“Look, this is like a video game. But here you only have one life,” says Damián Arranda, delivery driver for Uber Eats .
It’s Monday, the first after fortnight. It is 8:30 a.m. and he is already at Reforma 222, a complex in one of the most important commercial areas of Mexico City. His goal for the day: win 530 pesos. “This is where the good work is,” he mentions, because in Ecatepec, where he lives, there are more risks and without so much “fair.” This is why he prefers to travel an hour and a half by public transport to get to the mall.
Damián’s game begins when he opens the Uber Eats delivery application, a business that grew 10.3% in the last year. “I came here because of the pandemic. They fired us and my friend Arcadio told me: hey, do you need money? Here it is easy, fast and simple (…) I didn’t even know how to ride a bike, but you learn more things like that, out of necessity”, he says.
Damian does not have a motorcycle. He delivers on a black bicycle he bought three years ago and keeps in front of a public parking lot in Reforma at night. It cost him 2,000 pesos, but this price has more than paid off in the work he does from Monday to Friday. Saturdays are for resting and singing grunge with his band.
Nor does he wear the “repa outfit”, as some delivery men call the outfit made up of a backpack with the company logo, a sweatshirt, a fanny pack and an orange raincoat. “Everything is sold to you and it’s very current (…) also, there is a lot of discrimination if they see you secondhand. They see you ugly and they leave you out (of restaurants)”, says Damián.
That is why he prefers to dress as he normally does. This time, it’s a gray skirt over her black jeans, black boots, and white T-shirt that reveals her tattooed arms.
And instead of the company’s iconic delivery bag, carry a backpack more akin to a student’s. “Their backpacks are expensive and disposable,” he complains. They cost 988.55 pesos and their duration, according to Damián, is from three to four months. “But luckily I’m pretty cracked up and I don’t need it,” he says.
Damián is sitting on a rock in front of an Oxxo and it is 9:25 a.m. when his phone rings: the first mission of the game begins. The order “dropped” at a Starbucks. Turn on your portable JBL speakers and start pedaling through the chaos of the city.
Although it has to avoid a dangerous intersection on Avenida de los Insurgentes, since it is not designed for the mobility of bicycles and the vehicles do not respect the pedestrian traffic light, it takes three minutes to travel 800 meters; but when he arrives, he waits 15 minutes in the establishment for the food to be delivered: “They serve the customer first than the delivery man. And they don’t realize that in one way or another I am the representative of a client”, he complains.
Their destination: to deliver a ham and cheese croissant and three grilled cheese sandwiches to the offices of Telefónica de México. Without the need to look up the address on a map, nor with a helmet that covers his Mohican, with one hand on the handlebars and the other clutching the bag with the order, it takes him 11 minutes to travel 3.2 kilometers.
And despite the potholes of the Cuauhtémoc mayor’s office, which in 2019 were counted at 16,064, the order arrives intact. “The band from neighborhoods like Roma and Condesa makes me laugh, it’s like ‘wow wey, we’re from Roma’, and their asphalt is horrible. What a shame, babe. Ecatepec has a nicer asphalt”, he says.
It already has predetermined messages that it sends to users minutes before they arrive so as not to waste any more time. After Sergio, who receives the order, takes the package, Damián considers his first mission accomplished and looks at his earnings in the app: 41.44 pesos. “It’s that he left a tip,” he says, because on average, an order ranges between 24 and 34 pesos. The day started well.
The La Casa de Toño restaurant, located on Calle Hamburgo, is one of the bases where other delivery men like Damián are located. Today, in addition to him, there are 13 other repas . The absence of delivery women and people from the LGBTQ+ community stands out.
The establishment set up an exclusive space to order takeaway food, so the delivery men consider it a good option to wait for orders. “I’ll go to the bathroom,” says Damián. A guard is responsible for allowing access only to them.
Someone could confuse the space with a taqueria, but this is a place with a bar upholstered with the logos Uber Eats, Rappi, Didi Food and two other stickers that read “order here” and “to go”. Three screens facing the street, from the inside, show the orders that are being prepared, the orders that are already ready, and the menu.
A few meters from the premises there is a flower box which the repas have already appropriated. In it is “the secret tree”, where they hide their bottles of water and some rocks that they stacked to sit on, baptized as “the royal chair”. There they spend time to rest, hydrate and talk when they are not delivering.
Damián leaves the bathroom and runs into Luis Zapata, another Uber Eats delivery guy and one of his best friends. They have known each other for nine months and together they accompany each other at the base. It’s 11:30 in the morning and, at this time, work calms down a bit until 1:00 p.m., when lunchtime begins.
“This is the basis of professionals,” says Damián. And it is that he is a sociologist from the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) and Luis is a mechatronics engineering student at the National Polytechnic Institute. His dream is to be an aerospace engineer, although he is also a professional dancer as a side job. “They believe that because you are a professional, doors are open to you, but not (…) this is where the fair is,” complements Damián. He is part of the 44% of delivery people who enter work in the unemployment app, according to Oxfam.
On the other hand, Luis is 23 years old and, unlike his friend, he delivers the orders on a motorcycle. You are on vacation and therefore can work more hours. He is saving to buy another motorcycle. While they talk, other delivery partners join the conversation, including Juan.
Juan was asked for 14 “pozole combos” from La Casa de Toño to deliver 4.4 kilometers away. A combo contains a pozole, a soft drink and grandma’s flan. His backpack, which is part of the “outfit repa”, closes with difficulty. “Let’s see if your bike can hold up,” says Damián. Between the three of them they begin to do accounts and estimate that the total ranges between 1,800 pesos. They expect Juan to get a good tip.
