“The last guy gave me $10 on a $22 order. I told him ‘Thank you, thank you so much.’ He said he used to do the same thing I’m doing. He lives in a big house now. Did you see that house? Imagine living in a house that big.”
He’s been doing this for four hours already tonight, but it’s still early in the evening. Things are just picking up. The weather’s gotten colder, and people are staying in. A big budget Hollywood blockbuster will bomb this weekend. Many businesses will see fewer customers coming in. Tomorrow it might be just as cold, but with no ramifications.
Lots of beauty and very little logic.
But none of that is his concern. He’s just trying to deliver some pizzas.
“Been doing this for about two years now. When I started school, it was a good job to have. Good money. Money’s still good, but not as good as it used to be, tell you the truth. I used to do real well. I deliver mainly on the East Side — over by Wickenden — figuring I’ll hit up the rich people. Make more money that way. But the rich don’t tip as well. You get the students? They tip okay or they don’t tip at all. I’ve had that happen a lot.”
He’s 24, tall, with a goatee and a shaved head that he keeps covered with a Red Sox cap. When he laughs, his whole body seems to get into it, and if he’s driving when it happens, he hits the steering wheel a few times. In addition to the pizzas he’s delivering, he has two backpacks in his backseat that both look pretty full. He tells me he’s a good student, but he started school late. After high school, he took a break and moved in with his older brother. The two of them tried selling cars, but they weren’t any good at it. His brother is still trying, but he decided college was a better bet, so he enrolled at CCRI and started delivering pizzas.
“First place I worked for was a mob place, yo. I’m telling you. Yo, I’m telling you, they were mob bosses in there. We’d get a call for a pizza — nobody would do nothing. I’d go, ‘Yo, we gonna make some pizza or what?’ They’d go, ‘What’s your hurry, Sanchez?’ My name ain’t Sanchez, but they always called me that. I think the last guy who worked there was called Sanchez, and they didn’t want to learn a new name.”
The alleged mob bosses only employed him for a few weeks, but then they closed up shop overnight (only furthering his suspicions about them), and he ended up working at two different places at once.
“Some nights, things would get crazy, and I’d have food from both places in my backseat. But I always got it where it was going. I’m a good driver. I don’t speed. Never got a ticket. Got pulled over a lot though. I know the streets where you gotta watch out for that. My car’s a piece of s*** so if they see me comin’, I’m getting pulled over, but then they see me with the pizzas and they laugh it off and let me go. I tell all my boys, ‘Put some pizza in your car. Tell ‘em you do deliveries. Might work for you.’”
When he’s not doing deliveries, he’s driving around to check on some of his charges. The “boys” he talks about aren’t friends, they’re kids ranging from ages 11 to 16 who he mentors. A girl he was dating got him interested in it, and he found that he had a knack for looking out. The young men trust men — there’s something about him they like. Oftentimes, they’ll call him instead of their parents when they need something. I was sitting with him when his phone started going off, because one of them got an A on a test in a class they nearly failed.
“I’m really proud of this one kid. He was like me when I was in school — couldn’t tell me nothin’. I didn’t fight or s*** like that, but you didn’t walk on me. I tell them, ‘It’s okay to say that people can’t treat you bad.’ I’m not telling them to take any s***. I’m telling them you worry about yourself and where you’re going and you won’t even notice how other people treat you. It won’t bother you, you see what I’m saying?”
I asked him if he really believes that.
“Not always, but that’s what they need to hear. They’re too young to get that life’s got exceptions for ‘em. I can’t tell them that. They don’t do well hearing things ain’t always going to be fair. It makes them want to give up, and that’s the biggest problem they’d have — giving up. That’s all I say to them, ‘Don’t give up.’ Whatever I gotta say to make that happen, that’s what I say. If they find out later I’m a liar, then oh well. At least they’ll still be around to say it.”
After one of his deliveries, I see him say a prayer as he’s getting out of the car, and then one when he gets back, but before he pulls away. I ask him if something happened.
“Just got a bad vibe. Happens sometimes. You get a bad feeling, but then it’s all right. Guy was nice. Just didn’t like the look of his house. It wasn’t messy or nothin’, just got a bad feeling as I was pulling up.”
This was a house off Gano. The lights were off and it looked like nobody was home. It wasn’t a house I would want to hang out at, but it didn’t strike fear in my heart.
“You get a bad feeling, and I believe in checking in with yourself when that happens. Then I say a prayer before and after. Ask for my mom to look out for me. So far, no problems.”
His phone buzzes and he asks me to look at it for him. It’s his girlfriend asking if he’s coming by after his last delivery.
“I don’t know if I can tonight. I want to stop by a few houses before I head home. Some of the boys had a tough few days, and I want to see how they’re doing. They won’t talk to me when it’s really bad. They go quiet, and I have to go hunt them down. Might not get home until late. Like, late late. Like early morning late. Sucks, but you gotta do it.”
I almost point out that he technically doesn’t have to, but I get the feeling he would disagree with me on that. I ask him what he tells the boys who are dealing with the hardest problems.
“I say ‘Look at me.’ I know where they’re at. I meet them there, because that’s where I’m at, too. Lot of people struggling. Lot of people have a tough time. I got 10 bucks to my name once my bills are paid this month. But like I say, there’s no giving up. Now that it’s cold outside, maybe some of them will stay home and stay safe. That’s what I’m hoping for, but it doesn’t always work out that way.”
He tells me he looked me up on social media before we agreed to meet, and he knows I’m not a religious person.
“You cool with all the praying I do?”
I tell him I’m fine with it. That I’m not religious, but I’m also not anti-religious.
“Yo, if you ain’t against it, you want to pray with me before I drop you off?”
This was at the end of my night, but before the second part of his night began. He’d had text messages flooding in from a few different kids, and I was starting to see his anxiety flare up. At one point, it felt like pies were falling out of his car, because the computer system at the pizza place got backed up, and he had to make triple the deliveries he thought he did going to 12 different houses in a little over half an hour–something I wasn’t even sure was possible until I saw him do it.
“But I did it, see? Don’t give up. I want to say ‘Thank you’ now. And thank you for you coming with me, talking about me, writing about me. I appreciate that. I want to say a prayer of thanks. You cool with that? You cool praying with me?”
I said I was.
We sat in his parked car a few blocks from the parlor. His car was empty now, except for the backpacks, and me, and the smell of peppers and tomato sauce. He let the car run while he said a prayer, but he closed his eyes, so I closed mine, too. When he was finished, I looked at him, and he seemed to still be within the prayer. His hands had been on the steering wheel the whole time.
It was as if he was ready to go at any minute, and in absolutely no hurry at all.