Years ago, I was the assistant circulation manager for a small north Georgia daily paper of 12,000 circulation.
I was responsible for about 40 kids that delivered on foot or bicycle.
At that time, I believe the weekly cost of the paper was about a dollar.
The kids collected weekly, paid their paper bill and the difference was theirs. They were miniature business owners. If a kid quit, I would go door-to-door in their neighborhood recruiting to fill the vacant position.
I loved the job. When I found a kid that was interested, we sat down at the kitchen table with a parent and I went over the job responsibilities and what the kid could expect in return.
So we set up a lot of kids in their first business – deliver, collect, pay for the cost of goods, realize the profit.
We even had a bank that supplied them with free checking, so they also learned how to write checks and balance their accounts. I used the example number of papers for the route. They learned how to calculate the math by hand using what they learned in school. What a concept. I wonder today if being a paper boy/girl helped some of those kids in later life.
Jimmy – One day, I was looking for a replacement in the cotton mill housing district. I knocked and a gentleman came to the door.
I did my spiel hoping he may have a son or daughter or knew someone that may be interested. He was asking more questions than usual for someone that had no kids. Then it hit me. He was interested in taking the route himself.
So I did my full spiel, and at the end, I asked him if he would like to do it. He was happy to say yes. He didn’t want to let me know that he wanted to do it in the beginning. His pride had the best of him. He needed the money. He either walked or rode a bicycle to deliver the papers. We had another route come open near the one he already had, and he was the first person I talked to. He took it as well. I could see his pride got the better of him every time I talked to him, which was just a call to see how he was doing, because I don’t remember one complaint from anyone on his route. He had something that he could do, meet people and make some money.
Walter – An elderly gentleman. He was in a wheelchair. He would sit at the courthouse and sell the daily paper. Somehow, he would wheel himself about five blocks down to the loading dock to get his papers. We did have a driver that would take his papers to him, but he would still show up some days and come to pay his paper bill. He sold about 200 papers a day. No motor on his wheelchair. Never a complaint, rain, shine, sleet or snow.
Doris – She took care of several special needs adults. You would see the Pinto station wagon driving around town with two people sitting at the open tailgate throwing papers. The only time she said anything was when we had a late press and her crew wanted to know why they didn’t have their papers to deliver.
Billy – The kid that wanted a route so he could start saving money for a car. He also lived in a cotton mill village home. He actually had to wait for a route to come open. Two weeks into it, a car hit him and broke his leg. I went to see him the evening of the day he was hit. The first question was, “Mr. Brown, can I keep my route?” I looked at his parents and said if it was OK with them, we would find a way.
When I didn’t have a route filled, I delivered the papers myself. I was the paper carrier. I always took a couple extra so if I wasn’t sure about an address I would throw one anyway. At the end of the route, if I had any extra that were not accounted for, I would go back over the route to see who I could have missed. It was always a sinking feeling knowing I had unaccounted for papers. The same feeling the regular paper carrier would have. I was lucky because the routes were small, so it only took a few minutes to figure it out. Which leads to this.
I moved with the company to Key West as a circulation manager. I went to the office to check things out the Sunday afternoon prior to my official Monday start date. Nobody was there. The phone rang. It was the circulation number. I decided to answer it, knowing it was probably a missed paper.
Sure enough, it was an elderly lady. I took her information and told her I would bring her a Sunday paper.
I knew nothing about Key West. There was a city map on the wall, so off I went.
I knew that the Sunday paper was a big thing to her. As she took the paper from me she said, “thank you sonny boy.”
Her day was made.
Stan – He was the bundle drop driver for us that delivered bundles to other carriers up the Keys. We had circulation in Marathon, so he crossed the Seven-Mile Bridge every day. If one of the paper carriers needed a sub, Stan was always there to help.
When Stan walked into the office, the place lit up. He was the press time manager and if it was late, he would walk into the publisher’s office and let him know about it. I didn’t have to say a word. Stan took off in his little Toyota, almost dragging the ground loaded with papers. I told him I would like to ride with him one day and he asked me where I was going to sit. He took the passenger seat out so he could fit the papers in his car. One day, Stan came in and told me he had cancer.
He had such a following that he had someone that took his job when he could no longer do it.
The saying is that once you get ink in your blood, you can’t get it out is very true. Paper carriers deliver the paper sick or well.
Freezing rain blowing through the car window. Fixing a flat in the middle of a route. Trying to get the double-bagged paper on the driveway or grass depending on the weather. Being pulled over at 4 a.m. by the sheriff’s deputy because he thinks you are drunk as you jockey your car to get the paper in the right spot.
Getting customer complaints about things not really in the carrier’s control. Trying to miss the fox or deer that just ran out in front of you. The stories go on.
Like you, I have seen families that get involved in the process. People that are proud of what they do and don’t complain.
When someone asks me what I am going to do when I retire (which by the numbers is still at least five to seven years away), I simply say I’m not retiring until I can’t get out of bed anymore. When I get kicked out of my job, I may just apply for a newspaper delivery route position.
The ink still flows.