The Runner Diaries: 4/15/20

In need of a trickle of cash after the yoga studio where I taught shut down due to pandemic, I signed on as an independent contractor with the company Favor.  As the name implies, the independent contractors do favors for the customers, generally picking up to-go orders from restaurants or running shopping errands.  The position is called being a “Runner”, presumably due to errand running, but in light of present conditions it sounds to me futuristic, daring, dystopian.

Today I logged onto the app at around 11:30 after getting my kids settled into their online schoolwork.  They ate late breakfasts, so I was able to spend the busy lunch hours running Favors for others.  It took less then a minute for my phone to ping with an opportunity, which I accepted.   This first Favor of the day involved ordering cookies from a fancy shop I’d never been to, then picking up and delivering to a house an eight minute drive away.

The cookie shop was the sort of breezy, preppy, summery outdoor walk-up counter you might find on Nantucket, or in the Hamptons, or in certain neighborhoods in Houston (in fact, it is the spin-off of a Houston establishment, I learned).  Steely Dan played from speakers mounted under the eaves.  My customer wanted six chocolate chip cookies and six sugar cookies.   It came to nearly $45 for the dozen.  The masked, gloved young woman behind the window handed me a bag that looked as if it might contain an elegantly boxed scarf or bowtie.  I stepped with it into my Kia, rubbed a generous squirt of hand sanitizer between my palms, and began the eight minute drive.

Listening to podcasts while running Favors provides a sense of purpose to the time spent driving around.  On this day I checked in with The Writer’s Voice from The New Yorker, and was pleased to see the two most recent episodes were readings by writers I really enjoy.  The most recent, somehow from an issue of the magazine that hasn’t even come out yet, was by Ben Lerner.  I pressed play and shifted into reverse as Deborah Treisman’s pleasant familiar voice introduced Ben and his story.

Listening to podcasts while running Favors requires patience due to constant interruption.  The navigation tool telling me, in stilted words, when to turn, what lane to get into, etc.  The Ben Lerner story was a little hard to follow anyway, and after getting chopped up by Siri it came across as extremely odd, disjointed, even surreal.  I was surprised and slightly disappointed by his voice.  I was sure I’d heard interviews with him before, that this was not the first time I’d heard his voice, but he read this particular story in what I think of as “poetry voice.”  A self-serious style of reading, a certain cadence, a predictability that I try very hard not to affect when reading aloud my own work.

When the magazine arrives, I will read his story in print, and I will probably think it wonderful, as I do most of his work (maybe all of his work?).

The second Favor was the type most common these days, a grocery errand for a senior citizen.  Favor was bought by a large Texas grocery chain called HEB, and they have a deal to help seniors not leave their homes by using Favor Runners to shop for them instead.  It means that at HEB or Central Market (the upscale version) I can flash my Favor order and Favor debit card and skip the line, rock star style.

This also provides me a chance to do my own shopping without waiting in line to enter the store; as I shop the Favor order I put aside a few items for my household, then perform separate transactions at the register.

George Saunders was my second listen, en route to the grocery store, from the store to the customer’s home, then back to mine.  His story was called “The Love Letter”.  It was easier to follow than Lerner’s, even with the chop, and I enjoy Saunders’ voice.  I used to play a video of his 2013 Syracuse University convocation speech (“On Kindness”) to the middle schoolers I taught, back when I was a teacher.

The elderly couple I shopped for were very organized with their list, placing produce together, pantry items together, etc.  The woman, Marion, was delighted that I was familiar with Finn Crisps, and that Central Market had all three types of fish she wanted in plentiful stock (no ground chicken, though).

It was a stunning afternoon.  Many people were out walking, biking jogging, some in family groups, some solo, some with masks on, some without.

The Saunders story ended at the traffic light at Lamar and 45th Street, so I drove the remaining few blocks home in silence, enjoying the sunlight, savoring the peace.

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