Los Angeles Times

A food delivery whodunit

In Highland Park, residents on one street have been getting items via Uber Eats that they didn’t order

- By Daniel Miller

At first, the deliveries were sort of delightful.

There were chicken sandwiches, milkshakes, pastries, lattes and more. Then the items started arriving multiple times a day, at all hours, delivered by Uber Eats.

The thing is, the recipients never ordered any of it.

Since late February, a stretch of Range View Avenue in Highland Park has been inundated with unwanted deliveries from Uber Eats, the online food delivery service. The items, residents said, have mostly come from McDonald’s and Starbucks, though a few other fast-food chains have been represente­d, too.

Six Range View residents interviewe­d by The Times said that they had received several Uber Eats deliveries of food they did not request — and that many of their neighbors had, too. A handful of people said they have gotten dozens of orders.

“It is kind of remarkable what they are able to do with a pancake sandwich,” said bemused Range View resident Will Neal of the four McDonald’s McGriddles he and his wife received Feb. 25 — the first of about 40 deliveries to their home.

Now, though, after more than two weeks of the confoundin­g conveyance­s — and plenty of time spent theorizing about the phenomenon — it has become, for at least some, a nuisance.

“I don’t trust it — I’m throwing it out,” said Dean Sao, a carpenter at Pasadena City College. “I don’t know who’s doing it. We were joking at first: It must be Elon Musk — I don’t know who else could afford it.”

A spokespers­on for San Francisco-based Uber, the parent of Uber Eats, told The Times that the company has launched an investigat­ion into the source of the unwanted orders and has taken action against a number of accounts using the delivery service, without providing details of those measures. The spokespers­on also said the company is monitoring orders sent to the affected section of Highland Park.

As far as whodunits go, the stakes are low. But the mystery of the fast-food deluge, which has the feel of a joke whose punchline has yet to be revealed, is the talk of the neighborho­od. It has also highlighte­d the degree to which anonymity is woven into transactio­ns carried out on the platforms of food delivery services, which have grown dramatical­ly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think anybody has seen it as anything sinister — it’s just varying degrees of annoyance,” Neal said.

‘The drivers always laugh’

The section of Range View that has been on the receiving end of the deliveries is an eclectic stretch of about 25 houses and apartment buildings between Avenue 49 and Avenue 50.

The street, whose parkways are dotted with loquat trees, is a few blocks from York Boulevard, one of Highland Park’s main drags. There you’ll find establishm­ents slinging $6 turmeric lattes and $15 vegan Nashville fried chicken. They’re the sort of places where hipsters might turn their noses up at an offering from Starbucks or McDonald’s, even if it were free.

Residents said that drivers delivering to Range View have provided scant informatio­n about the people placing the orders, either because they don’t have details or are not authorized to share them.

The unsolicite­d deliveries, recipients said, have been in the names of other people. And the couriers, they added, also have mostly seemed undisturbe­d by the odd nature of the situation because the meals are paid for — and sometimes come with a tip.

“The drivers always laugh at the situation,” said Neal, a documentar­y film editor.

Resident Caroline Aguirre, a retired parole agent, said she buttonhole­d one courier trying to deliver a bag marked with the name James on it and explained the order wasn’t for her. “She said, ‘I have to leave it, I don’t have a choice,’ ” recalled Aguirre. “She handed it to me.”

In one instance, Morgan Currier, who said she had received about 30 of the deliveries, was able to convince an Uber Eats driver to telephone the person who’d placed the order.

“When we called the number on the order, it was disconnect­ed,” she said.

More often than not, though, recipients step onto their porches to find, say, two McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes, with no Uber Eats driver to be seen. (One of the company’s delivery methods allows for orders to be left at the door.)

Range View residents provided The Times with several images of the errant deliveries and shared social media messages about the topic on NextDoor, Twitter and Instagram. One tweet called the situation “supremely bizarre.”

Adding to the surreal vibes, The Times was alerted to the happenings on Range View by Robert B. Weide, the veteran “Curb Your Enthusiasm” director. The HBO show, of course, centers on Larry David — who plays a version of himself — and the awkward and annoying situations that befall him.

A Times reporter visiting the street on Tuesday morning did not witness any Uber Eats deliveries.

‘I can’t keep eating’ chicken nuggets

Several residents explained that they have eaten some of the food sent their way, but not the bulk of it. Neal and others have been bringing unwanted edibles to a bin on York where food donations are routinely made.

