*What you are about to read is a chapter from my new book, Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion. Before coming to ARC in 2014 I spent two years working in the secular world after leaving my position as the youth and young adult pastor at my church. It was a rude awakening, and this story about my first day delivering pizza is a great example of that. It is also is a lesson in how to connect with people outside of your church bubble and finding your identity in Christ alone.
A Rough Start
I have never heard more foul language at any other point in my life than I did in the one month I spent delivering pizza. This would also be true if I was just counting what I heard from the only Christian that worked at the restaurant.
I pulled up to the Pizza Hut on Highway 44 in Prairieville to start my glorious new career as a pizza delivery mogul. I was on time. My uniform was freshly ironed and starched. I was displaying the same excellence I had learned as a pastor. I walked into work at 10:30 am and found three people ready to introduce me to the pizza biz. My manager was a tall, lanky guy named Earl. He had an unshaven face and a hat pulled down low on his head. The other delivery driver was a young girl who appeared 20 but talked and acted like a 13-year-old. Then there was another guy. He was short, stocky, and looked angry. He went about his tasks like a swirling bee. He buzzed around waiting to sting. He moved too fast for me to catch his name.
Before the restaurant opened, my manager said he had to run to the bank. He would be back in a couple of minutes. Surprisingly, a customer came in before he came back. She wanted to pay cash for her order. The only problem was Earl was not back with the money.
The angry bee buzzed. “Where is Earl?”
Then he began to scream, “Where the [bleep] is Earl!”
The buzzing continued as he paced around the store in a panic. “It doesn’t take this long to go to the bank and come back!”
What I am giving you is only a rough translation of what he actually said. The colorful language expressed included 10 or more profanities for every other word used.
“He left me in charge, but I can’t do anything without any money!” *too many profanities to include.
How can I describe this to you?
A Crash Course in Celine Dion
If you can imagine music playing over the foul language, and then pausing only to hear the words that were not profanity, you could make it through an entire Celine Dion song for every intelligible sentence this guy got out. In fact, let’s see what that would sound like.
“I can’t (For all those times you stood by me…) believe this (For all the truth that you made me see…)!”
“Earl is a (For all the joy you brought to my life…)!”
“I can’t (For all the wrong that you made right…) take this (For every dream you made come true)!”
“I (For all the love I found in you…) QUIT (I’ll be forever thankful!”
“Tell that stupid (Baby you’re the one that held me up and never let me fall) that I” (You’re the one who saw me through)
“QUIT (Through it all…)!”
And with that, he slammed the door and walked out. The angry bee quit before I even got his name!
The young girl who was second in command began to fall apart. As much as I didn’t understand my previous coworker’s outburst, hers was at least reasonable. She continued my crash course in overdubbed Celine Dion censorship.
“I can’t believe this! I can’t believe this!” (You were my strength when I was weak…)
“What am I going to do?” (You were my voice when I couldn’t speak…)
“The manager is gone, Tom just quit (so that was his name… nice knowing you Tom!), I am just a delivery driver, and you… YOU KNOW NOTHING!”
The last part she said while pointing directly at me. She slammed a pizza pan down. I begin to hear more Celine Dion from the back of the kitchen. (You were my eyes when I couldn’t see. You saw the best there was in me.)[i]
It was 11:05 am. The manager had disappeared. My immediate supervisor just quit. The only other employee in the store was having a nervous breakdown, and I hadn’t even got my nametag yet. I had been transplanted to another world. I was not in Christendom anymore. I was in the “real world.” I better get used to hearing love songs and words that would make a sailor blush.
The manager did eventually come back. The extra 15 minutes it took to swing by the local Circle K for a pack of cigarettes cost him more than he bargained. A third of his workforce on that shift had quit. Tom was a good worker, though. He was eventually allowed to return despite his abrupt departure.
The Pizza Biz
Even though we spoke different languages, Tom and I would become friends. His goal was to teach me what he called “the pizza biz.” He did a lot more than that. Tom helped me learn how to be a daily witness to someone who doesn’t understand Christian-ese or care about church titles and positions. I wonder what song he imagined playing when I first began to talk to him?
There is a bit of irony involved with me working as a delivery driver. My dad worked for Pizza Hut as an area manager when I was growing up. He got his start in the fast-food business as a teenager. He was forced to drop out of high school and start working to leave an abusive home. He was an intelligent, dedicated employee, and quickly became a turnaround expert for the restaurant he worked for. The franchise owner took him under his wing and trained him to oversee several stores. This would lead to him overseeing many Pizza Huts in south-central Louisiana.
I have many memories of free pizza and going to Pizza Huts all over Louisiana with my dad. Sometimes we would get there early to open the store. Then my dad would go over the numbers with the manager. I would explore the store while my dad worked in the office. Sometimes I would watch the raw dough turn in a huge steel bowl. Other times he would take me to pop into a store in the middle of the day. I never got tired of the pizza buffet or spending time with my dad. I began to take pride that my dad was the boss. When I went with him, I would find a broom or mop and try to help clean the store. I probably created more of a mess than I did clean anything.
