When I graduated from college with a degree in communications and did things like manage a multi-million dollar cable advertising interconnect, I never entertained even a drunken thought that an early chunk of my AARP years would be spent slinging floral arrangements each day. But then along came the Great Economic Downturn of Godzilla-like Proportions, and before you could say “watch where you breath that fire, buster” it melted down the tech firm for which I had been working eight years.
So here I am, on the road each day. There I am, up by your door. Here I go: “I got these for you.” There I go. Turn the page.
A habit of having coffee Sunday mornings at Panera led to getting acquainted with a gentleman who owns a floral shop. He does some weddings and special events, but the bread-and-buttercups of his business is individual piecework for funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, and all that sort of stuff. During the initial stages of the operational downtime imposed on me by the Great Recession, I would jump in when he needed an extra hand for high-volume holidays like Mothers Day. Over time I became his Primary Delivery Dude.
The job has its moments. For starters, it’s a daily exercise in experimenting with Newton’s Laws of Motion, particularly where Force demands attention. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, gather up some jars and vases, fill them up with water, put them in your back seat, and then get back to me after you round that first corner.
Unless you c-r-a-w-l on that turn, ya gotta take a lot of precautions to keep that fragile merchandise from slipping, sliding, and tilting catty-ass-whompus like furniture on the Titanic.
Then there are doorbells. My unscientific survey says 80 percent of ‘em don’t work. When they do work, 80 percent of those homes have not one but two dogs. And, yeah, it never ceases to amaze me that ferociousness is indirectly proportional to size when it comes to canines. The smaller they go, the bigger they bark. Cats are all, “Yeah, just leave them there. I’ll eat – I mean get – them later.”
On more than one occasion, I am positive the person to whom I was making a delivery was convinced I was only pretending to deliver flowers in order to hide my real purpose of serving an arrest warrant, eviction notice, or subpoena. After finally coming to the door, they would quickly open it and grab the arrangement as their eyes darted around to see if a SWAT team was hiding in the bushes.
While I‘m thinking of it, I wish the shop owner would invest in a sign for the delivery van. I mean, if you don’t want to go whole hog on a logo paint job that’s fine, but at least slapping on a couple magnetic signs would be nice. Why? It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re in, but when an unmarked van slowly drives up a street in search of an address – especially near a school… You get the picture.
What makes delivering floral arrangements most interesting, though, is the people getting the flowers. Over the decades I have been in plenty of circumstances where someone did not necessarily like to see me showing up, but NO ONE doesn’t like to see the flower guy coming. The joy of receiving flowers, I suppose, could be measured from 1 to 10, but it’s always joy. Well, almost.
You might think funerals are the hardest deliveries, but they’re not because they’re typically made hours before the family arrives. And in the useless trivia department, I know the location of every floral delivery door at every funeral home in Mahoning County. And parts of Trumbull and Columbiana, too.
Several deliveries stand out in my memory as particularly poignant. One was a nice dish garden with a glass cross planted in the middle. Whatever the occasion, I knew it was not a happy one. It had “comfort” and “love in time of sorrow” virtually written all over it. And when the young woman came out to accept it, she could barely say thank you through her tears as soon as she saw it.
I was greeted once at a front door by a woman, probably around my age, tethered to an I.V. pole that she guided along beside her. She wore a scarf over her head, she looked tired, but just the same her smile was incredibly warm and endearing.
Two years later I made another delivery to that home. She did not come to the door. I knew she wouldn’t. The arrangement was for her family.
And then the hardest delivery of all was to a hospital room near the labor and delivery wing. Now, almost every delivery to the maternity ward is sky high on the joy scale, but not this day. These flowers were being sent to help comfort the mother who lost her baby the night before. The room was dim. The air was heavy with immeasurable sadness. And she was alone.
I hope to never make a delivery like that again.
I have made deliveries to the poorest neighborhoods and the wealthiest and to a lot in between. They all have their “charms,” but I’ll never forget a woman who lives on the south side of Youngstown on a street I didn’t know existed. This woman, elderly, lived in a house that had seen better days. Like maybe a week back in 1920. The front porch was a tad soft and spongy and I was careful not to move too much for fear I might plunge into whatever dark, dank, and cobwebby recesses awaited below my feet. But this old woman was happy. Yes, she was overjoyed at receiving flowers, but there was simply something about her nature that said she was always outrageously joyful, and I should add it was not in an eccentric or goofy way. Her joy was warm and sincere and radiated from her eyes and smile like sunshine on a warm day in April. Yep, her default position was unbridled happiness. And while I shouldn’t presume she’s done more hard living than most of us, the evidence was there to suggest that things were not easy, yet she didn’t seem to mind. She didn’t mind at all. She was happy.
