My Paper Route Ordeal “It will be a good experience for you, son.”
When I was about 10 years old my Dad volunteered me to have a paper route in town. His comment was “It will be a good experience for you, son. “Our local paper was only published weekly on Thursday evenings. I had to deliver over 100 newspapers over about a two-mile area in town. The pay was $1.27 per week. The pay would be given to me in a small brown envelope when the papers were dropped off at a local funeral home porch. I would have to roll up the newspaper and put a rubber band around them all. The rubber bands I had to pay for myself. Then I had to stuff them into two canvas newspaper carrier bags, blazoned with the name of the newspaper that I crisscrossed over my shoulders. With all that weight I moved just a shade faster than a turtle. There was no list for me of who was to receive the papers along my route. I guess relational databases were not invented yet. The first week the man who delivered or dropped off the papers walked the route with me. The former paperboy had quit. I should have known that this was not a good omen. Thus, it was expected that I would remember the over 100 houses that received the newspapers from this one-time crash course. I remember that most of the houses were made out of brick, at least three stories and huge. The lawns were well kept but many had more weeds that grass. On many of the street’s car traffic was light or nonexistent. Our town had huge trees that grew along the street and in people’s front yards. I also believe that I had at least ten churches along my route. The trees caused many of my newspaper throws to ricochet off target. In the winter I delivered the last half of the route in the dark but the street lights provided at least some light for me. Despite the one-week crash course, my solo run on week two wasn’t a total disaster and surprisingly only two people complained that they did not get the paper. There was not much customer turnover or additions to the route. The newspaper consisted mostly of local news and advertisements. I sometimes made the paper because of my Little League exploits. I believe that it cost ten cents.
The first half of the route was a journey out of hell, up steep hills with all the newspapers still weighing me down. It wasn’t until I was half-way done and the load of newspapers was lightened up that I could pick up some speed. Along the route I received all sorts of detailed instructions from people who received their newspapers. They were friendly but that made sure to try to make me understand that they were special good customers and deserved special treatment. Some wanted the paper in-between the screen door and the house door, some wanted it in their mail box, some wanted it on their porch etc. Most wanted it where it would minimize their personal steps to get the paper. Most thought that their requests were very reasonable. The first year I did my best to meet all of these special requests. But I soon learned a hard lesson. There was a tradition that a Christmas gift envelop for the newspaper boy was given to all customers. I was shocked when I collected all these gifts about how cheap people were and the nasty notes about me fulfilling or not fulfilling their special newspaper delivery requests. My route technique soon underwent a radical change. I delivered the paper in the manner that took me the least amount of time on my part. Special requests were dammed. Surprisingly, I did not get much on any flak for this. When customers tried to approach me and make special delivery requests I smiled politely and continued quickly on my route.
I also tried using a bike to help me deliver faster. Unfortunately, the route and stops were laid out in such a manner that a bike did not help much. The newspapers also made the bike so front heavy with the basket in the front, that stability was a major issue. When it rained, delivery was just miserable and I had to make sure the newspapers were covered from the rain when put near the customer’s houses. Plastic wraps or waxed paper for the newspapers when it rained was not provided by the company or perhaps invented yet.
I asked the newspaper company for a favor and soon learned that many companies are not very flexible when it comes to employee requests, especially one that makes $1.27 a week. I asked the newspaper to deliver approximately 50 papers to the funeral home and make a second delivery of 50 papers to a local gas station about halfway along the route. This was done to reduce the weight of the newspapers when I initially started out. Not only was this rejected, but the delivery man went out of his way to personally inform me that this was the stupidest idea that he had ever heard of from any paperboy ever.
This response convinced me of my next step. As soon as I collected my Christmas gift envelops the following year, I gave a zero week notice and quit. I made the right excuse to my Dad by telling him that I wanted to spend more time studying for school. It was an obvious but pretty good white lie. I understand the delivery man had to deliver the papers himself for four months before another paperboy was hired.
This episode taught me that I would not make my fortune in the newspaper business. It also taught me that whenever my Dad said “It will be a good experience for you, son”. I was in very deep trouble