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Confessions of a San Diego Amazon Flex driver

Boxbringer

I once encountered a large sign on the front door of a single-family home in San Marcos that read in block letters: “DELVERY DRIVER. KNOCK WHEN YOU DELIVER A PACKAGE. IS THAT TOO HARD TO UNDERSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!” It was 4:15 in the morning when I read that message.
I once encountered a large sign on the front door of a single-family home in San Marcos that read in block letters: “DELVERY DRIVER. KNOCK WHEN YOU DELIVER A PACKAGE. IS THAT TOO HARD TO UNDERSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!” It was 4:15 in the morning when I read that message.

During Christmas of 2013, Amazon fired UPS as the courier of their packages, because UPS could not keep up with their volume. Soon after, Amazon decided to implement its own delivery infrastructure. It is estimated that Amazon will soon deliver more packages than UPS. As it is, Amazon ships 22 percent of packages in the U.S., while UPS ships 24 percent.

I began working for Amazon Flex as an independent contractor in January 2022, after a three-month stint working for UPS as a seasonal driver. (In both cases, I used my own vehicle and phone. UPS made a company-owned device available to its seasonal drivers, but it was an old Samsung Galaxy that was slow and crashed after each delivery stop.) In my experience, Amazon had their shit together and offered a more efficient and careful delivery experience than UPS. The training at UPS consisted of about 45 minutes standing in a circle while another temporary worker gave eight of us instructions on the correct delivery codes we should use, how to hold a package safely (a weird way which you have never seen any professional do in real life), and other minutiae that had nothing to do with actually delivering packages to customers. Still, that training was 45 minutes more than what you receive as an Amazon Flex driver. In either case, it seems understood that everyone will make a delivery mistake during their first days on the job. The only question is the magnitude of the error.

During the 2021 Christmas rush, I once delivered five large packages to the wrong address while gigging for UPS. There was a new apartment complex in Chula Vista that had the same address as a house across the street — the only difference was a dash between a couple of the numbers. I realized my error only when I received a call from UPS dispatch saying the house I reported delivering packages to claimed they did not receive any of the packages. People do sometimes lie about not receiving their packages, but the UPS dispatcher told me this particular person was a regular UPS driver. I went back to the place where I delivered the packages in error and knocked on the door. Then pounded on the door. No answer. I took a photo of the house and its number so the dispatcher could see the similar address. That way, the UPS driver could follow up directly with their neighbor.

That mistake would be harder to make as an Amazon driver. The Amazon app’s drop-off pin takes you right in front of the customer’s door, no matter if it’s a house or apartment. If you try to deliver the package just one door down, you won’t be able to complete the delivery, as you will be outside the GPS’s geofence. (If you ever want to “get over” that fence, you usually need to call Driver’s Support and explain yourself.) And unlike UPS and FedEx, Amazon drivers take a photo of where the package was dropped off, so that both the customers and Amazon have evidence of the package’s delivery.

Amazon deliveries are handled by their logistics department, which is broken down into Amazon DSP and Amazon Flex. The major San Diego hub is in Rancho Bernardo. Unlike Amazon DSP (Delivery Service Partners), Amazon Flex drivers don’t drive Amazon-branded vans, but their own vehicles. They are independent contractors who pay for their own gas and maintenance. I’ve seen Amazon Flex drivers using everything from duct-taped beaters to new Teslas. (What are their stories?)

Amazon Flex drivers receive their work orders from an Amazon app. The work is available in what are called blocks, as in blocks of time, ranging from two to five hours A rule of thumb is that you are able to deliver 10 packages in one hour, give or take. If your delivery route is very compact and closer to Rancho Bernardo, you’ll be delivering more packages in that hour. If you get a rural route where you will be doing a lot of driving, you could do as little as 2 packages per hour. The only control you have with your route is the block of time you choose to reserve. You know where you’ll be delivering only when you’re physically in front of your cart of packages and looking at the shipping labels.