Sure made an impression on me.
And then there was that guy. Wait. Let me back up. It was something out of a Seinfeld episode or a Monty Python sketch. It was Friday before Memorial Day, it was gonna be a busy day, and I showed up at the shop to start deliveries. The first was a mammoth urn that needed to be at the cathedral within the hour but the designer was still working on it, so it was suggested I take care of two other quick deliveries first, one a pair of altar arrangements for a church virtually across the street and another to a residence not far from that. Easy peasy quick and easy and I’ll have plenty of time to spare to get to the cathedral on time.
So I go to grab keys to unlock the van and discover the “good” van is with the owner. “Good” in this case means fewer rust spots and power windows. I’d have to use the other van. I go out to open it up and discover it’s full of boxes except for one spot where I could put my arrangements. Now, remember what I said about Newton’s Laws of Motion? I knew that some of these boxes stacked in the back like Jenga blocks could move around and crush my deliveries, but I didn’t have time to unload the van so I arranged and secured those boxes as best I could. Or so I thought.
Just as I pulled out of the parking lot I remembered the Garmin was in the “good” van and I didn’t have access to anything to help me find the exact location of my residential delivery. My cell had picked that day to go into the throes of demon possession and wouldn’t even turn on to allow me to use Google Maps. I had to turn around and go back to the shop to use one of the desktop computers to generate a map. The clock was ticking but it was still early in the game.
Map in hand, I went to the church with the first delivery and discovered that one of the two altar arrangements had been clipped by a rogue box. Another lesson for you: Carnations are so damn fragile. It was snapped in a place where I couldn’t do my own quick fix to hide it (and, frankly, I don’t have any talent to design arrangements, only deliver ‘em), so I looked at my watch and decided I still had time to head back to the shop again for a quick repair. Are you getting a sense that time pressure is mounting in agonizing increments?
While the designer swapped out the fractured flower, I devised a new shipping strategy: I would put the box with the altar arrangements on the passenger seat to protect them from any further peril. Repair made, I slid the fixed arrangement back into a slot in the box with its partner, trotted back outside to the van, and placed the box on the passenger seat.
I got back to the church and for reasons that remain among the Greatest Mysteries of the Universe, the passenger-side door wouldn’t open. My cell phone demons apparently transferred themselves to the door. Instead of slowly and carefully attempting to move each arrangement out through the driver’s side, I decided to crawl over and push the passenger door open. I did so with spectacular results. My hand slipped as I pushed, I lost my balance, and I crushed both altar arrangements with my full body weight.
I went back to the shop for the third time in like fifteen minutes and presented the designer this time with church arrangements that looked like victims of a tornado. There would be no quick fix this time, but I would still have time to make that other delivery before heading to the cathedral.
As I headed to this guy’s house, I recounted my dumb luck in such a short time span: Possessed phone, malfunctioning door, escalating floral damage. And I was really beginning to feel the pressure of getting to the cathedral on time and meeting the delivery needs of all the other orders now rolling in.
I got to my destination and impatiently waited for someone to answer the door bell and my knocks because I think his was one of those 80 percent where the damn button doesn’t work. A man finally opened the door. He was disheveled. He looked like an unmade bed. He appeared not to be well.
And he definitely was not wearing any pants.
I noticed his lack of bottom apparel in just a glance and then averted my eyes because there is no amount of bleach – even if it’s flavored with pumpkin spice – that can make the stain of a visual like that disappear. After I got back into my vehicle and closed the door, I began not to just laugh, but to convulse with laughter so hard it made my chest hurt while tears poured out of my eyes in buckets. At each traffic light on the way back to the shop I roared in laughter again. The patent absurdity of the past twenty minutes – wayward electronics, sealed doors, crushed flowers, and now a man without pants – was too much to bear. Anyone driving by had to think I was nuts.
I didn’t stop laughing until I got back from the cathedral.
There is no moral that you need to draw from any of these stories. The purpose here was never to bring you to some Grand Conclusion About Life. Nevertheless, delivering flowers allows me to draw my own conclusions about life every day. For instance, like those damn delicate carnations that snap if you look at them cross-eyed, the nature of our existence is equally fragile.
It’s hard for me not to muse over life’s foibles when a person who looks like they don’t have two nickels to rub together insists on giving me a tip. Or when the door is opened by an old woman who smiles at everything life throws in front of her. Or when the road to the cathedral is filled with crazy things no sober person could predict.
On my worst days, I remember the young woman in the maternity ward and decide whatever I’m moping about pales way beyond comparison.
It’s almost time to get on the road again. I hope everyone is wearing pants.