Friday, April 18, 2014

Fun With Pizza (Pt. 4: Students)

First, a bit of hate.

Really, the biggest problem with college students is that they're all dumber than neon tetras.  You know what, junior?  Fuck what your Stanford-Binet Intelligence Quotient came out to be.  Fuck your SAT scores, fuck your 4.0 GPA all through high school, fuck what your high school guidance counselor said about the future success you'd have, and double-fuck how mommy and daddy always told you what a gifted child you are.  News flash, brat: you're as stupid as a box of chalk, and even more worthless.

You know what college students are gifted in?  Taking tests.  That's all.  Outside of that scope, they have the self-preservation skills of a box turtle with fetal alcohol syndrome, the problem-solving skills of crab lice, the real-life comprehension skills of refrigerator mold, and the grasp of how everyday life works of a pine cone.  College students, no matter the meaning of that 1600 on their SAT, are unable to function without massive amounts of hand-holding aid and support.  "Intelligence," as measured via Scan-Tron, is useless unless coupled with a more basic concept: common sense.

The amount of common sense doled out to your average UC Berkeley student (especially the fucking freshmen) is so tiny as to be immeasurable.  I've seen more basic sense in people who grew up snacking on paint chips in an old house.  Their survival to adulthood mystifies me, as they should have choked to death on a Lego around age nine, or celebrated their entry into puberty by sticking their tongues in light sockets.

So what brought on this violent abuse, this verbal neck-punch against all thirty thousand students at one of the more respected and revered schools in the state, if not the nation?  Why the anger, why the contempt and disgust?  In the words of my homeland, Dude, what are you on about?

Seven years. Pizza delivery.  Some of it part-time, some full-time, but seven years of pizza delivery in the city of Berkeley, California.  And delivery was what we did, 99.5% of the time.  A captive customer base of thirty thousand is a good thing to have, business-wise.  Having to deal with that customer base for seven years is what prompted the abuse this started off with.

To expand a bit on my ranting.... Despite what I surely said above, do I believe that UCB college students are actually stupid?  As in, lacking-in-intelligence stupid?  No: they can't be.  Even having an alumni daddy who made it big and donated a hundred grand to the school will not guarantee Junior gets entry into UC Berkeley if Junior's first response when handed the Scan-Tron for his SAT was to try and eat it.  You must have a technically measurable amount of intelligence to gain admission to UCB.

And aye, there's the rub.  All of this "intelligence" is measured on Scan-Tron sheets and in short essays.  It's the sort of intelligence that demonstrates you remember when the Treaty of Versailles was signed, that you can perform somewhat complex Algebra, and you are capable of using the English language correctly, and remember the different names for each little bit.... The technical rules of which I've completely forgotten, and fuck-all if I care about remembering them.  As far as I'm concerned, a gerund is a small fish used for bait when deep-sea fishing.

Okay, fine, I'm contradicting myself.  UC Berkeley students are not stupid, not in a "I eat things for money" stupid, or "I got my arm stuck in the vending machine again" stupid.  What I refer to as stupidity is a misuse of the term.  I use "stupidity" to define a combination of ignorance, naivety, and lack of common sense: a willful disregard, almost, of the world around them and how it works.  To me, that's not an unfair description of a person who's being pretty damn stupid.  When you deal with people that carry around that combination of behavioral and intellectual flaws, and don't seem to be worried about correcting them, I don't feel it's unfair after a few years to start making the blanket statement "Holy shit, college students are really goddamn stupid."  I had my hypothesis supported almost constantly.

The pizza place I worked for, which I will refer to as "Lefty's" for the duration of these posts, was number one in pizza delivery in Berkeley.  Really, it was all we did: there wasn't even a bench for people to sit on if they were picking up their order.  But pick-up orders were rare: we were the fucking kings of delivery.  No one could touch us: we had a good product, our prices were decent, and we were quick.