All drivers hate delivering to apartments and Downtown. Apartments because units can be difficult to find, often require dealing with access codes, and sometimes require a lot of walking. Downtown for its parking. One morning at 8:30 or so, a parking enforcement lady told me, “You Amazon guys just park wherever you feel like it. This is a no stopping lane. The ticket is $55, you’re lucky you weren’t towed.” I protested that there was no signage where I parked and there were parking hashmarks on the street. “You’re welcome to see the judge,” she replied. Yes, Amazon Flex drivers park “where we want,” as there is no reserved parking for gig workers. And our personal vehicles don’t have commercial signage. Most of us do wear an Amazon vest, but some are dressed in your basic shorts, sandals, and T-shirt.

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When I see Amazon Flex drivers doing their work in sandals, I flash back to stepping in a huge pile of dog shit Downtown at 5 am and not realizing it until I was in my car. The shit ran up the sides of my sneakers, and I decided the best plan was to just throw my rubber car mat in the trash. I spent 15 valuable minutes washing my shoe with water from my bottle as best I could. We have time commitments. We have deadlines to keep. If we don’t finish within our block’s schedule, we get the following email: “We’ve noticed that you’ve had a few late deliveries within the last week. Our customers love receiving their packages on time, so please attempt to deliver all packages assigned to your route by the time specified in the app or by the end of your scheduled block time, whichever is earlier…”

We are graded on a scale that runs from “you’re about to lose your job” to “you’re doing fantastic.” The better your rating, the better perks you receive. I particularly like the cash back on gasoline purchases: if your rating is fantastic, you get 6 percent cash back. If your rating is great, you get 4 percent. If your rating is you’re on the verge of losing your job, just be glad you’re still driving for Amazon.

We are constantly looking at the clock. There are two great time sucks for a Flex driver: apartments and calling Amazon Driver Support. We are constantly looking at the clock. When I first began delivering, one particular package took me 40 minutes to deliver. That meant I was 6.67 packages behind schedule. It’s very difficult to make up that many packages in four hours or less, so as you get more seasoned at driving, you realize you cannot let that happen. You make adjustments; you compromise top quality delivery for the sake of efficiency. Now, I could deliver that package in less than three minutes. But back then? When I arrived at the Casa Mira View mega apartment complex in Mira Mesa at 4 am, I was hoping it would not be as bad as it looked. It was worse. The usually reliable Amazon GPS was taking me to an underground parking lot. I got out with my flashlight and walked. And walked. And walked. And walked. The place was huge, and no matter how much I walked, I could not locate the building number. I called Driver Support, and after even they could not help me locate the building, they told me to just mark it as undeliverable and go on to my next stop. Mercy.

Not all apartments are a drain on your time (and sanity). Deliveries outside big city centers are usually relatively easy to complete. Sure, I will complain about delivering to North County, but at least it won’t be like San Diego’s city center. I now find Casa Mira View easy, because I know they have very large and lighted numbers at the corners of their buildings, with stairs adjacent. The numbering of doors makes sense and the halls are easy to navigate — no corners or curves. However, there are unpleasant exceptions. UTC, you suck. Villages, you suck. And density is increasing. When I visited Chula Vista in the 1990s, it was mainly wilderness, some factories, car junk yards, warehouses, and farms. Now there are apartment complexes with parking woes that rival Downtown.

A driver can tell they will have trouble if the delivery notes look like a magnum opus. We start delivering as early as 3:30 am; at that hour, more than three lines of delivery instructions is beyond what the brain can absorb. I just skim the delivery notes and then figure them out once I’m at the location. Sometimes, the notes make it clear that people don’t know that we deliver from 3:30 am to midnight, seven days a week. “Oh, just call us when you’re here and we’ll open the gate.” “Please knock hard as the doorbell doesn’t work.” And too often: “the leasing office will let you in.” The leasing office people have life easy. The early ones start at 9 am, but 10 is more common. By 9 am, I’m at home, people.

