San Francisco, California
Looking back, doing food deliveries was stressful, mundane work. It’s all a blur of faraway houses on crazy hills, downtown corporate offices with zero parking, day after day, rain or shine. You’d get some surprises like a celebrity or the occasional late-night strip club catering event. Everybody’s gotta eat. But there’s one delivery that always stuck out in my mind.
That day Bears, my co-founder who was shotcalling the order batches showed me something. Why was the purple delivery line going way outside of town? Our website allowed San Francisco deliveries only so this wasn’t supposed to happen. We Googled the zip. “Treasure Island.”
Engineering had validated the right county zip codes. But we then discovered that Treasure Island was also the northern artificial edge of District 6’s city limits. Didn’t the military use to drop bombs out there? The customer names sounded Swedish and their LinkedIns were ghosts. I volunteered to go since I’ve never been and no courier wanted to drive out that far.
Soon I was in our bright orange delivery t-shirt with a black hot bag, beeping for my Zipcar. Once I crossed the Bay Bridge, I turned off the very first exit. Seeing an empty toll booth with no FasTrak, I went right through.
And before a curvy, white building stood a huge metal sculpture of a dancing woman. She was at least 40 feet tall. I slowed down to admire how light she seemed with her pose. You could make out the intricate rivet work that held together her hollow bronze figure. Balancing on one leg, the other in graceful mid-kick, the dancing woman’s arms reached out beyond me, moving to the silent rhythm across the desert from some song only she could hear, naked. I drove on.
Past the rows of projects and spartan barrack buildings, I faced a line of abandoned kiddie rides you’d often see outside of discount department stores. Next to them was a much bigger bobble-head of a clown face. One of its eyeballs had chipped off so it looked like he had one bad eye staring blankly and then right back at you. Where the hell was everyone?
Now my phone stopped getting bars and I lost GPS. The address was close so I kept driving on the only road I could. The entrance to the cul-de-sac turned into a dirt road. Small pebbles started bouncing off the car with the glove compartment vibrating loose.
At the end stood a no-signage warehouse surrounded by wire-fence and a rusted-over water mill. I tried ignoring the whole serial murder vibe that this place was giving off. There were three doors spaced evenly across the front. I tried the first door and slowly opened. Hello?
“They’re here!” Several people scrambled out from the corners of the warehouse to greet me. I had stepped into another movie from the one playing outside. Everyone wore matching minimalist robes out of an Acne Studios catalog. Turns out we were the only ones that delivered their favorite vegetarian restaurant from the city. The remote team was here (from Norway!) on a big research grant doing something with vegetables.
From then on, the Norwegians would order from us every weekday that year and the year after that. They were one of our best early customers. Until one day they stopped ordering from us at all. I’d like to think the grant money ran out before they would ever consider switching to a competitor of ours.
Some years later, when life took me back to Treasure Island, I searched again for the dancing woman. She was gone now, and throughout the night I’d catch myself staring back at the blank space, trying to remember her song.