Currier, a vegetarian, has had little use for many of the items she’s received.

“I’ve been getting 20piece nuggets with sweet and sour sauce,” said Currier, who is a director of a labor union. “What a waste ... to send it to a vegetarian. I had a friend who I would text: ‘Come on over and grab it.’ And then even he said, ‘I can’t keep eating 20-piece chicken nuggets. I’ve reached my limit.’ ”

Still, she has not taken any frustratio­n out on the food couriers.

“They’re just trying to do their job and not get in trouble,” Currier said. “I’m not getting mad at the drivers.”

This is not the first time people have been subjected to unwanted orders from food delivery services. A story published in January on the food website Mashed spotlighte­d a year-old Reddit post about errant Uber Eats deliveries. “Someone is trolling them,” one of the commenters wrote.

There are other eyecatchin­g examples, including that of a man in Antwerp, Belgium, who received unwanted pizza deliveries — as many as 14 in a day — for nine years, the United Kingdom’s Daily Star reported in 2020.

A handful of Range View residents said that their efforts to get to the bottom of the situation have been frustratin­gly ineffectiv­e. Neal explained that when he was able to speak to a representa­tive of Uber Eats on the telephone, the conversati­on was far from fruitful.

“They played it off like it was a simple misunderst­anding,” said Neal, who added that the person he spoke to told him, “We will make a note of it,” and advised him to check his credit card statements for erroneous charges. (There have been none, he said.)

“I probably should try them again,” said Neal, a hint of resignatio­n creeping into his voice.

Some people on Range View have posted signs on or near their front doors in an attempt to thwart the deliveries — or at least keep them organized. One message encouraged drivers to place the orders in a cooler left outside. Another implored: “Uber Eats — do not deliver any more orders to this address . ... These deliveries are from an unknown source.”

The choice of the vendors for the caloric torrent — two of the biggest fast-food chains in the world — also has stymied residents’ efforts to end the onslaught. The area is littered with locations of Starbucks and McDonald’s, making it hard to know which ones have been processing the orders.

McDonald’s and Starbucks did not respond to requests for comment.

‘It’s been fun to connect’ with others

The unwanted food orders have led the residents of Range View to develop a whole host of theories as to who’s doing this and why.

Neal and Kelsey McManus said that they initially wondered whether the deliveries were part of an elaborate prank carried out by a television show. “No one has permission to use our likeness,” McManus warned.

She suggested that the orders could be the ploy of criminals who are testing stolen credit cards by making small charges with them via Uber Eats. “But, I don’t know why they would be doing that,” she conceded.

Aguirre, noting the proximity of Occidental College, thought the deliveries might be part of an experiment conducted by a psychology class there.

Currier had an elegant hypothesis: “I’m thinking it’s a bot situation, or a glitch in the matrix.”

Even if the deliveries have been annoying at times, the residents of Range View said they don’t feel menaced. At least not yet. Besides, the last few weeks have offered a positive: The unwanted Uber Eats deliveries have brought the community together.

“It’s been fun to connect with the neighbors, for sure,” McManus said. “There’s just been more neighborly connection­s over it. And we’ve talked about doing our own investigat­ion on it, doing a little podcast.”

On Tuesday morning, as light rain fell on the avenue, a small moment of conviviali­ty illustrate­d McManus’ point — and the extent to which the unwelcome fastfood bombardmen­t had permeated the social fabric of this section of Highland Park.

McManus was walking home when she spotted Neal striding across his front yard toward his mailbox. In a brief neighborly conversati­on — one that just a month earlier may have been about the weather or some other mundane subject — they immediatel­y cut to the chase: the contents of their recent unwanted Uber Eats orders.

Neal explained he’d gotten a chicken sandwich from McDonald’s on Monday afternoon.

“Was it a McCrispy?” McManus asked knowingly.

“It’s always a McCrispy,” Neal confirmed.

 ?? SEVERAL RESIDENTS Morgan Currier ?? said they have eaten some of the food sent their way by Uber Eats, but not the bulk of it. Above, unrequeste­d items from McDonald’s and Starbucks were left at a front door last month.
SEVERAL RESIDENTS Morgan Currier said they have eaten some of the food sent their way by Uber Eats, but not the bulk of it. Above, unrequeste­d items from McDonald’s and Starbucks were left at a front door last month.

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