I know a delivery will be trouble if I see a note that says, “Do not package dump.” “Package dump” means drivers just throw packages to the ground in a designated spot: a room, package lockers, a reception area, a lobby, etc. Package dumping is a clear indication that someone hasn’t organized a way to get packages to residences easily and efficiently. Reasons why drivers package dump: no clear directional signage as to where the building unit or apartment is located; no access to the elevator or gate due to need of a fob or code, no access to locker code. (Although the lockers might be Amazon lockers, Amazon Flex drivers can’t access those lockers unless a code is provided by the resident). If it’s a helluva confusing stop, and I have to spend 15 minutes trying to deliver your package, I’m in trouble. Better to package dump. (I recall one Amazon consumer who shared with me the “trick” to access her unit for next time. But unlike UPS drivers, who have regular routes, I will probably not be sent to her complex again for several months.)

I remember being overwhelmed my first few times delivering for Amazon Flex. I remember a three-hour block in 92108 that took me five hours to complete, simply because I tried to get the packages to the customers’ front doors after discovering that I could not deliver packages to the package lockers because I didn’t have the access codes. I walked for miles through the winding corridors of modern apartments in Mission Valley, thinking all the while of Dorothy and all the adventures she had on the yellow brick road. I spent so much time walking and on the phone with Driver Support that my phone died. I went to Taco Bell and ate while waiting for my phone to get back up to 20 percent.

As I said, although it’s called Driver Support, drivers try to avoid it unless absolutely necessary, because it’s such a time suck. The most common reason to call is because you have access problems at the location. This is especially true with the morning shift (called “Breakfast” by Amazon), which starts at 3:30 am and ends at 8 am. If it’s a gated community and you don’t have a gate code or fob on your phone, your best bet is to follow someone in who has access. But not many people are arriving in the wee hours. Sometimes, people are leaving, but you can’t always sneak in through the out door, due to tire spikes.

Here’s a conversation with Driver Support:

“Hello, thank you for calling Driver Support. Are you safely pulled over and in a safe location?”

I explain that I’m unable to deliver the package, and Driver Support asks if I mind staying on the line while they call the customer. Although I have already called and texted the customer before calling Driver Support, they are still required to call the customer twice. I have just burned five minutes. Ten packages an hour. Five packages per half hour. Two and a half packages every fifteen minutes. I should be at .83 packages by now. I’m starting to slip into a time hole.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Yes, so I tried to call the customer, but no answer. I will try again. Do you mind holding?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“I’m sorry?”

I ask her to continue the routine.

“Hello, driver? I’m sorry to keep you waiting but I was unsuccessful at reaching the customer. I will ask you to continue your route and if you have time, return and attempt again.”

When I inform Driver Support that I will be across town and can’t return, she says ok, then just mark it as not able to deliver. I fell for this trick the first couple of times. What happens is this: after I deliver my last package, I find that the app will not let me mark the earlier package as “undeliverable due to access issue” because I’m nowhere near the delivery location. And when I call Driver Support to please mark the package as undeliverable, they insist that I return to the location, even though my block of time is about to end. The next time I was in a similar scenario, the Driver Support person insisted that Driver Support would never ask me to return to the location to close out the delivery. When I told her this had happened to me already, she insisted it had not.

Some customers leave rude notes or messages for drivers. Why? I once encountered a large sign on the front door of a single-family home in San Marcos that read in block letters: “DELIVERY DRIVER. KNOCK WHEN YOU DELIVER A PACKAGE. IS THAT TOO HARD TO UNDERSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!” It was 4:15 in the morning when I read that message. There were no lights on in the house, and I’m sure they were asleep. And I’m sure that when they inked that sign and placed on their front door, they did not know that Amazon Flex delivers long before the rooster starts its song. I rang the doorbell incessantly until I saw a light turn on, and then ran to my vehicle. I haven’t been back there since, so I’m not sure if that sign is still there.

Another sign, this one in the backcountry, read: “Drivers: are you stupid? Toss the package over the fence so it’s not stolen.” I had to drive up a dirt road in almost pitch darkness to be greeted by this? What a waste of time. I couldn’t locate their package in my vehicle. No package for you today, dummy.

