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Michael Edwards was king of the night before the pandemic hit. By his stage nameDhundee, he ruled the turntables at private equity and media parties, Gurney’s in Montauk, nightclubs in Manhattan.
Now he’s a king of the daytime, up early mastering grocery lists instead of playlists. Armed with masks, gloves and homemade hand sanitizer, he’s bringing bok choy and beets to households from Riverside Drive to Flatbush to Trump Tower.
The move to Instacart shopper from deejay “was about survival,” Edwards, 44, said over the phone from his home in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Since the pandemic began, Instacart’s Uber-esque contract armyhas expanded to 500,000 from 180,000, and the company expects the number will be closer to 750,000 this summer.
“I had to pay the phone bill, take care of the kids, the rent’s not freezing,” he said. “To know I can make a few hundred bucks a day, it helps.”
The money is better in richer parts of the city, of course. On a $50 order, he can get a $40 tip. But he’s traversed all of New York anyway, taking “batches” of orders as they become available. “It’s hard to watch the app and see money pass you by,” he said.
His trips have made for some interesting encounters. At a building in Fort Greene, a young couple opened their apartment door and invited him in to put down the order.
“I was thinking, you’re in your 20s and you’re going to bring me in the house but you can’t go around the corner to get your own groceries?” he said.
In a housing project courtyard in Bedford-Stuyvesant, he wound up reassuring an older woman and her daughter when they came outside for the first time in weeks to get their bags.
“I could tell the mom wanted to tell her daughter to shake it off,” he said. “I looked at them and smiled and said, ‘It’s going to be OK.’”
He likes the interaction with people but he keeps moving.
“You’ve got to stay focused, because you’re being clocked,” he said.
When he’s deejaying, he reads the room looking for clues on what music to pick. Now he works somewhat in reverse, interpreting grocery lists to figure out the type of person he’s shopping for.
“Some people are chef-ing it up, they’ve been watching ‘Chopped,’” Edwards said. “There’s the snacky guy, the person trying to sustain themselves with produce. Or they want Chips Ahoy! — they’re ancient stoners.”
He likes shopping at the Greene Grape in Fort Greene for its eclectic gourmet ingredients, which he’s gone back to buy himself, like a KPop chili sauce and Annie’s shiitake sesame vinaigrette. His favorite is Wegmans at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“Key Foods is like a local bar and Wegmans is the Skylark,” Edwards said, referring to a Manhattan lounge with outdoor terraces where he has played.
Instacart hasn’t just been about making ends meet and not digging into his savings. “I’ve seen more in New York than I have in the 20 years I’ve lived here,” Edwards said. “I’m moving around and doing stuff, burning calories and observing things I’ve taken for granted.”
Edwards is still holding on to his pre-pandemic life. He just booked a DJ gig for a Zoom office party and took a day off last week to shoot a commercial for a natty men’s clothier (he’s worked in television production).
He is also planning to put out an album himself instead of shopping it around, because he thinks a lot of music deals are on hold.
“I’m not gonna wait a year to give it to a label that’s going downhill,” Edwards said. He also made a “TenderTimes” playlist and is recording a new song about the pandemic. “I want to shoot the video very soon because the city is empty, and I want it to look like I had the biggest budget to shut down the city.”
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