One other thing: we had a zoning variance that allowed us to stay open until 2 a.m., which gave us an extra three or four hours of working time compared to the other places.  Call at 1:59 a.m., and we would take your order and deliver it.  At 2:01, you can fuck off.  But if you were in Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, or North Oakland and it was past eleven p.m., and you wanted food delivered, we were the only game in town.  Really, we had the market cornered for pizza delivery in Berkeley, at any hour: good prices, good product, acceptable delivery times.

Yes, I said acceptable delivery times.  Hey, if you call in an order at 3:30 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, that order is probably gonna be there in about twenty-five minutes, no matter where you are.  Of course, if you call in around 12:30 a.m. on Friday night/Saturday morning, try over an hour.  And that's what the phone girl told you when you called in, and they always did.  They always give an ETA, and they're good at their jobs.  So don't think about getting all huffy and bent out of shape.  You're ordering pizza in a college town on a party night, we're the only game in town and you know it, so pay for it or refuse it, I couldn't give a fuck one way or the other.

Oh, you are that hungry!  Imagine my surprise.

One of the duller and more irritating lines I'd get from these dunces was, "It's been over half an hour!  Do I get it for free?"  I'd give him a look as if he'd just informed me his "masturbation with sandpaper" seminar had been approved by the Housing Committee, then ask, "Are you really that stupid, or have you not ordered a pizza since the mid-80s?  That'll be $15.50.  Didn't you get a delivery estimate when you called in?"
"Well....  Yeah....  But I was hoping...."
"Yeah, please.  Domino's dropped that half hour or it's free shit during the Reagan administration.  Their drivers getting killed, or killing other people, put the kibosh on that 'half hour or it's free' bullshit."
"What?  Their drivers would get killed?"
"Hell yeah.  You never heard about that?  Drivers would have to eat the cost of late pizzas, so they'd drive like fuckin' idiots trying to beat that time.  They'd run sixty in twenty-five zones, fly through red lights and stop signs, just drive stupid crazy.  I don't care how good you think you are, the odds are gonna catch up with you.  Heh, Domino's corporate was spending too much time in courtrooms with grieving families.... Not to mention that all their drivers were getting the rep of being dangerous psychos."
"Whoa.  I never knew that."
"Yeah.  That's why we give ETAs when people order.  What was yours?"
"Umm.... She said forty minutes."
I looked at the box tag, then my watch.  "Hell, I'm three minutes early.  If you want, I can walk around the unit for a few, then come back--- "
"No no!  I'll take it right now!"
"Very good sir.  As I said, $15.50."

Remember kid, if you're the only one laughing, you aren't funny.

The layout:

UC Berkeley had five major housing units, plus two small units, Stern Hall and Boalt Hall.  These last two were women- and men-only, respectively.  All other housing was co-ed.  I guess Stern and Boalt were there for Mummy and Daddy to place their unspoiled snowflakes, that they wouldn't enter into lives of depravity and perversion.  I don't think it worked, at least not the way they wanted.  I was always amazed at the amount of gay porn I'd find dumpster-diving at Boalt at the end of the school year.  I can't speak of Stern; they must have all just brought their lesbian porn home with them.

Units One and Four were across from each other at the top of Oxford St.  Both gave the appearance of minimum security detention facilities: all blocky and rough grey brick.  As near as I could tell, this is where all the freshmen got shunted off to: the customers at both units seemed to be the youngest, and the stupidest.  I can understand a bit of naivete, and even manage to gag down the fact of how sheltered these kids were.... But Jesus Christ!  You're eighteen years old, and ordering a fuckin' pizza over the phone is too complex of a task, a practical exercise you're utterly unprepared for!?