Ah, the backcountry. When you receive just 13 packages for a 3.5 hour block, it probably means you’re driving somewhere like Jamul or Dulzura. While there’s less labor involved, it means more gas and mileage on your vehicle. I drive an SUV, but I do not know how sedans make it on some of the dirt and broken roads found on some of the backcountry trips, particularly on wet days. And as with apartment units, some locations are hard to find — homes are often not visible from the road. I understand why people might want a certain degree of anonymity and isolation, and maybe that’s why they live out there. But if you want your package delivered, maybe post a clear house number by the road.

I used to think people who lived out in the sticks would take the trouble to get to know their neighbors, just in case they needed each other in an emergency. Now I’m not so sure. I was in Dulzura, delivering a package just inside the gate of a home, as the delivery note instructed. The woman who had just driven through the gate asked who the package was for. When I told her the name, her expression became one of anger and bewilderment.

“I don’t know who that lady is but you guys keep delivering her packages here.”

I told her this was the spot where the GPS indicated the delivery address, and asked her to confirm the address number. She said that wasn’t the correct number — I was two digits off. I asked if she knew where that house was. She replied, “I don’t know where that address is, and if you leave that package here, my dogs will shred it to pieces. I’m holding three packages for that lady and I already called the post office. I don’t have time for this, because I’m already late for my son’s school.”

I left a detailed message for the woman whose packages were being held by her neighbor. I asked her to leave a more specific note in the Delivery Notes section so future packages could get to her, and wrote that her neighbor was holding three of her packages. I indicated that since her address was difficult to find, she might want to get her packages delivered to an Amazon hub station — they’re located all over the county — where she could pick them up during normal business hours. My messages to Amazon customers are often like this, full of detail and laced with a hint of condescension. If someone left me messages the way I leave messages, I would wonder, “Is he being helpful or just an asshole?”

I often talk to myself when delivering — loudly, in hopes that I’m overheard saying passive-aggressive things like, “Guidance in the delivery notes would be goddamn helpful right about now!” as I look around for the right direction to an apartment unit. Usually, people don’t hear me, as I’m usually delivering packages before sunrise. If they do hear me, it may be because they’ve been woken up by a dog who is barking at me. Once, I used the f-word like a gangster rapper upon not finding a house number: “Ok, we have 7123 here, and 7127 there, so where in the FUCK is 7125?” Whereupon, someone at 7123 said, “Oh, I believe that address is in the alley.” I could not see the gentleman who provided me this guidance, but I was grateful and slightly embarrassed.

I’ve discovered that people appreciate receiving their packages; no matter how inconsiderate or even rude I am, my work is appreciated. I have discovered a sadistic quality I did not know I possessed: I find I like waking people up early in the morning. The earlier the better. No gate code at 4:45 am? Let me call the customer to get that. But even after almost 6000 packages delivered, not one soul has expressed annoyance at my waking them up.

Fortunately, there are many more considerate and kind people in San Diego than angry ones. People who leave water and snacks on the porch for drivers. I make sure their packages are placed down a little more carefully, out of street view. This cuts down on the risk of stolen packages. No one likes when package theft happens: not the people ordering, not Amazon, and not the drivers. Amazon drivers get their rating downgraded each time a package is not located by the customer. Here’s what Amazon sends: “A customer recently reported not receiving a package you marked as delivered on 08/20/2022. It’s important to take steps to ensure customers can find the packages you delivered. To make sure customers get their packages, always double check the delivery address and place packages in a safe location that can’t be seen from the street. Taking photos of where you left packages also helps customers find them. If you can’t find a safe place to leave a package, call Support. We understand such events are sometimes beyond your control. Repeated instances of this type of event may impact your eligibility to participate in Amazon Flex.” Emphasis mine.

Penalizing drivers for something not fully in their control does not make sense. The driver is not the criminal, even though It would be easy for a driver to take a photo of the delivered package but then pick it up and steal it. Or to have an accomplice follow them on their route, swiping packages along the way. Most experienced drivers will place the package away from street view by placing it behind a column or plant or other large object on the porch. But I’ve also encountered drivers who leave packages in plain view, so it’s a good idea to remind drivers to avoid that in the Delivery Notes. Personally, I’ve placed a large wooden planter on my porch so that packages can be placed easily out of sight.

