Social Distancing Installment #11: Deliveries, pandemic style

Only in these pandemic times have I ever received a mask from a customer! It’s much nicer looking than the tee shirt bank robber style mask I was wearing when I made the delivery.

These are strange times for wine shopping and deliveries.  I’ve written about some of my more (let’s call them) interesting deliveries before.  Those had more to do with who was ordering.  These days, it’s all about the circumstances.

When First Vine got its first wine shipment back in 2007, I used to be able to easily zip around Washington, DC in my car to make deliveries.  Within five years, though, traffic was bad and kept getting worse.  I had to spend up to an hour and a half just to make a single delivery, depending on where I was dropping off the wine.

Well, starting in mid-March when DC’s stay at home order went into effect, everything changed.  The increase in DC’s population over the last decade first brought more cars to the roads, and then the number of rideshare vehicles (many registered in Maryland and Virginia) exploded.  But suddenly, poof!  Even less traffic than back in 2007.  Those hour and a half delivery runs got shortened to 40 minutes, tops.

Good thing, because people staying at home have been ordering more wine.  I’m probably in the car even more than I was before, just making more stops and delivering more wine.  But it’s not 2007 and there are definitely things I didn’t anticipate:

  • Even though there’s less traffic, stoplights are still timed for the pre-lockdown days. I’ve sat at some red lights and seen no cross traffic at the intersections at all.  Some of the lights stay red so long that you feel like you could be snatched by aliens, examined, and put back in your car before the light changed.  And there still wouldn’t be any cross traffic.
  • Drivers are tempted to look at their phones more than usual. Some of them may be delivery people checking for addresses, not that that’s a good excuse.  But I doubt that most of them are – they just can’t help themselves after 10 seconds at a red light.  It’s annoying to be stuck at a long light and then have the driver in front of you looking at his or her phone when the light changes.  I normally don’t like using my horn, but I have to admit a little thrill of satisfaction when I beep and see the head of the driver in front of me snap up in surprise.
  • DC government is taking the opportunity of less traffic to do much-needed road repairs.  It’s happening all over the place.  At the same time, building construction doesn’t seem to have abated much, and the construction crews are a lot more likely to block the street than they used to be.  So it isn’t as if I don’t have to sit in any traffic, but at least it’s not because of volume.  This means I’ve learned a couple of new routes, too.  I normally wouldn’t take those streets, but I’ve seen some lovely homes in the process.

Another thing that’s changed about deliveries is getting signatures from customers over 21.  It was something I did routinely for years, but I don’t want to hand someone a clipboard and a pen (and they probably don’t want to touch them, either).  So I put the wine down on the stoop, ring the bell, and then back away at least six feet until the customer comes to the door and picks up the boxes.

This works well for customers I know are over 21.  But DC requires me to check IDs if the customer looks to be under 35 years old.  Since I’ve had new customers, it has been an interesting dance to have contact-free ID checks.  Luckily, most of them have a glass door that I can look through to see the ID.  One customer actually taped her ID to the front door for me to look at, which was pretty funny.  I checked her birth date, rang the bell, and stepped back.  (Her front door was up about 20 steps from the sidewalk, so you couldn’t see her ID unless you were right in front of it.)  She opened the door and waved, and off I went.  Another customer was even more ingenious and took a photo of her driver’s license, blacked out the license number, and texted me the photo.

But by far the most unusual delivery was something that could only happen in times like these.   One particular customer came to the door in her mask and gloves.  She took the box from me and handed me a surgical mask sealed in plastic.  She said that a friend in China had sent her an entire box of them, and she thought it would be a nice thank-you for delivering the wine.  It definitely was – and much better looking than the tee shirt bank robber style mask I was wearing.

I imagine the pleasant delivery conditions won’t last forever.  People will go back to work, and lots of them will be driving instead of taking public transportation.  I expect traffic will get a lot worse.  And people won’t be home all day the way they are now, which probably means more evening deliveries.  I hope people won’t be so stressed out that they’re not happy to see me with their wine.  I’ve never had anyone unhappy with a wine delivery, but the extra twinkle I see in people’s eyes (above their masks) these days has really made me feel like I’m doing something good!



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