At 12:47 Damián’s Samsung Galaxy A22 rings. The mission: a corporation less than 400 meters away. He picks up three bags full of pozole combos and, because of the proximity, decides that it is better to walk than to ride a bicycle. Louis accompanies him. Lunch time began.
At 1:21 p.m., Luis receives a “double order”. He turns on his motorcycle and, entering streets in the opposite direction to reach his destination faster, he arrives a few minutes before the map indicated in his application, but the user does not leave. In these cases, due to company policies, you must wait 10 minutes, send a message through the application and make three calls. It complies with the protocol, but does not get a response.
He is about to get back on the motorcycle when his phone rings. It is the client asking who had been calling insistently. Luis identifies himself and the user asks him to leave the order with the guard. “I don’t think he left a tip, he sounded upset,” he says.
He takes his motorcycle again and now heads to Polanco, on a journey that takes him almost 12 minutes to travel. “Fortunately I have never fallen off my motorcycle,” he says as he drives at 80 kilometers per hour, dodging potholes and vehicles. Deliver a pozole combo to a waitress who works at a Chinese restaurant. Payment is in cash for 159 pesos. The girl gives him 160 and waits for Luis to return the peso in change. Doesn’t tip.
Meanwhile, Damián also received five orders. More drinks from Starbucks and pozole from La Casa de Toño. Only three users left a tip.
By 5:00 p.m., both are already back at the base, refreshing their apps, waiting for the amount to go up because tips “take time to fall.” Damián remembers a very “rewarding” tip that he once had. The order had been placed by a man and had to be delivered to a luxury penthouse. Upon arrival, a woman he described as having “Latin features” received him and Damián never forgot her.
She narrates that she was approximately 1.80 meters tall, had a guitar body and tanned skin. “And she only came out with a very transparent blouse and a panties.” He imagines her mouth open and, with his hands, describes how the woman swayed her hips while looking for a 200-peso tip. He handed over the money, said goodbye and left the door open… but Damián did not enter. “You never know what is behind the door. Better not find out,” he says.
Louis agrees. He tells, irritated, that he has received sexual advances, especially from a man to whom he often delivers near the area. “He is a great man, a foreigner. He always tells me that if I want to pass, to leave the order on the table. It shits me but the net only keeps going because it gives me a very good tip”.
“How much did you earn?” they ask each other. For five hours of work, Damián has earned 185 pesos and Luis 367 pesos. They are still far from their goal.
While they do their calculations, Juan returns. He tells them that the order for 14 pozoles took him to a corporation. He went through numerous security filters where a girl was already waiting for him who did not help him upload the order, but who gave him a 20 pesos tip in cash.
He went up the elevator, and when he got to the door, the office manager told him to take the food to the boardroom. “Don’t stain, all that for only 20 pesos?” The young woman told him. Juan took out the combos one by one, left them at the door and left. For him, these situations are common.
It is 5:20 p.m. when Damián asks for an order of three flutes for 89 pesos. He sits in the “royal chair” and says, “That’s how it is, sometimes you eat, sometimes you don’t.” On the other hand, Luis had only had one coffee all day and now he eats some raspberry gummies, which he begins to share with his classmates.
A delivery man, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, mentions that his favorite food is chicken buckets from Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). “The net when those orders fall I do fuck them,” he laughs. The dynamic is as follows: pick up the order and, halfway through, call the app’s technical support to “report” that it had an accident. So the app does not sanction him, they send another delivery man for a new order and he eats.
Another delivery man mentions that he likes the wings, but does not apply the same strategy. “Normally users don’t know how many are coming. If I screw up one or two, they don’t realize it.”
Gradually the phones of the distributors begin to ring with new orders. Damián only had time to eat a flute. Put the rest away and accept the first order of the night.
“I am not afraid of anything. Not even death,” says Damián as he pedals through the streets of the Juárez neighborhood, although he later admitted that he is afraid of spiders. Because of his training as a sociologist, he is curious and is always alert to his surroundings. “The university gave me the theory but this job was the one that really opened my eyes,” he says.
Orders during the night do not stop. Luis and Damián look at the sky. “Today it’s not going to rain,” they complain. Although neither of them has a raincoat or equipment to protect themselves from the rain, they “benefit” it if it rains because, in those cases, a special rate is activated and they receive extra payments from the application.
However, both are part of the seven out of 10 delivery people who do not have access to any type of social security, access to public health or private insurance, or insurance in case of accidents provided free by companies, according to Oxfam.
Luis begins his orders for the night by picking up a hamburger from McDonalds. The order takes time to be prepared and, while waiting, he buys some medium fries and writes to the customer explaining that it is not his fault, that it is the establishment that is taking time to prepare and an apology.
It’s a small order. He has to deliver it at 2.8 kilometers but halfway there he runs out of gas. The nearest gas station is three blocks away, so Luis drags his motorcycle there and fills it with premium gas for 300 pesos. “But it does pay. It lasts me all week,” he says.
The request is received by a young woman. He pays in cash and, as Luis expected, he does not leave a tip.
His latest delivery is a pizza from Little Caesars. To pick it up, he waited standing outside the establishment for more than 15 minutes and, to deliver it, he traveled more than five kilometers in areas with high crime rates. The delivery is made at 9:53 p.m. at the Hotel Kali Ciudadela. A young woman comes downstairs in her pajamas to receive the order, pays in cash and only leaves a 50-cent tip. To top it off, he rates Luis poorly. His score, which until now was 100%, dropped to 99%.
Luis and Damián mark each other to see where they are. They agree to meet at the base to say goodbye. “How did it go?”. They look at the app again to see their results. Luis closes the day with 22 orders placed and 717 pesos. He was 83 pesos short of achieving his goal. Damián made 20 deliveries and earned 660 pesos, an extra 130 pesos from his goal. The game is over… for today.