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I once encountered a large sign on the front door of a single-family home in San Marcos that read in block letters: “DELVERY DRIVER. KNOCK WHEN YOU DELIVER A PACKAGE. IS THAT TOO HARD TO UNDERSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!” It was 4:15 in the morning when I read that message.
I once encountered a large sign on the front door of a single-family home in San Marcos that read in block letters: “DELVERY DRIVER. KNOCK WHEN YOU DELIVER A PACKAGE. IS THAT TOO HARD TO UNDERSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!” It was 4:15 in the morning when I read that message.

During Christmas of 2013, Amazon fired UPS as the courier of their packages, because UPS could not keep up with their volume. Soon after, Amazon decided to implement its own delivery infrastructure. It is estimated that Amazon will soon deliver more packages than UPS. As it is, Amazon ships 22 percent of packages in the U.S., while UPS ships 24 percent.

I began working for Amazon Flex as an independent contractor in January 2022, after a three-month stint working for UPS as a seasonal driver. (In both cases, I used my own vehicle and phone. UPS made a company-owned device available to its seasonal drivers, but it was an old Samsung Galaxy that was slow and crashed after each delivery stop.) In my experience, Amazon had their shit together and offered a more efficient and careful delivery experience than UPS. The training at UPS consisted of about 45 minutes standing in a circle while another temporary worker gave eight of us instructions on the correct delivery codes we should use, how to hold a package safely (a weird way which you have never seen any professional do in real life), and other minutiae that had nothing to do with actually delivering packages to customers. Still, that training was 45 minutes more than what you receive as an Amazon Flex driver. In either case, it seems understood that everyone will make a delivery mistake during their first days on the job. The only question is the magnitude of the error.

During the 2021 Christmas rush, I once delivered five large packages to the wrong address while gigging for UPS. There was a new apartment complex in Chula Vista that had the same address as a house across the street — the only difference was a dash between a couple of the numbers. I realized my error only when I received a call from UPS dispatch saying the house I reported delivering packages to claimed they did not receive any of the packages. People do sometimes lie about not receiving their packages, but the UPS dispatcher told me this particular person was a regular UPS driver. I went back to the place where I delivered the packages in error and knocked on the door. Then pounded on the door. No answer. I took a photo of the house and its number so the dispatcher could see the similar address. That way, the UPS driver could follow up directly with their neighbor.

That mistake would be harder to make as an Amazon driver. The Amazon app’s drop-off pin takes you right in front of the customer’s door, no matter if it’s a house or apartment. If you try to deliver the package just one door down, you won’t be able to complete the delivery, as you will be outside the GPS’s geofence. (If you ever want to “get over” that fence, you usually need to call Driver’s Support and explain yourself.) And unlike UPS and FedEx, Amazon drivers take a photo of where the package was dropped off, so that both the customers and Amazon have evidence of the package’s delivery.

Amazon deliveries are handled by their logistics department, which is broken down into Amazon DSP and Amazon Flex. The major San Diego hub is in Rancho Bernardo. Unlike Amazon DSP (Delivery Service Partners), Amazon Flex drivers don’t drive Amazon-branded vans, but their own vehicles. They are independent contractors who pay for their own gas and maintenance. I’ve seen Amazon Flex drivers using everything from duct-taped beaters to new Teslas. (What are their stories?)

Amazon Flex drivers receive their work orders from an Amazon app. The work is available in what are called blocks, as in blocks of time, ranging from two to five hours A rule of thumb is that you are able to deliver 10 packages in one hour, give or take. If your delivery route is very compact and closer to Rancho Bernardo, you’ll be delivering more packages in that hour. If you get a rural route where you will be doing a lot of driving, you could do as little as 2 packages per hour. The only control you have with your route is the block of time you choose to reserve. You know where you’ll be delivering only when you’re physically in front of your cart of packages and looking at the shipping labels.

