Route Trippin’ with Canteen

February 13, 2016

Recently, I had the opportunity to ride along with a Canteen route driver in North Carolina. Route drivers are responsible for stocking and servicing vending machines and Avenue C markets across the United States. Arriving in the early morning darkness of a Tuesday in mid-February, Sidney Hope and I set out on his route through south Charlotte.

6:00 AM: Sidney and I depart the Canteen distribution center. You’d be surprised at the number of people on the road, let alone awake, at this time of day.

On our way to the first stop, Sidney and I get to know each other a little bit. Sidney will have been with Canteen for four years this coming October.

6:27 AM: We reach our first stop of the day. There are two sets of vending machines here to support a manufacturing plant that runs on three shifts, 24 hours a day. These folks go through a lot of food. Sidney checks all the machines, but already has a pretty good idea what’s needed.

7:27 AM: After servicing all five machines, Sidney and I depart for our next stop, a distribution and packaging center for flowers and strawberries.

7:32 AM: With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, this place is packed. Though there are just two machines, it takes over an hour to get everything filled and serviced. Everyone seems pretty excited to see Sidney coming as the supply of Cheetos is “blown out” (for those unfamiliar with vending vernacular as I was, “blown out” is the term used when an item or entire machine is empty).

8:50 AM: We depart for our next stop, another distribution center just down the road.

Sidney mentions that he keeps Tuesday and Friday as his “shorter days,” Fridays for obvious reasons and Tuesdays so he can do his inventory once he makes his final stop of the day. By day’s end we will have traveled almost 50 miles round trip.

8:55 AM: We arrive at our next stop. Sidney is greeted by many of his customers on his way in, one pulling his leg that she lost a $20 bill to the machine, a machine that will only accept $1 and $5 bills. Laughing off her joke, he sets to work.

9:40 AM: A relatively quick stop, we’re on our way again to our next stop right next door.

9:45 AM: With a few stops under his belt, Sidney is well into his service routine. Step one, go inside and take a look at the machines to see what’s needed (though most of the time he can predict this without looking). Step two, head out to the truck and get the necessary supplies (Sidney also does this from memory. I tried at a couple stops and could only remember the drink machine needed Pepsi). Step three, we head back inside, fill up and service the machines, and head out.

10:22 AM: We leave for our next stop.

As it is the middle of February, we’re experiencing a cold snap after some strangely warm days in the past weeks.

10:27 AM: We arrive at our next stop, a cold-storage distribution center. Sidney mentions off-hand the people who work here wear the cold weather insulation suits year-round. He loves coming in to service these machines in the summer months as it provides a nice reprieve from the heat, but today it’s as cold inside as outside.

10:56 AM: After what feels like an eternity, but was actually less than 30 minutes, we depart the frozen tundra of cold-storage for our next stop.

It is apparent how much he loves spending time with his family as his stories frequently involve his wife and two children, along with his siblings and cousins.

11:15 AM: We arrive at our next stop, a trucking and distribution center. As is probably apparent, Sidney’s route is concentrated in and around an industrial park, leading to some similar experiences at a lot of the stops.

12:00 PM: We depart our most recent stop. After observing for most of the morning, I fill up the food machine while Sidney handles the drinks. It’s quickly apparent the level of skill and practice required as Sidney finishes the drink machine before I’m halfway through.

Time for a snack, I have a bag of BBQ chips and Sidney enjoys a bag of peanuts. The peanuts serve as a nice protein boost and are somehow all he eats during his route.

12:05 PM – 2:01 PM: During the next two hours, we make three more stops on Sidney’s route.

Sidney mentions that when the next semester begins, he’ll being taking some classes. As his wife will be finishing up her master’s degree in the next few months, Sidney wants to try and keep up.

2:15 PM: We arrive at our last stop of the day. A busy, highly populated call center. The building is over 250 yards long, with Sidney’s vending machines at one end and an Avenue C market at the other. Even with both options, Sidney still stops there every day to ensure they are always fully stocked.

3:15 PM: After filling the last machines of the day, Sidney and I begin our drive back to the Canteen home base.

On our way back to the distribution center, Sidney starts telling me about his new car. A couple weeks old, Sidney has just picked up a new Chevy Camaro. He says it’s always exciting to get up and drive to work in the morning knowing he’s stepping into his new car, a car that he plans to give to his son one day.

3:50 PM: We arrive back at the Canteen distribution center and I head home while Sidney sticks around to do inventory.

It was an absolute pleasure getting to ride along with and get to know Sidney for a day. It was very apparent the passion Sidney brings to his job, and although it is far from an easy job, it is clear that he remains dedicated to showing care for his customers every day.

-By Jonathan Squibb, Communications & Engagement Specialist, Compass Group USA