American Hero? Or, What It’s Like to Be “Essential”

I originally wrote this article back in April, right as the world was shutting down. Much of this still applies, but so much of it is so different now, for many different reasons. I don’t know why I didn’t publish this back then. Or why I am now, for that matter. I guess I feel I need to get back out there and I need to say my piece.

“Thank you for continuing to work” is a sentence that I honestly never thought I would hear while working this job. I mean, why would I? I deliver packages, not save lives or protect the home front or anything like that. When I started this job nine months ago, that’s all it was: A job. No more. No less. Nothing special.

And now, here we are, under work-at-home quarantine as the result of a global pandemic known as Covid-19. I won’t rehash the grim set of circumstances that have brought us to this point. (None of us need any reminding of that.) But it’s brought up an interesting byproduct, the concept of essentiality.

(Since that word is underlined with a red, squiggly line, I’m assuming it’s not a real word. But I’m running with it anyway.)

There are two groups of people currently: Those who are “essential,” in that they perform a job or function that is essential to keeping society functional, and those who are not. It’s a unique position for many of us who have, for so long, been deemed to be lesser, looked down upon by those who work in offices at desks behind computers, who make sales and deals and big decisions.

With unemployment expected to reach over 35,000,000, many of those not among that number are those who work these “lesser” jobs. In fact, many companies deemed to perform essential duties are ramping up hiring to meet increased demand in these dangerous and trying times. Amazon recently announced it was hiring 100,000 for its deliver network for this same reason. (Amazon is its own kettle of fish, and I’m not going to try to boil that down to a few paragraphs here.)

Anyway, since I am in logistics, I am very fortunate to still have a job, as logistics is an essential industry. As I conclude my third week as such, I’d like to share some thoughts on what it means to be considered “essential”:

  1. It’s fucking weird. I drive a van and put boxes on front porches. There’s not much to it beyond that. I don’t feel like I’m performing such a vital service (though I’m sure I am), and I don’t know if I ever will. I saw a graphic/meme online the other day thanking essential workers for their service. Among those thanked were those serving in the armed forces, first responders, medical professionals, and…service industry workers. To see someone in my line of work placed on the same plane as those incredible people is surreal, and I don’t think it will ever not feel weird.
  2. People have gotten dumber. Going beyond all the morons still gathering for church on Sundays, and the idiot college kids partying at spring break, people have lost their minds. In the absence of a normally operating society, people have forgotten all societal norms. I can’t tell you how many times a day I see people out walking their dogs down the middle of the street, completely ignoring everything else, such as perfectly-usable SIDEWALKS and two-ton I-could-easily-flatten-you-like-a-pancake AUTOMOBILES driving straight at them.
  3. I hate anyone who parks head-in on a cul-de-sac. Seriously, you’re scum. Harsh words, perhaps, but when I’m trying to do my job in a large vehicle with horrific visibility in neighborhoods where it’s best not to do any reversing, I thrive on the ease and simple joy of making a loop around a cul-de-sac. However, when I pull in and find five or six vehicles with their asses taking up valuable turning real estate, my eye twitches with rage. So, if you do this, when you had the clear option of parking along the curb like a normal human, you’re an asshole, and I want you to know that.
  4. I hate wearing gloves. I know they’ll protect me, but they make my hands clammy and incredibly uncomfortable. Plus, they make it difficult to work my devices for my job. Also, I love/hate hand sanitizer. Also, I apparently love touching my face.
  5. I’ve heard people complaining about how we don’t ring doorbells anymore, and I want you to know that we hear you and we don’t care. Not a bit. I’d rather not risk picking up any more germs than I already do on a daily basis by pressing on your doorbell/knocking on your door. I don’t know you. I don’t know what you’ve been doing. I don’t know where you’ve been. Frankly, while I’m performing this crucial task for you, I’d like to stay as safe as I can, thankyouverymuch. If your package is really that important to you, check your front porch often, check your email often, check the tracking info, or buy a dog (they will 110% let you know when somebody might possibly could be in the general, vague vicinity of your porch. You don’t complain about the mail like this, do you? (I know there are other reasons to complain about the postal service, but delivery alerts is not usually one of them.)
  6. People have become less considerate. I mean, I knew they were inconsiderate before this whole mess, but it’s glaring now. I used to receive a “thanks” from the majority of people who saw me on my route. Now, I’m lucky to hear more than one. I don’t think I’m asking for much here. It’s just that it’s nice to feel appreciated.

So, what can I say that’s constructive? Okay. I think I’ve got it. Here are some things that you, as a customer, can do to help during this time of crisis:

  1. Update your delivery preferences (if applicable). Stop asking us to deliver to your fenced-in rear porch. Especially since the pandemic, we’re not touching anything more than we have to, and that includes your side gate. Beyond that, it’s against company policies. Also, stop asking us to put it in your mailbox. That’s a federal crime, and I’m definitely not going to jail/getting a fine for you. The bottom line is this: Make things simple for us. We’re doing the best we can under the circumstances.
  2. Be friendly. I’m literally putting my health on the line so that you can stay home and help flatten the curve while still receiving the video game you so desperately needed to ignore the family you’re quarantined with for the foreseeable future. If you see a delivery person in your neighborhood, give us a smile or a wave or a “hello”.
  3. Thank/tip a service industry worker. Seriously, I don’t care who they are or where they work. If they’re doing a job for you during this pandemic, they deserve your honest thanks. By the same token, if you see someone deliver something to your door, and they’re within earshot, tell them “thanks”. And if they’re not within earshot, wait until they turn around and give them a wave. I can’t tell you just how much we appreciate that little gesture.

I think I’d like to close by saying one simple thing: Wear a damn mask, you selfish heathens.

Until next time, comrades.

– The Retail Explorer