You know two things that blow? Driving around in traffic, and moving things in and out of apartments. That’s the basic job description for this New York City truck delivery guy. Oh, eating rich people’s shit blows too. Our hero here spends a lot of his time doing that since he primarily moves valuable artwork around the city. Sucks to be him, right? Well, at least it’s in “The Business.” Sort of. He’d rather be making the art than carrying it on his back, but wouldn’t we all?
STREET CARNAGE: What is the name of your job?
TRUCK DRIVER / ART MOVER: On my taxes, I write “Truck Driver / Art Handler.” But in reality, I’m a “Box Trucker / Shit Eater.”
What do actually spend most of your time doing?
An “average” day sorta doesn’t exist. There are similar days, I guess, but the gig varies so much that it’s just a big blur, with some choice remembered moments and situations. There’s no set start time, so the day starts anywhere from 6 A.M. to 9 A.M., and if you’re more than ten minutes late, you catch heat from the dispatcher because the day has multiple scheduled pick-ups and deliveries. Sometimes you get to know where you are going the evening before but most of the time you walk in the door nine minutes late, punch the clock, take a look at your manifest and just say, “Fuuuuck.”
After reviewing your list of loading docks, freight elevators, rich pricks and cute gallery girls, you throw whatever the hell they call “Art” nowadays in the back of the truck and twerk on out into the hustlefuck traffic of New York City.
Half the day is spent in the truck. It’s the size of a Soviet space pod, it’s got GPS, the speakers are blown out and you eat two, sometimes three meals in it each day. It’s you and one other trucker from a pool of about six truckers, so who you work with varies. You split all the duties down the middle, and try to keep each other from spacing out and running over pedestrians. There’s usually some really great conversation involved.
The other half of the day is spent inside galleries, artist studios, warehouses, actual houses, apartment buildings, loading docks, elevators and restrooms. You carry crates and boxes and paintings up and down, to and fro and schlep your back out. The days are 7 to 13 hours long and ends whenever it ends. Then it’s back into the warehouse, throw the art off the truck, punch out and go get your two pints.
What sorts of things do you deliver? How do people get in touch with you for a job?
From the mediocre to the priceless. It’s not uncommon to be in some ultra-posh locale and soft-pack a painting that you studied in school textbooks. People are so wealthy that sometimes they just have these pieces stashed in a closet. Fuckers don’t tip, either.
Jobs are thrown at us by our dispatcher, who is in a ceaseless state of acute stress. I find out about a job or client the morning of.
So it’s only art that you deliver / pick up? Have you ever done any other type of moving?
Just art and sculpture, sometimes some design chairs. But technically we do move furniture around penthouses and mansions so we can safely get the art re-hung without breaking some “exquisite” vase or some bullshit. It’s alarming how anal the wealthy are about replacing what you moved around their apartment. If you have to move, say, a small wet bar, you need to take a picture of it beforehand to guarantee that you put the bottles and shakers back in the exact same position before you moved them. I’ve gotten very good at looking for divots in rugs and carpets where chairs and couches sat.
Are the individually wealthy the most abusive people that you work with or are corporations worse?
[I work with] institutions, galleries and collectors/private owners, sometimes corporations. Institutions and foundations are usually cool because you see their people often, but they are filled with the uptight rigmarole of bureaucracy. They get on your back about how to handle the work and have silly rules to follow.
Corporations aren’t bad, actually, because they are fluorescent and soulless and no one knows how to safely climb a ladder, literally. I love walking through a corporate office with my Hi-Vis cap and prescription sunglasses on while covered in dirty denim, dragging a tool bag. Real life is in the house, bitches!
The wealthy are, by far, the most abusive. Upon meeting, the first question I ask a wealthy person is “May I use your restroom?” Depending on their hesitance, body language and which restroom they allow me use, I basically can judge their entire character off of that. One lady looked me up and down this one time and said, “Maybe.” I almost told her I could piss in her yard instead, like a dog. There’s a famous rumor of a profoundly rich and famous couple removing a toilet that a tradesman sat on. They view you as a second-class citizen-servant, who has to enter their building through the back. Just last week, a doorman told me, “You are not allowed in that elevator. You must use other elevator. That elevator is only for tenants and their dogs.” I wanted to piss in it.
The wealthy are not on the same wavelength as common folk, period. All those hours swimming through the money bin has fucked with their reality. I was a classist before this job, ever since I cleaned pools around Princeton and first read The Grapes of Wrath, but if I work a service job like this any longer, I’m about to get militant up in this bitch. However, there are wealthy dudes who came from nothing and are riding high on the hog and respect you as a person and they cut you off some of the bacon because they know what its like to earn a paycheck. Not all of the wealthy are evil — just like 97% of them.
