Paper Boy Blues

It goes without saying that delivering papers is not normally entered into without significant financial duress. We started because our day jobs were not supplying the income necessary to break even, and selling seed required too long and arduous a process (and, really, how can anyone feel okay about foisting their genetic deficiencies onto a total stranger and their progeny?). Our goal is for this blog to bring paper carriers out of the shadows and into the light of a broad, sunlit day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Second Night, The First Test

It’s amazing how different neighborhoods begin to look once you get used to driving down their streets and they start to become familiar. I met my future newspaper delivery supervisor Jay one night at 1:45AM in the morning. He’d already prepped the newspapers on the route he wanted to introduce me to, so once I showed up we chatted a bit before he left and I followed him to a spot closer to the route where I could park my truck. I joined him in his newspaper ink-stained pickup truck cab and we were off.

That first night was surreal. Somehow, Jay knew just what houses needed papers and just how they liked them. About half of the route’s customers on that route had newspaper tubes; sliding papers into those was easy and the majority could be done without leaving the vehicle. The other half, however, seemed to require an endless variety of paper drop protocols that could not be deviated from. Papers in boxes. Papers in baggies hung from doorknobs. Papers run up 2-3 flights of stairs or dropped on steps at the backs of carports. Jay had committed those requirements to memory, but his insurance came in the form of page after page of handwritten route lists that listed who got what on which days and where they wanted them (I envisioned a department in the bowels of the newspaper plant staffed by monks hand writing and re-writing delivery lists). I was hopelessly and immediately confused while running papers as directed to homes on my side of the vehicle. There was no apparent rhyme or reason to the routes we took but the novelty of whipping around neighborhoods and up and down strangers’ driveways and stairwells in the middle of the night had me buzzed. Or maybe I was just exhausted. That first night was a blur of activity and the excitement of being out at that time of night kept me awake and interested. I almost didn’t feel exhausted at the end of my route that first day when I returned home to try and get a few hours of sleep in before reporting to my rapidly cratering day job.

The next night I guess was the first test: if after one night someone shows up for a second night, in the words of the district managers there may be hope for them. I mean if you didn’t show up after one night then you probably weren’t going to reliably show up on a regular basis, and if there’s one thing that’s constantly beaten into your head as a paper person it’s that you don’t get days off. If you ever actually wanted (or needed) to take a day off, you better arrange it ahead of time, and you will need to pay a substitute dearly for the luxury, more than you would actually make if you were delivering papers that night.

The second night was the night for paperwork. Copies were taken of your car insurance card. The short, never-not-beet-red Max the Greek took down my particulars, processed my paperwork, halfheartedly tried to convince me to sign-up for the newspaper’s paper carrier insurance plan that was so awful I wish I’d kept copies of its pathetic particulars, and gave me my first sleeve of newspaper baggies. He walked me over to my work desk and tried to explain the process of newspaper delivery preparation to me.

Every night stacks of papers were delivered to the back of the paper assembly area, typically 25 or so copies to a bundle (that could change depending on whether or not it was a Sunday paper or thicker than normal), ideally no later than 1:30AM. Individual paper carriers would throw what bundles they needed onto a cart and make however many trips it took to get your papers back to your work desk. At the desk you cut the bundles apart and assembled the papers there (especially Sunday papers, which involved inserted multiple sections spine-out into the main cover section), then you either rolled the papers and threw a rubber band around them (like I started off doing), inserted some or all into plastic sleeves, or threw caution to the wind and tried to put papers together while driving down the road steering with you knees. My second night I stacked all 150+ papers in plastic sleeves like cord wood on the paper cart and rolled them out to my car, then neatly stacked them again in the passenger seat of my pckup. At the first stop sign after leaving the parking lot I discovered that the plastic sleeves were actually made up of one of the slickest substances known to man as all of my papers shot forward and covered the floor (and my pedals) in two feet of newspapers. That night I committed myself to avoiding that disorder in the future, so from that day forward I started carrying papers in a dozen 18-gallon Rubbermaid containers that fit perfectly in the bed of my truck with two left over for my cab; I used the lids on nights where rain was in the forecast. I think I was made fun of constantly by other paper carriers for the innovation, but I didn’t care: I was going to kick paper carrying ass and take names.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Paper Boy Haikus

Haikus rhymes with blues. Coincidence? Think again!