All drivers hate delivering to apartments and Downtown. Apartments because units can be difficult to find, often require dealing with access codes, and sometimes require a lot of walking. Downtown for its parking. One morning at 8:30 or so, a parking enforcement lady told me, “You Amazon guys just park wherever you feel like it. This is a no stopping lane. The ticket is $55, you’re lucky you weren’t towed.” I protested that there was no signage where I parked and there were parking hashmarks on the street. “You’re welcome to see the judge,” she replied. Yes, Amazon Flex drivers park “where we want,” as there is no reserved parking for gig workers. And our personal vehicles don’t have commercial signage. Most of us do wear an Amazon vest, but some are dressed in your basic shorts, sandals, and T-shirt.

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When I see Amazon Flex drivers doing their work in sandals, I flash back to stepping in a huge pile of dog shit Downtown at 5 am and not realizing it until I was in my car. The shit ran up the sides of my sneakers, and I decided the best plan was to just throw my rubber car mat in the trash. I spent 15 valuable minutes washing my shoe with water from my bottle as best I could. We have time commitments. We have deadlines to keep. If we don’t finish within our block’s schedule, we get the following email: “We’ve noticed that you’ve had a few late deliveries within the last week. Our customers love receiving their packages on time, so please attempt to deliver all packages assigned to your route by the time specified in the app or by the end of your scheduled block time, whichever is earlier…”

We are graded on a scale that runs from “you’re about to lose your job” to “you’re doing fantastic.” The better your rating, the better perks you receive. I particularly like the cash back on gasoline purchases: if your rating is fantastic, you get 6 percent cash back. If your rating is great, you get 4 percent. If your rating is you’re on the verge of losing your job, just be glad you’re still driving for Amazon.

We are constantly looking at the clock. There are two great time sucks for a Flex driver: apartments and calling Amazon Driver Support. We are constantly looking at the clock. When I first began delivering, one particular package took me 40 minutes to deliver. That meant I was 6.67 packages behind schedule. It’s very difficult to make up that many packages in four hours or less, so as you get more seasoned at driving, you realize you cannot let that happen. You make adjustments; you compromise top quality delivery for the sake of efficiency. Now, I could deliver that package in less than three minutes. But back then? When I arrived at the Casa Mira View mega apartment complex in Mira Mesa at 4 am, I was hoping it would not be as bad as it looked. It was worse. The usually reliable Amazon GPS was taking me to an underground parking lot. I got out with my flashlight and walked. And walked. And walked. And walked. The place was huge, and no matter how much I walked, I could not locate the building number. I called Driver Support, and after even they could not help me locate the building, they told me to just mark it as undeliverable and go on to my next stop. Mercy.

Not all apartments are a drain on your time (and sanity). Deliveries outside big city centers are usually relatively easy to complete. Sure, I will complain about delivering to North County, but at least it won’t be like San Diego’s city center. I now find Casa Mira View easy, because I know they have very large and lighted numbers at the corners of their buildings, with stairs adjacent. The numbering of doors makes sense and the halls are easy to navigate — no corners or curves. However, there are unpleasant exceptions. UTC, you suck. Villages, you suck. And density is increasing. When I visited Chula Vista in the 1990s, it was mainly wilderness, some factories, car junk yards, warehouses, and farms. Now there are apartment complexes with parking woes that rival Downtown.

A driver can tell they will have trouble if the delivery notes look like a magnum opus. We start delivering as early as 3:30 am; at that hour, more than three lines of delivery instructions is beyond what the brain can absorb. I just skim the delivery notes and then figure them out once I’m at the location. Sometimes, the notes make it clear that people don’t know that we deliver from 3:30 am to midnight, seven days a week. “Oh, just call us when you’re here and we’ll open the gate.” “Please knock hard as the doorbell doesn’t work.” And too often: “the leasing office will let you in.” The leasing office people have life easy. The early ones start at 9 am, but 10 is more common. By 9 am, I’m at home, people.

