Pizza delivery driver: Delivering something hot during the cold

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PITTSFIELD — Last Friday night, with the temperature hovering just above 0 and the wind chill far south of that, Dan Sala pounded a bare fist on the dashboard of his 2012 Chevrolet Malibu. The heat stirred, its exhale quickly warming the vehicle's interior.

"It's not that bad," Sala said of the cold, adding that he may have foregone the heat entirely if not for his passenger.

The 28-year-old Pittsfield resident is accustomed to being out in less-than-stellar weather. For the better part of the last decade, Sala has worked as a delivery driver for Papa Joe's Ristorante and Pizzeria. When many in the city are curling up on the couch, perhaps dissuaded from making that much-needed grocery run (or walk to the kitchen), Sala and five other Papa Joe's drivers are often at their busiest. Sala doesn't mind.

"It's a nice job. Who wants to be doing something sitting behind a desk all day? I couldn't stand that," said Sala, who also works in the freezer section at Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield.

According to Sherry Colombari, who owns Papa Joe's with her husband, Paul, Sala is an "excellent" employee because he's willing to help with prep work when orders dwindle.

"He'll do whatever we ask him to do," Colombari said.

"They've been good to me," said Sala, a lifelong Pittsfield resident, of the couple.

On this night, Papa Joe's needed him on the streets. At 5:30, the building at 107 Newell St. was empty, but that was deceiving.

"We're busy," an employee said at about 5:30 between phone calls.

A few minutes later, Sala burst through the double doors, dropping off empty delivery bags on shelves adjacent to the entrance. He told the employees at the counter where he'd been; they informed him of where he was going. He had two orders, both near the restaurant in southeast Pittsfield. Before leaving, Sala repeated the locations back to his co-workers and checked to make sure the bags' contents matched their receipts. Their extras are vital, too.

"It's no fun going back to a place four miles away just for paper plates," he said later.

Soon thereafter, Sala was placing the bags into his car's back seats. He barked an address into his phone's GPS; Papa Joe's used to provide a street map for new drivers, but Sala no longer uses it.

Along with the heat's blast, a few albums by The Clash provided the night's soundtrack. Sala, who wore a black leather jacket, blue jeans, black boots laced up his shins and a Dallas Cowboys hat, also enjoys listening to Motown hits on Whoopee FM during his routes. On hectic nights, which can require 20 deliveries during a four-hour shift, he favors fast-paced tunes; nights that crawl (as few as eight orders) invite slower songs.

Friday night was somewhere in-between. The Clash reigned for most of the evening as Sala navigated streets and driveways that had been shoveled and plowed to varying degrees following the previous day's blizzard. Sala was concerned about getting stuck.

"This kind of weather, you have to be careful," Sala said before turning into a narrow driveway and dropping off two extra-large pizzas, one of which was a Papa Joe's Special (pepperoni, Italian sausage, sweet sausage, hamburg, mushroom, onion, green peppers, ham and anchovies, according to the restaurant's website). Sala said that the Mama Joe's Special (pepperoni, Italian sausage, hamburg, mushroom, onion and green peppers) is the most popular pizza order.

Sala didn't check the tip for his first delivery; he has so many regulars that he often knows what he'll make before ringing the doorbell. For example, he was excited about the next stop on this route, a family home on Harryel Street.

"All the drivers fight for them," Sala said. (Two other delivery people were working during this shift.) While tips typically range from $3 to $6 and are rarely tied to orders' costs, this Harryel Street family usually gave about $8, according to Sala.

As the car rolled up a long driveway, a couple of children began jumping up and down, visible through a front window.

"I always love it when the kids are happy and excited," Sala said later.

Sala has one of his own at home: Andrik, who has his first birthday coming up. Sala's driving gig is one means to support his son, and it's more financially viable than it used to be.

"[In 2009 and 2010], you were lucky if you got $3 [in tips] on average," he said after returning to Papa Joe's to pick up some more orders.

That has gone up, though there are still those — some of whom live in the area's biggest houses — who don't tip at all. Sala said it's more fulfilling when the stingiest customers finally tip him than when the traditionally generous tippers spend their usual amounts.

"It just changes your whole night," said Sala, who also makes an hourly wage and is compensated for gas money.

The best he's done in one shift was around $150, though special deliveries to company functions can often bring more. His worst? $0.

The rewards of Sala's job, however, aren't solely financial. Though his exchanges at doorsteps on this night were light and quick, Sala recounted a delivery from his first year driving that involved a heavy conversation and led to a long-term relationship.

On either Christmas Eve or the day before, Sala said he delivered to an elderly woman in Pittsfield. When she got to the door, she was distraught, explaining that this would be the first Christmas she would be spending without her immediate family. Sala joked that he would stop by; the woman countered by asking if he could come shovel sometime. He agreed.

"And then it ended up being like I had an adopted grandmother," Sala said of his subsequent visits to the woman's home for chores and good conversation. (He declined to give her full name out of respect for her privacy.)

Encountering the unexpected is part of Sala's job. For instance, Sala had a chance to test his new brakes when a trash barrel and a deer entered his path at different points during the night.

Tolerating the monotony of repeatedly returning to the Newell St. restaurant is part of the gig, too. Sala doesn't feel an urge to rush during those trips, even when the kitchen is busy.

"Fast on your feet," Sala said Paul Colombari advised him during a particularly stressful night, "not on the streets."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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