Have you dreamed about quitting your job and starting over? Well, Prioleau Alexander lived that dream . . . just long enough to realize it’s a nightmare. This is his laugh-out-loud funny, endearing, and humbling exploration of life at minimum wage.
Alexander walked away from a lucrative career as an advertising executive, seeking a life “like that dude on Kung Fu.” Over the next year, he worked minimum-wage jobs as a pizza deliveryman, ice cream scooper, construction worker, ER tech, fast food jockey, and even cowboy on a Montana dude ranch, revealing a side of America that is rarely seen, and questioning the stale white-collar tropes of a deeper, more meaningful life beyond the cubicle.
In a “provocative and stimulating” take on how the “other” other half lives, Prioleau explores life at minimum wage and proves unequivocally that the grass is not always greener on the other side (New York Journal of Books).
“Alexander takes you inside worlds you never imagined and would never want to go to, and does it with wit, style, and compassion.” —Pat Conroy, New York Times–bestselling author of The Water Is Wide
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The Pizza Man Cometh
For my first bottom-rung position, I decided to live up to the comment made to my attorney-at-law buddy and experience the life of America's most beloved road warrior: the Pizza Delivery Guy. How many times in your life has the Pizza Guy rung the doorbell at your home? Hundreds? And yet most likely you've never had any personal interaction with a single one of them. You love them, you need them, but you've never noticed them. Hell, the average American wouldn't notice if it was the Elephant Man delivering their pizza, even if he took the money with one hand, made change with the other, then handed over the pizza with his trunk. Hey, here's the check, thanks, bye. If ever there was a job with minimal client interaction, this had to be it. After my overload of client interaction, it sounded like heaven.
Before taking the plunge, I decided to do a little research on the history of pizza and Googled the topic to see what could be learned. Right away it became clear that most folks give the Greeks the nod for the initial concept of pizza ... but the initial concept for pizza isn't that complex, is it? Conceptually, aren't we just talking about a sandwich where you forget to finish making the sandwich? And because this sandwich doesn't actually sandwich the ingredients, doesn't this result in all the olives and goat cheese falling into your lap? History may give the Greeks the conceptual credit, but that's really not reason enough to get all historically maudlin. They may have sat on rocks, too, but I don't see them getting any royalties from the La-Z-Boy Recliner Corporation.
Pizza, as we know it, was invented by an Italian baker named Raffaele Esposito in Naples, Italy, in 1889. He'd been fooling around with different kinds of dough and baked cheese into it, and came up with a pretty tasty treat, especially if you slathered a little tomato sauce on it. Word got out about his new invention, and King Umberto and Queen Margherita wanted a taste. For the big dinner, Raffaele went completely crazoid and built a pizza that included toppings containing the colors of the Italian flag: white mozzarella cheese, green basil, and red tomato sauce. The king and queen dug in like a couple of blunt-crazed Rastafarians and declared pizza to be a most righteous treat.
Before long pizzerias popped up all over Italy, which proved to be fortunate in the long run: when the American army swept through the nation in World War II, the Italians were able to appease the soldiers with pizza, and who wants to pillage and burn when you're struggling to overcome a food coma induced by a deep-dish pepperoni? When the GIs returned home from the war, they brought with them a serious jones for the stuff.
The rest, of course, is history. Today pizza is a $32 billion-a-year industry. In America alone we mow through over a hundred acres of pizza a day (which, by the way, is about 350 slices of pizza every second). The single biggest hour in the history of American pizza deliveries was when O.J. led police on a low-speed chase through L.A. There are over sixty thousand pizzerias in the U.S., and each year every man, woman, and child in America would have to shovel down over twenty-three pounds of pizza to account for the tons consumed.
And me? All I wanted was a little slice of that multibillion-dollar pie.
The first thing you should know about becoming a Pizza Delivery Guy is that you aren't just hired for it: you sign up for it. I'm pretty sure the interview process is stricter for joining that team of radical Muslims who go stomp around in minefields to detonate mines. The process in my case started with me driving to the closest national pizza chain, ferreting out the manager, and simply asking for a job. He looked at me like I'd volunteered to go stomping around in minefields.
"There's a training session at our Waterfield Avenue store every Thursday night at seven p.m.," he said. "Go to that, then come back here."