I know a delivery will be trouble if I see a note that says, “Do not package dump.” “Package dump” means drivers just throw packages to the ground in a designated spot: a room, package lockers, a reception area, a lobby, etc. Package dumping is a clear indication that someone hasn’t organized a way to get packages to residences easily and efficiently. Reasons why drivers package dump: no clear directional signage as to where the building unit or apartment is located; no access to the elevator or gate due to need of a fob or code, no access to locker code. (Although the lockers might be Amazon lockers, Amazon Flex drivers can’t access those lockers unless a code is provided by the resident). If it’s a helluva confusing stop, and I have to spend 15 minutes trying to deliver your package, I’m in trouble. Better to package dump. (I recall one Amazon consumer who shared with me the “trick” to access her unit for next time. But unlike UPS drivers, who have regular routes, I will probably not be sent to her complex again for several months.)

I remember being overwhelmed my first few times delivering for Amazon Flex. I remember a three-hour block in 92108 that took me five hours to complete, simply because I tried to get the packages to the customers’ front doors after discovering that I could not deliver packages to the package lockers because I didn’t have the access codes. I walked for miles through the winding corridors of modern apartments in Mission Valley, thinking all the while of Dorothy and all the adventures she had on the yellow brick road. I spent so much time walking and on the phone with Driver Support that my phone died. I went to Taco Bell and ate while waiting for my phone to get back up to 20 percent.

As I said, although it’s called Driver Support, drivers try to avoid it unless absolutely necessary, because it’s such a time suck. The most common reason to call is because you have access problems at the location. This is especially true with the morning shift (called “Breakfast” by Amazon), which starts at 3:30 am and ends at 8 am. If it’s a gated community and you don’t have a gate code or fob on your phone, your best bet is to follow someone in who has access. But not many people are arriving in the wee hours. Sometimes, people are leaving, but you can’t always sneak in through the out door, due to tire spikes.

Here’s a conversation with Driver Support:

“Hello, thank you for calling Driver Support. Are you safely pulled over and in a safe location?”

I explain that I’m unable to deliver the package, and Driver Support asks if I mind staying on the line while they call the customer. Although I have already called and texted the customer before calling Driver Support, they are still required to call the customer twice. I have just burned five minutes. Ten packages an hour. Five packages per half hour. Two and a half packages every fifteen minutes. I should be at .83 packages by now. I’m starting to slip into a time hole.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Yes, so I tried to call the customer, but no answer. I will try again. Do you mind holding?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“I’m sorry?”

I ask her to continue the routine.

“Hello, driver? I’m sorry to keep you waiting but I was unsuccessful at reaching the customer. I will ask you to continue your route and if you have time, return and attempt again.”

When I inform Driver Support that I will be across town and can’t return, she says ok, then just mark it as not able to deliver. I fell for this trick the first couple of times. What happens is this: after I deliver my last package, I find that the app will not let me mark the earlier package as “undeliverable due to access issue” because I’m nowhere near the delivery location. And when I call Driver Support to please mark the package as undeliverable, they insist that I return to the location, even though my block of time is about to end. The next time I was in a similar scenario, the Driver Support person insisted that Driver Support would never ask me to return to the location to close out the delivery. When I told her this had happened to me already, she insisted it had not.

Some customers leave rude notes or messages for drivers. Why? I once encountered a large sign on the front door of a single-family home in San Marcos that read in block letters: “DELIVERY DRIVER. KNOCK WHEN YOU DELIVER A PACKAGE. IS THAT TOO HARD TO UNDERSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!” It was 4:15 in the morning when I read that message. There were no lights on in the house, and I’m sure they were asleep. And I’m sure that when they inked that sign and placed on their front door, they did not know that Amazon Flex delivers long before the rooster starts its song. I rang the doorbell incessantly until I saw a light turn on, and then ran to my vehicle. I haven’t been back there since, so I’m not sure if that sign is still there.

Another sign, this one in the backcountry, read: “Drivers: are you stupid? Toss the package over the fence so it’s not stolen.” I had to drive up a dirt road in almost pitch darkness to be greeted by this? What a waste of time. I couldn’t locate their package in my vehicle. No package for you today, dummy.

