When Carlos Peña delivered a pizza last Saturday night to a house in Dorchester, he took his usual precaution to avoid being mugged. While sitting in his car, he called the customer to come outside and pick up his food.
But when the man appeared in his doorway and Peña stepped out to meet him, four other men crept from a building behind him. All four were wearing bandannas over their faces, Peña said, and he knew he was about to be trapped again in the scourge of the delivery man's trade: the grab-and-go robbery.
Peña managed to drive away, but others have not been so lucky. Last week, four delivery drivers were robbed in three days in Roslindale and Mattapan, some by thieves who threatened to shoot them, according to police reports. Two of the robberies occurred within 24 hours.
While robberies of delivery people have been a long-standing problem - 52 were reported through Sept. 16 this year - the recent rash of thefts opens a window into the perils of a seemingly mundane job that sends drivers with nothing more than cash and food to some of the city's crime-ridden areas.
On Friday, a Domino's pizza delivery man was assaulted by three men after he drove to Roslindale to deliver pizza and barbecue wings. The men shoved him into the back of the car, ate the food, and fled with his cellphone and money.
Police found the delivery man a few minutes later, still in the car, looking terrified and holding his hands up. It was the second time he had been robbed since June, according to police reports. West Roxbury police arrested one man that night and collected DNA evidence left on discarded chicken bones at the scene to help identify the other suspects.
"It's so dangerous," Peña, 37, said as he sat in a booth at Dorchester Pizza & Grill, where he has worked for about a year. "I try to be careful, but there is not much you can do."
Last year, Peña was robbed during a delivery in Dorchester. He had just knocked on the door when three men came up behind him. One held a knife to his throat, Peña said. Another threatened him with a gun. They took the food and $140 in cash, he said. Now, he said, whenever he delivers food, he asks the customer to meet him outside.
It is a strategy many drivers said they use. Pete Mitchell, 27, who delivered pizza for five years in Mattapan, said he is convinced that the tactic once saved his life.
Two years ago, during a delivery, Mitchell sat in his car as the customer opened the door. Behind him, Mitchell said he saw several men. Nervous, he rolled down the window of his car and told the customer to come to him.
When the man reached his car, he asked for his food, then bent to retrieve something. Sure that the man was reaching for a knife or gun, Mitchell immediately drove away, without making the delivery. When he looked in the rearview mirror, he said he saw something glinting in the man's hand. He quit delivering last year and now works behind the counter at Nick's Pizza and Seafood on Blue Hill Avenue.
"I don't want to get shot," Mitchell said.
Many drivers make one delivery at a time so they can travel without cash. "Have exact change," Vince Darget, 24, who works at Katrina's Pizza in Roxbury, said he tells his customers.
Some drivers avoid certain areas.
"We have some streets where I don't go," said Farhad Ahmed, a 26-year-old driver for Southbay Grill in Roxbury. "We tell them it's too far. Call somebody else."
The precautions have an adverse effect on customers who live in poor neighborhoods and complain they cannot get food delivered to their houses.
But shop owners make no apologies. "If it looks dangerous, if it seems dangerous, then I don't care," said Harry Harry, Katrina's general manager. "Bring the food back. Safety for the team first."
Police, who have gone undercover as drivers to nab thieves, regularly hand out brochures to sub shops instructing delivery people to cooperate with thieves to avoid being hurt. But the dangers of the jobs can be too much for some.
Arthur Neto, a Dedham delivery man, was robbed in Roslindale on Sept. 12 by three men who took the food, Neto's money and cellphone, and the car he was using, a Ford Contour that belongs to his girlfriend, Katiane Colonette. Neto returned to work after the heist, but is still shaken.
"He's very scared to deliver pizza," Colonette said. "He doesn't want to work this job anymore."
Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.