It’s quiet. As we wait for orders, triathlete Alexa listens to weird indie music. Vegan-warrior Ben studies extreme tattoo websites on his phone. Mad Russian Dmitry teaches the rest of us swear words in various Slavonic languages.
We don’t like this. The quiet, I mean, not the swearing. Deliveroo has many more riders on its books now. It means the company can cope better with a rush — but when it’s slack, we get fewer jobs and less money each. Sometimes it works out below minimum wage, which doesn’t apply to us: we’re ‘self-employed’.
But here comes a perk the company doesn’t talk about. Two riders each return from jobs with free food for us.
First, Lawrence — the posh, friendly, but disorganised Oxbridge law grad who you wouldn’t trust to deliver a punchline, never mind a forty-quid meal — spilled a curry riding a potholed road the rest of us avoid. The customer insisted on a total reorder and the refused first batch has come our way.
Second, a similarly posh, friendly but disorganised burger chain messed up an order somehow, so there’s three 12-quid burgers up for grabs.
It’s meat, so Ben isn’t interested, but helpfully informs us about the evils of factory farming. Dmitry just laughs: My grandfather in Siege of Leningrad, if you hungry you eat rat, wallpaper paste, anything!
I try one of the posh burgers. It’s horrible. I’d prefer the wallpaper paste. I practice some of the vocabulary we’ve just been learning.
I try half a lamb curry. It tastes of delivery-box floor. I ate at this restaurant once, so I know this is actually how it always tastes. Perhaps Ben is right.
The value of food
As we eat I chat to Lawrence about the insecurity of zero-hours contract life. For him it’s gap-year experience. For me it’s to pay my bills. His family is well-off and well-connected, so he’ll get a law job eventually. He says he wants to fight for the rights of gig-economy workers.
He’s being genuine, not patronising. But his lights don’t work, his T-shirt is on inside out and his delivery box smells of curry, so I hope he’s better at campaigning than at food delivery.
At last, the rush starts. We all get orders. It’s a lovely evening, warm and bright, and I try out some parkland shortcuts I wouldn’t do in the dark. One customer gives me a £5 tip. Their kids look admiringly at my bike and ask eager questions about the job. Wow, says the boy, sounds great.
Ah, the innocence of youth. But on an evening like tonight, he’s right.
Back at the muster point it’s clocking-off time. Alexa’s friend at a Japanese restaurant has sneaked us a bagful of unsold sushi that was destined for the bin. It’s wonderful.
The value of my free food tonight is more than what I’ll get paid. See, Lawrence? We cycle for food. This is earning a crust in the 21st century. Bon appetit, Dmitry, as we say in English!