You get to see a lot of the city that people probably take for granted, right? What are some of the most interesting things you’ve come across on the job in terms of beauty/disgust?
Yes, I see a lot of the city — and from a viewpoint above eye level — when bouncing along in the truck. A lot of peds, a lot of Hi-Vis, a lot of skirts and tight jeans. People watching should be appreciated as art in itself. You can see some business jerk dressed to the nines in his turquoise Hummer and find him disgusting, but then see some crazy street guy dressed like a rainbow and think him beautiful.
I also see a lot of neighborhoods and, this being New York, it sometimes feel like a trip around the world in a day because neighborhoods reflect their people. I go from the richest through the poorest to the loudest and the proudest and back again, and meet people of all colors and stations in life… the human condition. I also eat lunch all over the place, so I get to taste it too.
Have you ever worked in another city? Is NYC really a special little snowflake?
Nope, been to Philly though — it’s no New York, haters.
New York is indeed a special little snowflake, but one taken from a mound of frozen black street slush. There’s no other city that has so much art and so many people willing to pay for it, work for it, take advantage of it, in such a small area. The traffic here is ridiculous and eccentric, but it has a positive box truck vibe, too. Positive as hell. Box truckers have an unspoken code of “This gig sucks, let’s help each other out,” unlike cabbies, who eat each other like the feral dogs they are. Those guys are loyal only to their wad of cash. Keep in mind that not all cabbies are bastards, just like, 97% of them.
Is this something that you ever envisioned yourself doing as a career? Is there something else you’d rather be doing?
No, hell no. Let’s get one thing straight: This is no career. This is a job. With careers, I believe there is always room for growth, learning and self-development. In this job you peak out about two years in. So does the lousy-ass pay. Ten years ago I never thought I’d have anything to do with the art world. I used to pump gas and clean pools, and was pressured to follow in my father’s footsteps to get a job at the oil refinery where he worked. It required a lifetime commitment and a piss test, so I fucked around in community college for years instead, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. The only reason I went to art school is because I took a painting course for the hell of it and the fine arts dean told me I “needed” to go. So I transferred to a school in the city, got my worthless BFA and Yay! Now I have one of the lowest blue-collar jobs in the art world.
I’d rather be doing something creative, sculpture, writing, whatever. I want to be earning my money independently. That is, I don’t want to eat someone else’s shit, and more importantly, not have anyone else eat mine. That is very, very important to me. I don’t want to earn money off of another person’s sweat, unless I can provide them an above-average wage and maybe even benefits. If I could make $50,000 a year doing something by myself, or by employing people and improving their standard of living, I’d rather do that than make $500,000 as an exploitative taskmaster.
Another thing, I need to finally have a job that doesn’t require any manual labor, because I have degenerative disc disease and my lower back is blown out like a bike tube. The lower three discs in my spine are super-herniated and not a day goes by that I’m not in some form of pain and / or discomfort.
Yikes, that probably doesn’t help carrying shit up stairs. What sorts of other dangerous situations do you find yourself in? Have you ever seen anyone break their leg carrying something heavy or fall off a ladder or anything?
Traffic. That’s dangerous as hell right there. Trucking itself is one of the top ten most dangerous jobs in America. The closest I ever came to death was when an associate trucker backed into a loading dock by putting the truck in neutral and letting the truck roll down the gradation leading to the dock, instead of turning on the engine, putting it in reverse with the BEEP BEEP BEEP — which is the smart, safe thing to do. I didn’t think he was backing in so I walked behind the truck to correct a problem with the back door, and he starts coasting in. A worker on the dock saw that I was about to have my ribcage decimated and yelled at the driver to stop, leaving less than two feet of room for me to get out from. I asked the guy if he realized he almost killed he and all he had to say was, “There’s a lot of close calls on this job.” I wanted to strangle him.
What about robbery, how much of a role does the potential for that play in your job?
Now and then we have something valued at such a ludicrous amount of money that we have armed ex-cops who tail us in their own car. Or we have an ex-Israeli Special Forces vet ride with us in the cab of the truck. But if we ever were held up it would be like, “Okeydoke guys, here’s the keys, godspeed and good luck to yous, wish I could come along.” This ain’t The Train, we’re not hauling “the pride of France” — it’s some rich fucker’s bullshit and I’m not risking my life for it in the slightest. However, it would be pretty rad if we got held up with one of the Israeli dudes in the truck and got to watch him pull out some sweet Krav Maga moves.