Upon my arrival at the Waterfield Ave. store the following Thursday, the counter help directed me back to a small, gray interrogation-type room, where a second employee ordered me to take a seat among the other twelve new recruits. In the five seconds it took for me to scan the crowd, it became clear that exactly two of them appeared trustworthy enough to clean the kudzu out from behind my old office building. The other ten either reeked of car trouble or, well, reeked period. If they'd drug-tested us as a group, Hunter S. Thompson would have returned from the grave just to meet the gang and pay his respects.
After a couple of minutes, a very handsome, tan, and physically fit guy walked in and began our training. He told us that he'd sold his nine franchises in order to move to town and become the operations manager for the local franchisee. "Ah, so," I thought, "he's not only handsome, tan, and fit, he's rich." It occurred to me he might be the matter to our collective antimatter, and that if he touched one of us the universe might explode.
Mr. Tan-'n'-Fit then began to train us, and he did an excellent job. He stood up there in front of a crowd of stone-faced, slack-jawed potential employees and actually took the time to try and make the session interesting and humorous. (No one laughed at his jokes, however, because he didn't use the word "fart" in any of his punch lines.) We learned about company history, general operations, safety, and the fact that they did not discriminate in their hiring, which is the understatement of the century. After an hour they served us some pizza, trained us for another hour, and made us take a written test roughly on par with the quizzes you find on the back of a Cap'n Crunch box. Then they issued our shirts and caps.
In that moment I began to truly understand the genius of these national pizza delivery companies. Think of it — they have an entire financial empire built on the backs of employees so unreliable that employment sessions run year-round, just to replace the latest crop of employees who quit because they made enough money to get their bong out of hock.
Do you realize how far you've got to dumb things down for stoners, nerds, burnouts, knuckleheads, teenagers, and English majors to do them correctly? Can you imagine trying to organize and run a business where this band of misfits takes your orders, makes your product, and delivers said product via face-to-face contact with the client? My Lord, merely thinking about the potential problems could cause a management professional to call in dead. But, then again, consider what a testament this is to the nation we live in! How mind-boggling is it that we live in a country where a guy with some motivation and smarts can build this kind of empire from scratch? An entire continent of Cold War commies couldn't manufacture one decent car or get their stupid potatoes to grow, but here in America a guy dumbs down the art of pizza delivery and, within one lifetime, he's built a multibillion-dollar empire using only employees stupid enough to — well, stupid enough to quit their white-collar job and become a Pizza Guy.
Anyone who goes through pizza training is bound to leave the event inspired: the American dream works ... provided you haven't been so crushed by the American dream that you're willing to deliver pizzas for a living.
The Road Warrior
My next step was calling the manager of "my" store, and he told me to be at work the following day at 5:00 p.m. The store was located a mere ten-minute commute from my house, so I left at 4:40. Needless to say, my progress was delayed by a wreck on the en route bridge and the materialization of a new road construction area, so I didn't make it into the store until 5:10. Being a former Marine and a maniac about promptness, I would have fired me on the spot.
"Sorry about this," I told him. "It's unprofessional to show up late, especially since this is my first day."
The manager looked at me curiously. "Who are you?" he said.
"Prioleau. Pray-Lowe. Your new driver."
"Okay, Lowe," he said, "follow me. Let me show you how to clock in." It didn't occur to him to be angry with a driver for being late, any more than it would occur to me to spank my dog for licking his privates.
The manager worked out of ... well, a closet would be the most accurate description. He leaned over a keyboard, which was hooked up to a computer that was obviously purchased from Houston Mission Control after Apollo One made it safely home. Impressive. PC Magazine reported recently that at least a fifth of our gross national product is a result of unnecessary computer upgrades made by managers trying to get their employees to just shut up about upgrades. The sheer willpower it takes to run a company utilizing only sufficient computing power is nothing less than Herculean, and is almost unheard-of within corporate America's management structure.
"Okay, Lowe," he said, "when you come in, hit F10 to bring up this screen, tab down to E, hit Enter, type in your employee number, hit Enter, wait for this screen to come up, then hit Enter two more times, hit F10 again, scroll down to Dispatch, and hit Enter again. Got it?" Panic and horror overcame me. I was too stupid to be a Pizza Delivery Guy.