Ah, the backcountry. When you receive just 13 packages for a 3.5 hour block, it probably means you’re driving somewhere like Jamul or Dulzura. While there’s less labor involved, it means more gas and mileage on your vehicle. I drive an SUV, but I do not know how sedans make it on some of the dirt and broken roads found on some of the backcountry trips, particularly on wet days. And as with apartment units, some locations are hard to find — homes are often not visible from the road. I understand why people might want a certain degree of anonymity and isolation, and maybe that’s why they live out there. But if you want your package delivered, maybe post a clear house number by the road.

I used to think people who lived out in the sticks would take the trouble to get to know their neighbors, just in case they needed each other in an emergency. Now I’m not so sure. I was in Dulzura, delivering a package just inside the gate of a home, as the delivery note instructed. The woman who had just driven through the gate asked who the package was for. When I told her the name, her expression became one of anger and bewilderment.

“I don’t know who that lady is but you guys keep delivering her packages here.”

I told her this was the spot where the GPS indicated the delivery address, and asked her to confirm the address number. She said that wasn’t the correct number — I was two digits off. I asked if she knew where that house was. She replied, “I don’t know where that address is, and if you leave that package here, my dogs will shred it to pieces. I’m holding three packages for that lady and I already called the post office. I don’t have time for this, because I’m already late for my son’s school.”

I left a detailed message for the woman whose packages were being held by her neighbor. I asked her to leave a more specific note in the Delivery Notes section so future packages could get to her, and wrote that her neighbor was holding three of her packages. I indicated that since her address was difficult to find, she might want to get her packages delivered to an Amazon hub station — they’re located all over the county — where she could pick them up during normal business hours. My messages to Amazon customers are often like this, full of detail and laced with a hint of condescension. If someone left me messages the way I leave messages, I would wonder, “Is he being helpful or just an asshole?”

I often talk to myself when delivering — loudly, in hopes that I’m overheard saying passive-aggressive things like, “Guidance in the delivery notes would be goddamn helpful right about now!” as I look around for the right direction to an apartment unit. Usually, people don’t hear me, as I’m usually delivering packages before sunrise. If they do hear me, it may be because they’ve been woken up by a dog who is barking at me. Once, I used the f-word like a gangster rapper upon not finding a house number: “Ok, we have 7123 here, and 7127 there, so where in the FUCK is 7125?” Whereupon, someone at 7123 said, “Oh, I believe that address is in the alley.” I could not see the gentleman who provided me this guidance, but I was grateful and slightly embarrassed.

I’ve discovered that people appreciate receiving their packages; no matter how inconsiderate or even rude I am, my work is appreciated. I have discovered a sadistic quality I did not know I possessed: I find I like waking people up early in the morning. The earlier the better. No gate code at 4:45 am? Let me call the customer to get that. But even after almost 6000 packages delivered, not one soul has expressed annoyance at my waking them up.

Fortunately, there are many more considerate and kind people in San Diego than angry ones. People who leave water and snacks on the porch for drivers. I make sure their packages are placed down a little more carefully, out of street view. This cuts down on the risk of stolen packages. No one likes when package theft happens: not the people ordering, not Amazon, and not the drivers. Amazon drivers get their rating downgraded each time a package is not located by the customer. Here’s what Amazon sends: “A customer recently reported not receiving a package you marked as delivered on 08/20/2022. It’s important to take steps to ensure customers can find the packages you delivered. To make sure customers get their packages, always double check the delivery address and place packages in a safe location that can’t be seen from the street. Taking photos of where you left packages also helps customers find them. If you can’t find a safe place to leave a package, call Support. We understand such events are sometimes beyond your control. Repeated instances of this type of event may impact your eligibility to participate in Amazon Flex.” Emphasis mine.

Penalizing drivers for something not fully in their control does not make sense. The driver is not the criminal, even though It would be easy for a driver to take a photo of the delivered package but then pick it up and steal it. Or to have an accomplice follow them on their route, swiping packages along the way. Most experienced drivers will place the package away from street view by placing it behind a column or plant or other large object on the porch. But I’ve also encountered drivers who leave packages in plain view, so it’s a good idea to remind drivers to avoid that in the Delivery Notes. Personally, I’ve placed a large wooden planter on my porch so that packages can be placed easily out of sight.

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