For the first three months of the school year, anyone getting a tag with "Unit 1" or "Unit 4" on it would greet this news with a string of profanity in either English, Portuguese, Spanish, or Hindi.  (We were a pretty international group of delivery drivers.)  Because of the layout of both Units, the thing to do was make them your first stop: they had quite a stroll from their building to the gate.  Call 'em on your cell as you headed out from the store and tell them, "I'm on my way, I'll meet you at the gate in five minutes, see you there."  "Okay." 
So you'd get to the Unit, walk up to the gate, and.... Nobody there.  Wait.  And wait.  Finally call them again, and they answer.
"I'm here at the gate, why are you not here?"
"Aren't you bringing it to my room?"
(Do not swear, do not swear....)  "No. I am NOT.  That is why I called you and told you to be at the gate.  Was I not clear enough with those instructions?  You know, me saying I would meet you here at the gate?"
(In a whiny spoiled voice that would make the Dali Lama bitch-slap the owner) "Well why can't you bring it to my room?"
"Because I can't get in and I don't have time!"
"Well.... Why don't you have the college give you keys?"
"Ask your R.A., he'll explain why that's a bad idea.  Look, debate time is over.  Do you want this damn pizza or not?"
".... Yes."
"Let me tell you what's going to happen.  I'm looking at my watch right now.  You have four minutes to get to the damn main gate.  If you're not here by then, the pizza goes in my trunk and gets marked as a bad call, and I leave so I can make the rest of my deliveries.  Is that clear, good.  Your time's running."  And I hung up before that fucking whine came over the earpiece again.

At three minutes, thirty-two seconds a kid comes jogging up to the gate.  "Is that my pizza?"
(No, you dimwitted brat, it's my record collection.  I bring my vinyl everywhere.)  "If your name is _______, then yes.  It's $12.75."
"I still don't understand why you can't deliver to my room.  Why don't you have the college give you gate keys?"
"So every pizza guy in Berkeley should have gate keys and door keys to every single housing unit UCB runs?  You're kidding, right?  I'm counting at least sixteen keys off the top of my head.  Also, it's nice you have such trust in your fellow man, kid, but that's the dumbest thing anyone's said to me all week.  The idea of 'security risk' mean anything to you?"
If the damn brat's lower lip went out any further he'd have been able to pull it over his head.  "There's still gotta be a way--- "
"There isn't.  Delivering to rooms would take too much time anyway.  You've cost me about twelve minutes already, for what should have been a forty-five second exchange.  And tell me something.  I get the impression you're used to very personalized, very detailed service.  Am I right?"
"..... Yes."
"Yeah, well, welcome to Berkeley, and welcome to adulthood.  Have a nice night."

Now imagine having to play this game, or an extremely similar one, a minimum of ten times every fall.  (And multiplying that by the number of drivers.  The Brazilians etc. could at least get away with swearing at the nitwits just by sticking to their native languages.)  And the game is played exclusively at Units One and Four.  It should be getting clearer where my contempt for college students comes from, particularly the spoiled ignorant clueless lazy wastes of skin known as "Freshmen."  (Don't worry, other examples will follow.  If not here, then in Part 5.)

Units Two and Three were simple: each Unit occupied a full block, and consisted of four high-rises, about twelve or fourteen floors.  A good score was several orders all coming from the same unit, and different buildings.  Since we got paid by the tag, it was practically free money: park once, and pick up the money and tips for four deliveries.

The only downside --- and more for the students than me --- was the elevators, or lack of them.  Only two elevators per building, and given every college's tendency to stack 'em in like cordwood in student housing, catching an elevator could take some time.  Our solution was to call all three or four deliveries at once, with the pizza bags still sitting on the roof of the car, and tell the customers we'd be there "in just a minute or two."  That way all of them start heading for the lobby; if someone beats me there, hey, it's an imperfect world.

Then there was the big one, Clark Kerr campus.  It was big as in "huge amounts of acreage."  The housing was all single level, but was spread out so far and wide that the strategy was to call the customer while you were still five minutes out and let them know you were on your way, and you'd meet them in the main lobby.  The timing usually worked out pretty well.