"Follow me," he said.
Next stop, the dispatch area — sort of like the ready room on an aircraft carrier, where the pilots await their target briefing. To the left stood the warming racks, where the pizzas sat when they were boxed and ready for delivery. To the right were the mobile oven bags, which cost $140 apiece because they have some sort of cold-fusion chip inside them that gets charged, then radiates the heat necessary to keep the inbound pizza hot. In between these stations lay a keyboard and computer monitor (serial number 000000002 — so old it has to be the second computer ever made).
"You see your name up on the dispatch list?" my boss asked. "When it gets to the top, you'll see an address next to it. That's your run. You punch in your employee number and hit Enter. Then punch in the order number and hit Enter four times. Grab the pizza, and you're outta here."
"Why do I hit Enter four times?"
The attention span the manager set aside for training new employees drained out of his eyes.
"This is Mickey," he said pointing to a clean-cut, all-American guy of about thirty. "He's been driving for four years. He can answer any questions you have."
"Mickey," I said, "I'm Lowe. Why do you hit Enter four times?"
"Lowe," he said, "there are some mysteries that man wasn't meant to solve. Just hit Enter four times."
"Four times. Roger that."
"Now," Mickey said, "here's some of the stuff you'll need to know: When your pizza lands on the warming rack, there's an adhesive ticket on it. Pull it off, and stick it upside down on your pants, just above your right knee. That way, when you're driving, you can look down and read it if you forget the address or need the phone number."
Oh yeah, baby — like a World War II bomber pilot with his target data.
"Before you stick it on your pants, read it carefully. It will tell you how many pizzas there are in that order, and it has a spot here where it says other. If there's a zero by other, it's just a pizza run. If there's a number by other, it means they've ordered something else as well. The number tells you how many other things there are. To find out what, you look over on the actual pizza box, and it will say, you know, like a Coke, or some dessert, or some wings."
"Got it," I said, completely confused. Sure, it sounds easy to you, you nabob, sitting on your butt reading this ... but baby, I was in the belly of the beast! The phones rang, the flour flew, and the drivers jockeyed for the pole position. A mortal like you might have panicked, but rest assured "the Kid" was strappin' on his game face.
"Okay," said Mickey, "see your name at the top? There's the address ... 1011 Lake Hunter Circle. Punch in your employee number. Hit Enter. Punch in the order number right there. Hit Enter four times. Okay, you're outta here."
The Kid made his move. He panicked.
"You mean I'm supposed to deliver that pizza?"
"Where the hell is 1011 Lake Hunter Circle?"
"There's a big detailed map of the area in the back," Mickey said. "But I can tell you. Take Leeds over to Mathis, turn right, and your fourth subdivision will be Westlake. Turn in there, go three streets, and take a left on Shetland Court. The second right is Lake Hunter, and uh, the odd numbers are on the left. I'm thinking 1011 will be about ten houses down."
"Surely you're kidding, right?"
"No," he said, "and don't call me Shirley."
The oldest joke in the book, and my brain couldn't absorb it for the overload of all the mission-critical data. "Go, man. Time's burning."
"Aren't I supposed to ride with someone tonight?" I asked.
"Dude, you're delivering pizzas," Mickey said. "There's no residency required."
Four minutes after clocking in, and my first pizza was outbound.
Trade Secrets Unveiled
There are, of course, plenty of things you're dying to know about this most noble trade, and some can be shared. Some cannot, of course, due to my loyalty to the company, and my fear of their long arm. To admit the actual number of pepperonis on a large hand-tossed would be as heinous as spilling the beans on Ingredient X in Coca-Cola, or smuggling out a sample of the Big Mac special sauce for analysis.
Anyway, here are some answers to some frequently asked questions:
First, how many pizzas do you take out with you on a run?
That's an easy one, because corporate policy sums up the answer in a brilliantly devised ditty: One pizza ... best way. Two pizzas ... okay. Three pizzas ... no way!
Do the drivers all adhere to this policy? For an answer one must refer to the movie Top Gun and the very realistic cast of characters it featured. The yin and yang of the movie were Maverick and Iceman: Maverick known for his daring "seat-of-the-pants flying" (accented by limitless skill and wisecracks to his NFO Goose) and Iceman known for his extremely disciplined by-the-book tactics and his ability to "wear an opponent down" (with no wisecracking whatsoever). Given that Pizza Guys are virtual clones of F14 pilots, it goes without saying that similar personalities emerge.
