It’s Sunday 22nd March 2020 and two days after the British government told social life to shut down: pubs, bars and restaurants were ordered to close, as were gyms, theatres, cinemas and other arts centres. I login to the app at 15:55 and cycle into town, getting pinged for a pickup when I reach Cabot Circus. Burgers to St Werburgs and then back to the centre to try and get another order. More burgers, and I head off to Bedminster just next to the new cut and East Street. The guy at the other end is cheery and tips me £2 through the app. The sun’s out and I snap a picture of Totterdown in the sunshine. I listen to cheesy piano house and imagine a summer afternoon in the park drinking beers with my friends. Maybe we’ll be able to do that in a few months time. I live in hope.
Back to the city centre and pick up from 4500 miles from Delhi. This restaurant is plush, fine dining, with well turned-out waiters and I walk in and it’s completely empty, of course. I wonder what they’re going to do about their staff, they must have 35 covers in this place, with a bar, and always at least three waiters on. How long can they stay open on a few deliveries a night? Back on the bike and to Bishopston. As I’m cycling past Turbo Island 8 or 9 youth-dem on quad bikes roar down Stokes Croft. Have I now just reached peak dystopia? Will the Turbo Island grass grow back if human society ceases to function from this points on? I picture plants growing through concrete where cars and busses used to pass, and think about my friend who makes tiny models of Bristol in a zombie apocalypse. Will his ideas dry up because they’ve now been mirrored too closely in reality? What about my friend who writes dystopian fiction? Now that the world has flipped over will she try her hand at journalism? What happens to science fiction when our world begins to so closely resemble the apocalypse? Before this crisis began I would think about how dystopian working for Deliveroo could be, managed from a distance through an unaccountable algorithm constantly monitoring your performance and an ever changing price per drop system. We have a union and can organise, but not only do zero hours contracts make resistance more difficult by individualising workers, what the app does is put us in competition with restaurant staff when we should be in solidarity with them. If restaurants are slow, we get angry as we are taking a pay cut through something we have no control over. Yet they have no incentive to be quicker as they aren’t paying us and we don’t work for them. Divide and rule.
Drop off the curry in Bishopston and back down Gloucester Road, and I’m heading to Cabot Circus when my app pings and sends me back to Biblos. It never usually takes that long to get an order on a Sunday, from the Bristol Flyer almost to the Bearpit with no order. Businesses on Gloucester Road are all mostly closed, with some restaurants open for takeaway only, and not a lot of people around. From Biblos back to Bishopston and then to Cabot Circus to Five Guys. It’s now 7 pm and I’ve ridden around 10 miles. The burgers go to Redland Green to a huge house overlooking the green and jackpot as I get tipped £4. I leave the food at a safe distance and thank them and wish them a good meal.
Riding down Cheltenham Road I get an order from The Coconut Tree and head back up to them. There’s quite a few people waiting inside the restaurant and I wait five minutes before anyone acknowledges me. Five minutes later a guy asks me my order number and I tell him, he says it’ll be two minutes. There’s a few members of staff sat around drinking beers and chatting, and they don’t seem to have a grip on the order tickets. I trust that my order’s coming up and chat to the other riders. One woman picking up for Uber Eats tells us that McDonalds have announced they’re shutting down across the country tomorrow. Deliveroo doesn’t cover McDonalds but they’ve always got delivery drivers picking up from there so I start to worry about the amount of drivers/riders in the city fighting over a dwindling number of orders from the same few restaurants. The other cyclist has just logged in, and I tell him how quiet it is. He’s just lost his other job as a self-employed wedding photographer. We talk about how Deliveroo should be helping get groceries to the elderly and vulnerable but realistically will they do it is there’s no money in it? Where will they get their markup? Another ten minutes and he gets his order. Another cyclist comes, looks at the staff and leaves. A woman staff member asks me what food is in my order and I tell her and she says it’s not ready. At 25 minutes I start to get annoyed but I tell myself that they are probably facing job losses as well and to chill out. Another guy shows up on shift and starts looking through the order tickets, and asks me mine. He finds it on the side and shows it to the chefs for the first time. I overhear the chef saying they don’t have one of the dishes ready. I should have rejected the order but I can’t guarantee another order and I would have wasted this half an hour. The staff hanging out drinking beer slope off. At this point I notice a paramedic on a motorcycle drive past and he stares in the window looking at us. There’s about 10 people gathered in quite a small space. The first guy asks me what my number is as if he’s only just noticed that I’m there. At 40 minutes I’m given the food that has been cooked from scratch in a hurry. I cycle off to Greenbank and speed, listening to music to block out my annoyance at having wasted the best part of an hour that I’m not going to be paid for. You can make it up, don’t worry. I get to the house by the Greenbank pub 7 minutes later and leave the food and the woman calls out to me from her doorstep, ‘thank you! Thank you for continuing to deliver food, we need it!’ You’re welcome! I shout back. It sweeps away my gripes at the restaurant and I remember that people need food, and restaurants are swamped and struggling to adapt and try to stay open on skeleton staff, and at least I still have a job.
Back to Five Guys and as I pass through Champion Square at the back of Cabot Circus, a soup kitchen is meeting, and they’ve laid out around 40 upturned orange buckets on the ground. I realise they must be to show where people should stand when they’ve picked up their food. It’s a good idea I guess but while the buckets stay in place, everyone using the soup kitchen is gathered at one end chatting and knocking the buckets over. I think about the social psychology involved in managing this crisis, and the epidemic is causing some conflicted feelings for this anarchist. I’m struggling to get my head around the seriousness of the outbreak and what’s required to tackle it as I’m not an epidemiologist. But in terms of politics, it seems countries with populist leadership (UK, US, Brazil) might end up with the weakest responses because their leaders can’t stop playing to the audience when what is needed is sober and technical expertise, and learning from China, Hong Kong and South Korea, which have more experience in managing epidemics. I am wary of calling for a strong state response yet at the same time China managed to slow the spread by relatively quick and strict measures, and still suffered greatly. Meanwhile Boris Johnson is still recommending calmly that people don’t gather together, but I can see that the message is not getting through. I decide to stop thinking about things i can’t control and just try and do my job. At Five Guys the drivers are kicking off a bit due to typical Five Guys behaviour of three different people asking you your number and then all forgetting it straight away and not following up. I get mine fairly quickly and take a double, first to Whitehall Road and then to Fishponds. It’s time to clock off, with 7 orders and 24 miles under the belt I get around £8 an hour, bumped up by tips.