Students didn't like Clark Kerr campus much, for an understandable reason: it wasn't close to anything.  Living at Clark Kerr would get you in shape, that's for sure: to get to your classes, you had either a hell of a walk or a decent bike ride ahead of you.

Clark Kerr, the man, had a rocky relationship with the school.  He was the first chancellor of UCB, but was also considered by conservative elements on the Board of Regents to be "subversive" and "too liberal."  In fact, he was blacklisted by the FBI for being a liberal.  During the Free Speech Movement back in 1964, he refused to expel students who had taken place in off-campus protests; this would later be expanded to on-campus protests as well.  His firing and Ronald Reagan's election as Governor of California --- both of which happened rather close to each other --- were not seen as mere coincidence.

I'll discuss the pigsties known as "Fraternity Houses" at another time; they rate their own full entry.  Same with the Sorority Houses, but for different reasons.

There's also about eighty or a hundred or so apartment buildings that were occupied, as near as I could tell, entirely by students.  They varied from the somewhat posh to borderline slum tenements, as if someone was filming a modernized version of a Dickens novel and needed a set.  You could use the "broken windows" theory to explain the rotten condition of those buildings, but you'd be wrong.  Students don't make it rain and cause roof damage which caused leaks into apartments and wires shorting out.  Students don't cause the panels of drop-ceilings to come crashing down for no reason.  They don't cause outdoor stair railings to rust away at the bottom, resulting in the railing crashing down onto someone's car.  Students are not responsible for maintaining the hydraulic system on an elevator, allowing it to give out and drop into the basement (fortunately, unoccupied).  And students don't magically cause the ballasts in fluorescent tubes to give out, making the hallways dimmer than the bathroom in a gay bar.  (I'd always bring my big four-cell Mag-Lite when delivering to that building.  Not for protection, but just so I could see what the hell I was doing.)  Simply put, the building owners were slumlords, they knew they had the students over a barrel, and could count on the City of Berkeley being too busy arguing about whether to make Leonard Peltier's birthday a legal holiday or not, rather than doing things like inspecting buildings.

Some of the complexes, especially the ones built in the mid-Sixties that always looked like motels, used to have pools.  They'd all been filled in with either concrete or earth (Look!  The world's largest flower box!) by the time I got there.  I'd always been vaguely curious about that.  College students have been doing idiotic stunts since Socrates was a sophomore, and a swimming pool would draw dimwit pranks like flies to shit.  So what prompted the pools to get filled in?  Did the managers and owners just get fed up with dragging furniture, garbage, motorcycles, and barbecues out?  Was it a singular incident, like a resident diving into the shallow end and permanently braining himself?  Maybe the local homeless loved the free bathing and clothes washing facility.  Or possibly, it was the simplest answer: inexperienced drunks + deep pools of water + idiotic bravado = drowned drunks.  It wouldn't take more than a half-dozen drownings --- almost certainly underage, and with BACs of  over .24 --- for an order to be placed to a fill dirt service.  Oh well, not too great of a loss.  UCB has indoor swimming pools, the big Olympic-sized ones, and the climate in Berkeley is so mild that there's maybe ten days a year when splashing around in an outdoor pool would be nice.  The other 355 days would mostly involve shivering, and nipples (on both genders) hard enough to cut glass.

Yeah, eighty to a hundred apartment buildings and complexes....  And I probably broke into every single damn one at some point.

Here's one of the problems that my required my near-constant felonious activities: Remember, this was the late '90s, when most everybody was still on dial-up connections for their computers.  Customers would call in and place their order....  Then decide to get online.  This meant they were totally inaccessible: the call box at the building entry was hooked to the phone, and dialing from my cell phone was pointless.  Some drivers would write them off: bring the pizzas back, explaining (correctly) there was no way to get a hold of the customers.  I'm too much of a stubborn bastard for that.