A new driver, of course, delivers like the Iceman, looking to corporate policy to guide his tactics and strategies. This is because new drivers are still a little nervous about the whole process and think it matters that the pizza arrives fresh and hot. New drivers are also fools and make very little money.
Eventually, drivers come to understand that the real secret is in volume. This is because you are tipped (and gone) by the time the customer opens his pizza and discovers it's become a frozen-dough Frisbee. At my store there was this one guy, Dirk Steele, who scoffed at the company policy and would regularly grab three pies for a run. And as irritating as his cavalier attitude towards the "best way" might have been, that guy could deliver the goods. He worked like a wizard on the keyboard, dispatching himself multiple pizzas, double-packing the mobile oven bags, orchestrating routes with multiple traffic escape avenues and Double Rs (rights on red), and chewing up blacktop with his delivery bubble turned off. Dirk was ... was ... okay, he's a figment of my imagination. But let there be no doubt that there are Dirk-type characters out there right now, delivering by the seat of their pants and dazzling their female customers with their icy good looks and Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses. Just because he didn't work at my store doesn't mean he didn't exist.
* * *
The next question friends frequently asked was, "Did you help make pizzas?"
The answer is "No."
Why? Because a national pizza company is a machine, and that machine has two primary functions: sell pizza, and get people off the clock as fast as possible.
As a result, the drivers are scheduled to walk in the door the moment the orders start piling up. You walk in, wash your hands, and start dispatching yourself pizzas. When you return from that run, there are pizzas on the warming rack already falling behind the time curve. You dispatch and go; dispatch and go; dispatch and go. This time of the day — when everyone was in a rush — was creatively referred to as the Rush. Sunday through Thursday, the Rush phone calls start at 5:50 p.m. and end abruptly at 8:10. (The Friday and Saturday Rush runs until 8:35.) Now, since it takes exactly ten minutes to field a call, take the order, make the pizza, run it through the oven, box it, and cut it, that means deliveries during the Rush start going out the door at exactly 6:00 p.m. So guess what time most of the drivers clocked in? Then, at some time after 8:20, you'd return to see no pizzas on the warming rack, and the first thing you'd hear as you entered the store was one of the managers say, "All right ... let's get you clocked out."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "You Want Fries with That?"
Copyright © 2011 Prioleau Alexander.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
You Want Fries with That?,
Prologue White Collar, Short Leash,
Responsibility and Intellect Disclaimer,
The Pizza Man Cometh,
The Road Warrior,
Trade Secrets Unveiled,
Sometimes the Bear Gets You,
Driven to the Brink,
Under the Bubble,
Overall Analysis of the Job,
We All Scream, Eventually,
Fields of Fire,
The Average Day,
Observing the Enemy,
Probing the Defensive Perimeter,
The Jerk Squad,
The Thousand-Yard Stare,
Why the Roofer Wants to Kick Your Ass,
The Demolition Man,
In Hell, Everyone Hangs Rock,
Tile Is Two Pieces,
Go to Trim School, Young Man,
ABC Construction ... We Actually Show Up!,
Good Things Come in Big Boxes,
10 ccs of Sanity, Stat ...,
Landing My Next Gig,
Welcome to Our Wacky World,
Baptism by Fire,
Making the Rounds,
You Want Fries with That?,
Day One, 4:59 p.m.,
91 (Yes, Ninety-one) Minutes Later,
85 Minutes Later Than That,
Behind the Door,
Umm, This Isn't That Much Fun,
Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,
On the Trail, Day One,
The Routine on the Trail,
Out of the Mouths of Babes,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Taking a one-year sabbatical off from a high-flying advertising career to explore the potential of a range of minimum-wage jobs might not be a possibility, or even a vaguely conceived idea for everyone. But that is precisely what Mr. Prioleau (Pray-lo) Alexander did when he hit a low point in his career. You Want Fries With That? A White-Collar Burnout Experiences Life at Minimum Wage is the paperback release of his journey from the ranks of the unemployed to becoming, in turn, a pizza delivery man, an ice-cream parlor counter hand, a laborer on a construction site, an ER tech (on a strictly look-see-puke basis), a fast food jockey, and a cowboy (imagine a suit shepherding Mormons in the Montana outback and you’ll start LOL-ing long before you even start reading this one). On the way he also goes through the application process at a Big Box store, but doesn’t quite make it (which is partly to blame on the fact that he declined to say that his schedule would not be able to accommodate their 24/7/365 availability requirement, or so Mr. Alexander thinks). You