Discover more from CAFÉ ANNE
Meet Your NYC Delivery Worker!
Plus! Subway Disaster Poll results!! New classifieds section!!!
Welcome to Issue #93 of CAFÉ ANNE!
So. Much. News.
First, we have the results of last week’s poll in which I asked what role you’d play in the event of a NYC subway disaster.
Nearly half—49%—said you’d be “reassuring fellow passengers.” Which doesn’t surprise me. CAFÉ ANNE readers are a bunch of sweethearts. Another 23% saw yourselves as heroes, “leading the escape mission.” Fifteen percent chose “hiding under the seat,” while 3% chose “picking pockets.”
Ten percent, meanwhile, opted for “other,” and provided additional details in the comments.
“I would question alpha orders I didn't agree with,” said Anita K, “and suggest alternatives, all the while appearing cooperative because at the end of the day I'm a pragmatist.”
“Years ago I discovered it's not possible to hyperventilate and hum at the same time, so I'd be softly humming my fave hymns along with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne,’” wrote Georgia L. “Great stress buster for me.”
“I’d try to encourage the maniac with a gun/knife/uranium to go ahead and kill me,” said Judge Roy Bean, “because I have a million dollar life insurance policy that pays triple for subway disasters and they’d be doing my family a huge favor.”
And then was Aharon: “Eaten by fellow passengers (unrelated to disaster).”
Second, it rained all day last Saturday, so the unofficial NYC Substack readers and writers meetup I co-hosted with fellow newsletter writers Jillian Hess and Kimia Dargahi got moved from Brooklyn Bridge Park to my place. Thirty strangers in my one-bedroom apartment. What could go wrong? But of course it was a lot of fun meeting everyone, and no one got (too badly) hurt.
One highlight: a surprise visit from reader Stephen Black in Toledo, Ohio who came by last year to install a flock of AR bagels in my living room. He was kind enough to shoot a few photos of the meetup with the bagels flying around. Thank you Steve!
Finally, huge never-ending-NYC-rain shoutouts to new paid subscribers David R., Marianna S., Amaya S. and Ann A. That’s enough $$$ for 40 bodega umbrellas!
I’m very excited for this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got profiles of two very cool NYC food delivery workers, plus the debut of CAFÉ ANNE classifieds!
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Meet Your NYC Delivery Worker!
There are more than 80,000 delivery workers in NYC, mostly folks on bikes delivering meals from restaurants. I’ve long been curious about the delivery life, but the workers I’ve approached on the street are typically in a hurry—and many speak little English.
Then I connected with Harry Campbell, who writes “The Rideshare Guy,” an industry publication for delivery workers and rideshare drivers. I asked him to put me in touch with a NYC delivery person to profile, and he camethrough with two—a lady and a fellow. Thanks Harry!
Last week I met with Bryan Joseph, a delivery veteran, and Marianna Suluman, who’s new to the game. While they have very different stories, they have two things in common: they’re both super cool, and very tough cookies!
I hope you enjoy meeting them as much as I did!
Bryan Joseph, 34, East Flatbush
Most delivery workers focus their efforts on a few familiar neighborhoods. But Bryan Joseph's chosen territory is the whole borough of Brooklyn.
Mr. Joseph, who rides an electric or fixed-gear bike with no brakes, depending on his mood, loves targeting a different neighborhood every day, and the vast scope of city life he encounters. One day he's schlepping sesame noodles up a urine-soaked elevator in the projects, the next he's delivering vegan fare to a condo loft on the Williamsburg waterfront.
"It never gets old!" he says.
The 34-year-old father of two is an amateur photographer, and he'll often stop mid-delivery to shoot a street scene, which he'll post on his Instagram feed. I love his work!
Mr. Joseph grew up in Flatbush. His family moved south when he was twelve and he returned to Brooklyn 13 years later. "I love New York," he said. "I always had the city in me."
He studied business management in college but did not earn a degree. He also served six months as a teen on felony charges. "As I got older, I realized it could have been a misdemeanor," he said. "It was breaking and entering. Just young, dumb kids. If my family had money, and I had a good lawyer, it could have been dropped down, you see what I'm saying?"
