“The social distancing is real.”
As I acknowledged yesterday, front line workers in the hospitals and testing labs are not the only heroes in a crisis situation like this. So are those on the second line, as I’ll call it, particularly people hustling to help provide the rest of us with essentials like food and basic supplies. If everything gets shut down besides vital services, these employees will be some of the only ones out and about keeping us fed and basically connected to the outside world.
This afternoon, among other related announcements, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said that while restaurants must cut capacity by 50%, closing times will be 11pm the latest, and beer gardens are shut down, delivery businesses can keep normal hours of operation, while all establishments can do delivery, even without the appropriate license.
But what’s it like to be out there, driving or cycling around? And what precautions have been put in place? There are several measures, it turns out; as early as March 6, the company Postmates, which delivers in thousands of US cities including Boston, announced special coronavirus-conscious precautions, writing in a blog post on Medium: “Today, we’re introducing Dropoff Options, which will give our customers the ability to specify how they’d like to receive deliveries. … Customers can choose to meet their Postmate at the door, as they have before, meet curbside, or go non-contact and have deliveries left at the door.”
Others have followed with similar safeguards. For a first-hand perspective, I reached out to music and comic book scenester Clay Fernald, a longtime friend of and sometimes contributor to DigBoston. For about a year, he has also driven Uber Eats to earn a couple extra bucks several nights a week, and is currently delivering your food around the Hub.
“It’s real good money for what I do,” he said on a quick call before heading out for the afternoon. “It’s dangerous work [even without coronavirus], but I was a bike courier in the ’90s, so I guess I’m used to it. I know where everything is. I can make a quick fifty bucks at dinnertime any night of the week, so that’s what I do.”
Though deliveries have been steady since President Trump announced a state of emergency Friday, Fernald said it’s hardly overwhelming—yet.
“It’s not super busy, and the restaurants are happy that people are ordering food from them,” he said. “I don’t usually ride during the day, but I’m about to go out today and I think it’s a little bit busier.”
As for safety measures …
“The social distancing is real,” Fernald said. “Uber is giving people the option of having the food left outside of somebody’s apartment building, and they can come down and pick it up.”
When they don’t select that option, Fernald said, “I have definitely been handing people their food at arm’s length.”
Though a lot of people are at home and desperately in need of rent money—especially in Fernald’s circle of creatives and those who work in events and entertainment—it doesn’t seem that many of them are interested in joining him on the road. He’s been posting on the socials from the wild, and on Saturday offered his second delivery bag to anyone looking for work.
“A lot of people seem to like the idea, and are saying, Way to go, Clay!, but literally no one’s hit me up yet,” Fernald said. “I put my Uber code in there, you can get a referral for that, and no one has used it.”
“It’s okay, I’m just trying to keep people entertained at this point.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.