First stop was the garage entrance, if there was one.  Those gates, especially ones that opened horizontally, could usually be slid open wide enough to get through with a bit of hard tugging.
Hmm, no garage.  Back to the front door, with my key ring in hand.  On my key ring was a few of those flexible plastic "Discount Membership" cards you get from auto parts places or office supply chains.  I'd sign up for the discount plans (Jay Hosaphat, 1313 Mockingbird Lane, Walnut Creek) because I wanted the pieces of plastic: they made perfect jimmys.  You could slide it in, and with a bit of finessing, get the knob latch to go past the latch hole.  Bang, you're in.
Several times I'd be in the middle of this and a resident would show up.  "Um, what are you doing?"
"Breaking into this building."
"..... Why?"
"So I can deliver a pizza," I'd say, gesturing at the pizza bag.  "Damn fool has his phone off the hook or is on line or something.  I can't reach him, so I'm breaking in to deliver his food."
"Ahh.... How 'bout I just let you in the building?  I live here."
"That would be most appreciated.  Thank you."
Of course, not all doors could be jimmied like that.  The solution was an appeal to good manners and kindness.  It's actually an old gag, but in my case I wasn't lying to gain entry.
Quite simply, I'd buzz the next-door neighbors of whoever ordered and plead my case.  "Hi, this is Lenny from Lefty's Pizza.  I know you didn't order, but your next-door neighbor, the guy in 412, did.  His phone is off the hook or something, and I need to ask you a favor: would you be willing to either buzz me in, or go next door and tell him his pizza's here?  It'd really help me out."
Almost all the time, they'd just buzz me in and be done with it.  Sometimes they'd go and get their neighbor.
The nitwit who ordered would come down and angrily ask, "What the hell?  Why didn't you just call me, instead of bugging my neighbors?"
"Because your phone is busy, and has been for a while now."
"Well, why didn't you call my cell?"
"Did you give us your cell phone number when you ordered, sir?"
"No, I---- Oh. Well, wouldn't it be in the computer?"
"What computer, sir?  We don't have one.  However, on that subject: tell me, sir: Are you on line with your computer right now?  Using a dial-up modem?"
"Yeah, how'd you----  Oh shit!  Dude, I'm so sorry, I just wasn't thinking!  I was just.... Man, I'm really sorry."
"Well, we sorted it out in the end, so no need for panic.  $12.75."

The guy gave me, like, a six dollar tip, one of those "I'm really sorry my brains temporarily fell out" tips.  Fine by me.

The bigger challenge came from a constant busy signal on the customer's phone, and a vandalized call box.  Then I'd have to jimmy my way in.  And if the door had a latch guard (to prevent people from doing what I was trying to do), out came the Leatherman, and I'd do a bit of vandalism of my own: use the pliers to bend back the guard, and jimmy my way in from there.  The customer was usually surprised when I knocked on their door.
"How'd you get in?"
I'd smile and say, "It's a secret."
"Why didn't you buzz from downstairs?"
"I would have, but it looks like someone bashed it in with a hammer."
"Oh yeah, I forgot about that.  Well, you could have just called me."
"And I tried, sir.  Your phone has been busy for quite a while.  Are you using a dial-up modem on your computer?"
"Yeah, I--- Dammit!  Aw man, sorry about that....  But how'd you get in?"
Another big smile.  "Determination."
Thinking he'd outsmarted me: "Yeah, right.  Someone left the door open."
"Nope.  I had to break in."
His smile faded.  "You just.... Broke in?  To deliver a pizza?"
"Well, yeah.  I mean, you have your pizza now, and that's a good thing, right?  Just think of it as me using old skills for an honest and positive purpose."
He still looked a bit pale.  "Yeah....  I guess you're right...."
"You have a good night, sir.  And tell your building manager to get the call box fixed.  That way pizza dudes don't have to break into his building."

I went back downstairs and used the blunt end of my Leatherman to pound the latch guard back into place.  No sense in making it too obvious.

Up next: The Boys and Girls of the Greek Fraternal System.

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