He's worked at a mall kiosk selling cell phone covers, in marketing, and as a parking garage valet. He managed a Domino’s before joining Uber Eats in 2019.
During the pandemic, he said, it wasn't unusual to earn $1000 to $1500 for a 40-hour delivery week. Everyone was ordering in, and there was a delivery worker shortage.
Now he's earning $700 to $800 a week, which he attributes to the tide of migrants who recently joined the ocean of 80,000 New Yorkers already serving as delivery workers. "It's been flooded with new people," he said.
He's supporting two daughters—a five-year-old and a baby, three months old. His wife is a social worker, but he'd like her to stay at home as long as possible.
When we met at a Starbucks last week in Brooklyn Heights, Mr. Joseph showed me the stats on his Uber Eats app. He's got a 99% positive rating, mainly because he's always willing to deliver to a customer's apartment rather than ringing the buzzer and leaving food in the lobby as some others do. "Once you get below 80%, they start firing you," he said.
His acceptance rate is 64%—that's the percent of orders he takes that Uber Eats offers him through its app. For each order in the queue, he sees the amount he can earn—typically $3 to $5 per delivery—along with the mileage, estimated travel time and customer tip. "If we see a good tip, we're more willing to go the extra mile," he said.
About 50% of Uber Eats customers tip, according to his app stats. The tipping rate on rival GrubHub, meanwhile, ranges from 80-to-95%. It attracts a more affluent demographic, he said, but it's harder to get a slot on the GrubHub schedule. Like most delivery workers, he toggles between the two platforms throughout his shift.
The worst scenario: customers who tip a quarter, or even a penny, at the door. It happens all time! "In my humble opinion, that's not a tip at all," he said. "That's like an insult."
But he still prefers the delivery life to the 9-5. "Before, my boss could talk to me any type of way, and I had to deal with it," he said. "Now I don't have to."
Most delivery workers wear earbuds on the job. I always assumed they were listening to music, but Mr. Joseph says he is typically listening to politics or self-improvement podcasts like "The Millionaire Morning Show." He also listens to audiobooks while biking. He showed me his playlist. Recent favorites: John Howard Griffin's "Black Like Me," "Siddhartha" by Herman Hesse and Sun Tzu's classic, "The Art of War."
"What did you learn from 'Art of War?'“ I asked.
"How to think like a general," he said. "Have patience. When you go into battle, take the high ground."
NYC delivery can be a battle for sure. Mr. Joseph, who has delivered more than 15,000 meals, has been robbed, hit by cars more times than he can track, and had his bike stolen twice.
"It's more mentally than physically exhausting," he said. "You have to watch out for cops, for other e-bikers driving recklessly, especially around Brooklyn. It's everybody!"
I asked Mr. Joseph about the one thing people hate about delivery workers these days—they're everywhere, biking on the sidewalks, cruising against traffic, flying through red lights and generally scaring the crap out of everyone.
Mr. Joseph admitted he doesn’t always follow traffic laws, but he tries to be careful. "I get it, because I have two young girls," he says. "I know it can be very nerve-racking, worrying if somebody gets hit. I never hit nobody."
And here, Mr. Joseph, who is quite a talker, took an uncharacteristic pause.
"I also want to say this," he said finally. "This is a bottom-of-the-barrel type of job. Nobody really wants to do this. You get hit by a car, you cripple yourself, there will always be someone to replace me."
But when I ask about other options, his mood lifts again. He loves the fresh air, he says, and how the work clears his mind.
"I think I'll always be delivering," he says. "Even if I'm like a millionaire, I will still be delivering. It's a thrill, when you're going between traffic, always keeping aware of everything. It's very hard, but once you get the hang of it, it's very relaxed. You're finding your center, you're finding your peace. It's really not about the money. It's about the experience!"
Marianna Suleman, 40, Sheepshead Bay
I can’t recall ever seeing a lady delivering food on a bike in NYC, so I was excited to meet Uber Eats delivery worker Marianna Suleman last week for coffee at Penn Station. I was even more intrigued when I spotted her. While most of the city's delivery workers seem to be immigrants in their twenties, her hair was streaked with grey, and she had no trace of an accent.