Want Fries With That? is less one man’s self-exploration resulting from his trials and tribulations experienced during a period off from work in the corporate sector than it is a telling indictment—albeit told in the most humorous way—of the shortcomings of the lowest echelon of the service and other industries. Mr. Alexander’s approach is provocative and stimulating as he regales readers with descriptions of the people and places that he encounters in the above-mentioned range of work settings. One point to bear in mind: The author has been criticized for not always being politically correct. An ex-Marine, his background shows, not only in his work ethic, but also in statements such as the following in relation to a cadaverous 94-year-old woman in ER: “Side note: I can honestly tell you that if I was back in the Marines and on a patrol in some foreign war zone, and came upon a civilian who looked that, without hesitation I would have cleared the room and smothered her . . . and slept like a rock feeling like I’d done something heroic.” Despite his marked lack of empathy in the above instance, Mr. Alexander is, by and large, understanding of how and why certain people land up not only working at a minimum-wage job for a short period in their youth, but might, in fact, never advance beyond that level in their careers. A key aspect of this work is the unconventional, ground floor up look that Mr. Alexander provides at the industries through which he ventures. Coming from the ranks of the problem solvers and solution finders of industry, his experiences clearly enable him to see both the lighter side and the more serious implications of the hierarchical way in which most businesses and organizations are run. As such, management should pay careful heed to the lessons that Mr. Alexander learns about living life at grassroots level. In short, the work could prove an eye-opener to many. You Want Fries With That? is highly recommended for anyone who has ever wondered what it really feels like to be on the other side of the counter. The insights that Mr. Alexander provides into the construction industry should also prove invaluable for all those who plan on renovating an existing home or building a new one from scratch.
Interesting and a very fast read
This is the funniest read I have encountered in decades! I Highly recommend this light, funny read!
Every page made me smile, most pages made me snicker, quite a few pages made me laugh out loud. That's something I've never done when reading before. Mr Alexander's book is an entertaining read and I recommend it to everyone. I look forward to reading his next adventure.
Prioleau Alexander's adventure into the world of minimum wage jobs should be read by anyone considering making 'the leap.' Not because there are lessons to be learned (there are plenty),, but because the hilarious, insightful situations he finds himself in will haunt you. I have new respect for anyone who has scooped ice cream, delivered pizza, or been forced to ask the question: 'Here or to go?' A truly funny book that will hopefully be the first of many more to come.
This book will let you know what will happen if you up and decide to quit the rat race. I can't stop laughing about his work in the ER.
Mr. Alexander's book completely entertained me while making me realize what a gift it is to not have to go to work everyday in one of 'those' jobs. A book that gave me a different perspective on life: I certainly treat Pizza delivery guys with a hell of a lot more respect, not to mention the burger guy, the ice cream guy, and the riding on the range guy. The fact that the book is non-fiction, is about this dudes real life experience, and written with unequivocal humor makes it the best book I've ever read.
It'd be hard to describe how much I enjoyed reading 'Fries With That?' It was at once laugh-out-loud funny, and at the same time thought-provoking. The author stepped off the white-collar treadmill and explored whether the grass really was greener in a simpler life and job. Curious and philosophical, the author makes the characters jump off the page. Having done my stint, I know why the roofer wants you dead and why construction labor blows and why cashiers hate fast-food customers I think the author explains all these things for those who might not know very poignantly. I now give five bucks to the pizza guy every single time. A unique and compassionate perspective thoughtfully, and hilariously, drawn. I hope the author gives us more, soon.
This is the funniest book I have read in a long time! If there is ever something you should read when you don't know what you want to be when you grow up, this is it. You will die laughing and have a hard time putting it down. Parents - buy one for each of your children. It may help. As someone who works in the advtg. industry I completely understand where the author came from. Fortunately I now own my own business and life is good. And that's what the big picture is all about - a good life.