On one visit to a store, I waited for my dad by the takeout counter. I watched as an employee cut a pizza with a giant crescent-shaped knife. He rocked it across the pizza in a seesaw motion. He was working so fast he cut the pizza slices very unevenly. It upset me that the pizza cook didn’t seem to care. I immediately ran to tell my dad. After hearing my report, my dad stopped what he was doing and asked the poor guy to open the box. The worker showed him his mistake. My dad responded by saying, “Even my son can tell you’re not doing it right! Come on! Let’s get it right!” I’m sure that guy wanted to throw that pizza right in my face after I tattled on him. I underestimated my dad’s attention to detail and commitment to excellence. These are the same attributes that caused him to be successful and made his stores run like machines. It is also the reason he lived in a constant state of stress.
That level of precision was not always present in the store where I worked. My manager tried to make his store the best. I have a lot of respect for how he worked with his employees, but he seemed to be swimming against the stream.
There were days when none of the other drivers came to work. They didn’t call or anything. They just chose to stay home that day. I was the one guy who came to work but had to deal with the fallout of their decisions. The lack of drivers meant the orders would get backed up. Customers took their frustrations out on me when I arrived with their pizza extremely late. I got chewed out, no tip, and could probably expect an angry comment on the customer satisfaction survey. This experience gave me a new perspective for those working in service. You never know the load someone else is carrying.
The delivery drivers also all shared dishwashing duties. If I was the only driver, then there was no one taking care of the dishes while I was out. When I would return from a delivery, there would be a mountain of dishes waiting for me. The workload would get very far behind. The pots and pans would fill all three sinks and also be stacked on the floor. This would cause me to have to stay after hours to clean up. I picked up everyone else’s slack but ended up with tiny tips and getting home after the rest of my family was already in bed. Whoever heard of working overtime for less pay? Doing the right thing didn’t bring an immediate reward.
Those were long nights washing dishes in the back of a pizza kitchen. I just kept telling myself this was temporary. I tried to keep the same pride in my work I thought my dad would want to see. I wanted to honor God with my work. Several times I thought of walking out of the store and not looking back. “Cool guys don’t look at explosions” as they walk away. We could have made it on credit cards during those weeks. I really didn’t have to do this. Secretly though, there was a part of me that wanted to see if I had what it takes to survive in this environment. Could I overcome the mounds of dishes and the torrential onslaught of negativity poured on me by coworkers?
It wasn’t all bad. Sometimes people surprised me. They would answer the door smiling and ready to tip. Then their faces would change once they got a good look at me. I would be asked to wait a moment. They would disappear momentarily only to come back with even more money. People don’t deliver pizza because they are passionate about warm bread and cheese. It’s something they have to do to get by. While driving back and forth through the streets of Galvez and southeast Prairieville, I made a decision. I would always make sure I tipped my delivery driver better than what I thought he or she deserved. You never know what they had to do to get to your front door.
I used my wit and sense of humor to keep things fun at the restaurant. All the employees had to greet every customer simultaneously when they came into the store. No matter what you were doing, you were expected to continue it and yell, “Welcome to Pizza Hut!” I wouldn’t stop there. I always added something to the end that made everyone laugh. I’d say, “Welcome to Pizza Hut,” and then add “where the sauce is the boss, and the crust is hand-tossed!” Or I would say “where the pizza is fresh, and the service is the best!” There were several others and even some we couldn’t share with customers. Earl liked this and had me write them down for when we answered the phones.
Recently, while writing this book, Amy was cooking and said. “This sauce is boss! Wait, where have I heard that before?”
“From Pizza Hut,” I said.
“It is one of the things I made up while working there.”
There was another thing I was always on the lookout for while I worked. I was constantly afraid I would answer the phone, give my name, and someone would recognize me. This fear was the same for delivering to people’s homes. We now lived about 45 minutes from our old house. It was unlikely I would bump into someone I would recognize. But it was still not impossible. While I don’t remember delivering to anyone’s house I knew, that didn’t mean they didn’t know who I was. People came to my former church from all over. There was no way I could keep up with everyone’s name and face.
Eventually, someone I recognized did come to our store. I walked out the backdoor as soon as I saw him. I stayed in the parking lot until he left. I was so mad at God during those few moments. “Why was He letting this happen to me,” I wondered. Then I felt God challenge me. I should value His perspective of me over what others thought. I was so worried that this man may have seen me. I didn’t want him to tell everyone I was delivering pizza. I could picture all the people who once respected me shaking their heads at what a failure I had become.
God continued prodding my heart after I came back in the store. I needed to own my life and decisions. I went outside again. This time it was not to avoid that man. Instead, I called him. When he answered, I apologized for ignoring him. I told him how much I respected him. I wanted him to know he did not deserve for me to behave in that way.
That was humbling. Extremely humbling! As difficult as it was to make that call, it was a significant moment for me. It helped break the pattern of living for other people’s approval. Why had God allowed this to happen to me? Maybe the entire reason I had to work at Pizza Hut was to experience that one moment. It forced me to choose God’s perspective of me as the most important influence of my choices. Either way, there were still many more pizzas to deliver, dishes to wash, and bizarre behavior from my coworkers to keep me busy.