6. Riders on the Storm

I’m tired and want a lazy Sunday afternoon, but it’s double pay on Sundays [although since writing, my contract has changed and no longer includes this bonus]. I walk in at 15.20, 10 minutes early. I say a ‘hello’ to everyone and walk to the lockers adjacent to the office window. I’m bent down, pushing my body into the lockers to make room for colleagues doing the same thing — going to the toilet, using the kitchen, or charging their phones. I stuff my bag and coat into the lowest locker, joining in with the chorus of apologies from everyone in the space.

As I walk toward the coat rack in the corner of the room, I hear the shift leader call my name. Well, not quite my name. He’s made a nickname for me which he finds hilarious... every time. It’s not based on anything, but simply a play on the sounds of my surname. Lately, other managers have started calling me this too, it's as if they want to be in on the joke. I laugh along to let him know I’ve acknowledged it and carry on with my shift. It’s surprisingly busy in the Dark Store today, riders standing and sitting — there aren’t enough chairs for everyone. I make a quick coffee and plop a sugar cube into the paper cup for a treat. It’s warm. Without any central heating, this cup is my only source of warmth in the Dark Store so I cuddle it as close to me as I can for the next 7 minutes until my shift starts.

I’m taking an order and the delivery app navigates me to an inaccurate but 'close enough' location, so I have to constantly check and recheck the address. Maybe that’s why I’m too slow. I get back to the Dark Store and take another order right away. By now it’s raining. I reach the house and the customer starts talking to me... now this is unusual. It makes me feel less resentful. He seems kind and genuine. He even climbs down his apartment stairs to meet me at the main door! (rather than me climbing what always feels like endless stairs). He apologises for not giving a tip. It takes me aback because I’ve never heard about tips before… not from any customer, colleague or manager. I say, “No problem!” and thank him for the gesture.

The next delivery comes. As I exit the Dark Store my seat is wet and the water soaks into my underwear. This delivery is heavier and as the wind gusts it fills the bag on my back like a sail. My bike sways for a second before I can catch my balance. The rain grows heavier and the wind becomes scarier, I start to lose control. I turn the corner and the wind speeds in a different direction, it catches me off guard and sweeps the bike from under me. This has happened before, many times.

I get back on and regain control. I’m now going slower as my vision blurs in the rain. I can hardly hear the navigation and my bike is sliding from underneath me. As cars and bikes whizz past faster and faster to escape the weather, my senses are further blocked. On the way back to the store I can feel the rain soaking through my clothes and skin. I am cold.

‘I asked the shift manager for a helmet. She looks at me, puzzled, and then sees one on the shelf between us "ah yeah here you go, it’s our only one"...’

I arrive back and receive a few comments about being soaking wet. My hair could be rung out like a towel. I asked the shift manager for a helmet. She looks at me, puzzled, and then sees one on the shelf between us, "Ah yeah here you go, it’s our only one". THE ONLY ONE? I can't believe it. A BIKE delivery company only has ONE helmet provided for the entire Dark Store. "It isn't compulsory in The Netherlands…" she says when I question the policy.

The helmet is too big, so I pad it with a hat and let it sit on top of my head. I look for rain pants and gloves and am ready for the next delivery. Thankfully, I’m now waterproof but isn’t it a bit too late? The rain’s already part of me, wet and cold. I spend the rest of the night in an even colder concrete room with no chance of getting dry. Everyone seems tired today. There isn’t very much chatter and the orders don’t stop coming through. Finally, around 9pm the orders calm down, so I take the time to just sit near the picker’s table, as far away from the door as possible.

A project by affect lab. 2022