She is an immigrant, she told me when we sat down at Zaro's. Her parents moved here from Ukraine in 1992 when she was eight. She grew up in Brighton Beach—known at the time as "Little Odessa,"—and now lives in Sheepshead Bay, another Brooklyn seaside community popular with immigrants.
Ms. Suleman, who is 40, married a man from Pakistan just before the pandemic. She has two babies at home, ages one and two. She also cares for her ailing parents, who live nearby. Busy lady!!
But that's just the start. The former free-lance and community newspaper journalist has a full-time assistant director job at a senior center in Mill Basin, a position she's held for 15 years.
At the end of her 9-5 workday, she takes two busses and a subway home for dinner and a short rest. Then she zips out on her e-bike for a second shift, delivering meals in her neighborhood until midnight or 1 am. She also delivers on weekend mornings. Her husband stays home with the kids.
"I'm sorry, I keep bugging my eyes out,” I interrupted. “I hope it's not weird for you—I just can't believe what I'm hearing!"
"I've had multiple job before," she said. "Sometimes you have to do two jobs, two different shifts. So for me? It's nothing new."
"And now, believe it or not, there's many, many women doing that," she added.
In her part of Brooklyn, she estimated, perhaps 15-20% of the delivery workers on bikes are moms from Eastern Europe, India, Pakistan, Russia and Central America.
"We're past the point of, okay, the man brings the bread," she said. "A lot of the roles are being reversed. And if you have a corporate job, the delivery work is just an addition. Because right now, in New York with the prices that are going on, we can't make a living on one income."
She lets her earnings from the delivery job—roughly $15 an hour—accrue in her Uber Eats account, and cashes out as needed. "To get formula for my sons, to get food, to do laundry—just to have the basic necessities," she said. "And believe me when I tell you, the ratio of people doing deliveries for the exact same reason is about 85%."
Ms. Suleman started delivering for Uber Eats last spring after a neighbor introduced her to a company that rents e-bikes to delivery workers by the month, making it possible to get started without a big upfront investment.
"It's been a wonderful experience," she said. "You can go out, do a couple of deliveries, maybe there's somebody that really needs a delivery because they can't come out. Maybe they're sick, maybe injured, right? And so you get to do a rewarding job, and then you cash out at the end of the day."
She enjoys the challenge. Her first time out, it took nearly four hours to earn $15. "But that $15 was great," she said. "I drove about four miles thinking I would make all this money. Boy, was I a fool. But I'll tell you what, it was very rewarding. Because I said to myself, 'This is where I am the boss. I don't have a time clock. I don't have to fill out a pay roll sheet. And the money is mine and that's the end of it!'"
She had to learn the ropes—which orders to accept, what times were busy, how to plan her routes. "To do this job, you're not just delivering," she said. "There has to be a science. You have to create a routine; you have to create a recipe of how you're doing this in order to make it profitable. They don't train you on that. But that's the beauty of doing this. It's such a new thing, right? The science behind it! I just look at it as this amazing thing. You get to create something out of this."
She's also established relationships with local restaurants like the gyro shop and the Uzbek grocery on Avenue U that let her use the bathroom or charge her e-bike inside. "You start to make connections; you start to network,” she said. “‘Hey, can I also buy a coffee while I'm waiting? Let me contribute to your business.' You tip people, even though you're a driver. People get to know you."
Ms. Suleman hasn't had an easy life. She was exposed to radiation from Chernobyl as a child and survived a near fatal car crash with her parents soon after arriving in the states.
"You seem like a very tough person to me," I said.
"I am! I'm an aneurysm survivor," she said. "I had a brain aneurysm in 2013. I had to learn how to walk again. I'm lucky to be walking. I'm lucky to be biking! So yeah, I think I've been through enough to say that there's very little that fazes me."
I asked how long she can keep up the routine.
"I hear there's rumors of him getting a job," she laughed, referring to her husband. "I'm praying those rumors are true. That way I can step down. Give him the bike, and I'm gonna be the mom. I'm gonna be Mrs. Doubtfire and Betty Crocker!"
"You seem very upbeat despite the difficulties you've encountered," I observed.
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled: "I'm from Ukraine."
CAFÉ ANNE is a free weekly newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!