Sunday, September 29, 2013

Extreme Service: Meals on Wheels Edition

Back in college, I was in Alpha Phi Omega (APO), which is a national co-ed service organization. We did all kinds of different projects. Some were hard. Some were rewarding. Some were really fun. Some were soooo disgusting. There are a few that still stand out in my mind all these years later. And since I like to tell stories, you get to read about them..

One semester, Lori (my main partner in crime APO activities and everything else) and I decided to sign up for Meals on Wheels. (Just to be clear, we signed up for DELIVERING meals, not receiving them.) We got put on the Wednesday rotation for the Bryan route that not only had the most deliveries, but was also the most geographically-spread-out...a.k.a, the "let the college kids spend all of their gas money route".

On our first day to deliver, the MOW director went with us to show us the ropes and where we were going. This was before the days of GPS directions, but I'm pretty sure that some of the places we went wouldn't have been on GPS anyway. Or Tom Tom would have said "Are you sure you REALLY want to go there" if we had been able to punch in an address. But I digress.

The MOW dude was, well, full of advice on that first day. He showed us where to pick up the ice chest full of hot meals, explained how to tell if anyone got a special meal, and then we got in the car and made the rounds. The first couple of stops were what you would expect. He'd say, "this is Mrs. So-so. She's got arthritis, she'll talk your ear off if you let her." Or "this is Mrs. Other Lady, she's diabetic, but her son checks in on her regularly, too."

At this point, I have to point out that the first couple of stops were in older neighborhoods; ones that would have been brand-new middle class homes about thirty or forty years earlier. Now they were a little rundown, but not the kinds of neighborhoods you'd be afraid to end up in if you got lost.

The next few stops were literally in "the projects". At this point the MOW dude checked to make sure we had the Meals on Wheels dashboard sign in the car. Why, you ask? He calmly explained, "Because this area of Bryan, particularly the housing projects, has gangs and they don't like outsiders. But they don't mess with the MOW people delivering their grandma's lunch every day." It's really too bad there weren't cell phones with cameras back then, because the look on Lori's face at that moment was great; big eyes, open mouth, "what the hell have we gotten into" expression. Or maybe that was my expression that I caught in the rearview mirror. I imagine we both looked a little freaked out.

It turns out though, that MOW guy was right. We pulled up to an apartment unit that had three or four guys sitting outside drinking 40's (it was roughly 11am on a Wednesday). They really looked at the car with absolute hostility and then saw the sign. Their expressions changed almost immediately. They didn't give us any trouble. Not that day with MOW guy, or any of the times it was just Lori and me. They just greeted us and let us do our thing. One day, one of them even asked what his Granny was having for lunch that day, because it smelled good. (Just FYI, that was one of the RARE days it smelled good. Some days I thought my car would never not smell like cabbage.) But I digress, again.

After the gang banger stop, MOW guy directed us to the next stop in a different housing project, Mr. Hernandez. He smiled, chuckled really, and said, "I don't suppose either of you speak Spanish, do you? Mr. Hernandez doesn't speak any English. You just have to take the food straight back and put it on the table for him because he's in a wheelchair. Oh, and be careful, his apartment is very narrow. He'll station his wheelchair right in the middle of the room so that you have to walk pretty closely to him to get by. He's been known to slap the female volunteers on the ass, so be prepared." Well, either Mr. Hernandez didn't think I was his type, or my evil-eye death-stare did the trick, because he was never anything but a gentleman to me. I'm not sure if Lori can say the same.

"At this point, we've done most of the route as far as number of deliveries, there's only a couple left, but they are farther out of the city limits," MOW dude informed us. "First stop off the highway is a sweet lady who, unlike everyone else, does not want us to drop off her meal inside. She doesn't want strangers in her house (good for her) and will meet us outside." The lady really was sweet like MOW dude said. She knew we were students so she'd ask us what grade we were in. If we answered freshman/sophomore/junior/senior she would get a blank look. She didn't understand, so we learned to say we were in 15th grade or the whatever F/S/J/S equated to. She would say she was proud of us for staying in school that long and send us on our way.

After that nice lady, MOW dude informed us that our route "saved the best for last. We'll turn off the highway here. We'll go down this road a bit. There's a railroad crossing up ahead. Crazy women drivers need to be sure to look for trains." Again, this would have been an excellent time to have a camera, because the "WTF? Did he really just say that? I can't believe he said that" expressions on Lori's and my faces would have been priceless. And at that point, I was so caught off guard by his chauvinism that we could have easily been hit by a train. Jerk.

So, the crazy women drivers managed to get safely across the railroad track, and MOW dude directed us to turn off the road onto a blink-and-you'll miss it unpaved "road" surrounded by trees. His directions at this point included the words "see that burned out hull? That was a crack house before it went up in flames. We'll turn just past it." I can honestly say that "turn left past the burned-down crack house" had never been used in casual conversation for me. EVER. Until that day. After that, it was used every Wednesday because Lori and I would remind each other "turn left past the burned-down crack house" when we got there.

After we managed to make our last delivery, pass the ghost crack house on the way out and get back to the MOW office, I really think MOW dude expected us to quit right then. But Lori and I were made of tougher stuff than that. Or maybe we were just naive. Whatever we were, we were MOW drivers from that point on.

1 comment:

  1. When community service is an adventure. Or an extreme sport.