the package through the door, not through the royal mail system.
Then our American friend piped in.
“It’s not about speed, you know. It’s about consistency. Your controller loves a guy who’s going to show up five minutes early everyday, not be hung-over, never forgets to deliver packages, doesn’t get into a strop about doing runs to sw3 all day, and, most importantly, Ms. Attack, doesn’t scream at security guards simply because she’s in a bad mood.”
I blush, but he’s completely right. Of course how fast you are plays into it. But realistically, what’s the time difference between someone like the top rider at the company and someone like me? 5 minutes, maybe 10 depending on the distance. But if you add in my strop at the guard, that’s an extra 15 minutes. Then there’s that courier who had a cuppa while carrying an urgent direct (this got him fired, incidentally). That must have been something like 20 extra minutes that the client was waiting for her package, which could have lost his company the client.
That happened with one company I worked for, a courier forgot a package in the toilet and it lost our company the client. They got them back, but only by offering them a tremendous discount on all their runs. Now we riders only get something like a pound a tag on packages from them, thanks to a stupid error. Both The American and my companion are much faster than me, but one of them drinks too much and has bad days as a result, and the other isn’t very good at paying attention to where his package is actually supposed to be going.
“So, basically, 90% of being a good courier has to do with thinking things through and giving a fuck about our job, and only 10% has to do with pure speed.” I state to the table. Nearly all nod in agreement.
Then, from behind the darkest pint, the Grizzled Veteran speaks.
“Why should I give a fuck? I pick things up, I drop them off, my company doesn’t give a rat’s left testicle about me, why should I try and do any favours for them?” Several people grumble in agreement.
Ah, a subject dear to my heart, what makes a courier company a good one. I went through 5 companies before I found one in each city that I could work for without daily doses of Prozac to keep me from going on a Columbine style rampage though the office.
I personally just want to make enough money to eat (and drink), not spend too much time standing by, and have a controller that actually listens to you and doesn’t yell at you over the radio. I would prefer this to be in a company that doesn’t ask for a lot of extra stuff from you, like wearing a uniform or requiring a brake or a helmet, but you can’t have everything.
“The best company I worked for was Top Notch in NYC” I started. “Hector had been a messenger in Manhattan for 10 years before he started the company, and he really believes in doing right by couriers. He’s always bright on the radio, makes jokes and is accommodating as long as you’re not hurting his business. My favourite Top Notch story is from a week before I left to come back to London.
It was supposed to be the hardest day of the year, nothing but snow, rain and cold, and several of our riders weren’t going to get out of bed for any kind of money. When I went into the office Hector sat me down. “Look, I don’t pay you enough for you to risk your life to deliver tags. If it gets really bad, just let me know and I’ll buy you a subway card and you can be a walker for the rest of the day on your normal wages. I don’t want you getting hurt.” I was touched by his gesture, but come on, a walker? I’m way too tough for that.”
The American smiled at this, having experienced first hand what an idiot I can be when I decide that I’m tough. I sipped my pint and continued.
“I have never been so miserable in all my life. It hailed for a few hours, then snowed for a few hours, then there was freezing rain for the rest of the afternoon. I hit a parked car because of the ice, and my fingers were so cold, even with gloves on, that I couldn’t grip my handlebars well enough to skid to a stop and nearly hit another car a few hours later.
When I got back to the office Hector had got his wife to go out and buy the entire fleet dry socks, and he slipped $20 into the tops of each pair. TN’s office was really small, but he welcomed all 12 of us to stay until we were ready to face the cold again. For me, this is the most important thing, being treated like a person”. Not everyone at the table agreed.
“Sure, that was nice, but weren’t you always skint in NYC?”
I nodded. “ Yeah, TN didn’t pay that well, but it was nice being hourly and he didn’t over work me”.
“Well,” my companion said, “I used to agree with you, I just wanted to ride and be treated decently. Now I just want to get paid and not have to think about my company at all.”
There was a gentle murmur of agreement from the Grizzled Veteran and I drained my glass and prepared to head home. I figure that if I can’t be the fastest rider on the fleet the least I can do is show up on time and be vaguely sober.