My new part time job
Up before the crack of dawn
Where did I go wrong?

Deliver each day
Keep you current on the news
Recycle it, please

Seven days a week
Right on your steps, but no tips?
See you all in hell!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Back To The Future

“I feel like a kid again.”
What a great thing to be able to say. Having two young children, and being quite immature, I am lucky to be able to say those words quite often. These days, however, they have taken on a darker, more sinister meaning.
We went from a 2 income / 1 kid family to a 1 income / 2 kid family in the span of about 3 months. I was making decent money at the time, so the decision for my wife to stay home with the little ones made a lot of sense. This lasted for about 2 years, until we slowly realized I was no longer making enough to support a family of 4. We were at a cookout with some friends, and I overheard a couple of guys talking about their paper routes. So I asked a question that would seal my fate for years to come: “You guys do paper routes?”
Lo and behold, paper routes were not for kids any more. When I was 12, I had a paper route. Hell, everyone I knew had a paper route. Now, grown men and women and the ones tasked with leaving your soaking wet paper in the bushes, under the car, or in the neighbors yard. So after a few minutes speaking with the guys about their night jobs, I was convinced this was for me. Only a couple hours a day? The schedule won’t interfere with my “real job”? It pays $150/week plus tips? Sounds too good to be true!!
A few days later, after one of the guys put in a good word for me, a route opened up. I was pumped! With my paper route money, my wife could continue to be a full time mom, and I would still be the man of the house bringing home the bacon. This would strictly be a temporary situation until the economy improved and I was making more money at work. Little did I know at the time how desperately wrong I was…
Driving in at 2:15am for training on day one, I wasn’t feeling much like a kid. I would have been bubbling with anticipation and excitement if it wasn’t for the fact I had slept a grand total of 35 minutes the night before. So with a splitting headache and a mild case of the dry-heaves, I hauled myself up the road. Memories of why I hated doing a paper route as a kid came rushing back at an alarming rate.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

600 Bucks A Week Sounded Pretty Good

I’m a paperboy and this is my story. I moved to Manchester because—after 10+ years down south—my Connecticut-born wife suggested that if I wanted to see her or my kids again, we should move back to New England. With loads of family-in-law in Connecticut and a job opportunity in New Hampshire, the distance between the two seemed just about right and I took a job in the Mill District selling consulting services. I’d had luck before selling consumable products, so I wasn’t too worried about learning how to sell something you couldn’t put your hands on. I turned down what seemed like a pretty good job in Dallas and negotiated a salary with the company in Manchester that would reduce my base salary 10% after the first three months, then another 10% after six months, at which time I assumed I’d be pulling in commission hand-over-fist and wouldn’t even notice. I found an apartment to rent in a big three-family on the West Side, and my family and I moved in at the close of August. Things were looking up.

The first cracks in my financial foundation came in October when the whirring in my Saturn’s manual transmission became more than just sinister background music for my short daily commute. My older brother had gifted the car to me for a dollar and it was in good shape in every respect save the rear passenger door that smelled vaguely like upchuck, and now it had a broken transmission that would require sixteen hundred bucks to make new again. Getting the tranny fixed would raise the car’s resale value to approximately fifteen hundred bucks, so I pulled the radio, the spare, and the tail lights (surely I could sell them on eBay) and donated the car to a charity I’d heard a radio spot for. I was without wheels and walking to work for a few weeks before I found a 1988 Toyota pickup truck with only 65,000 miles on it, bought with money from an IRA my wife had to cash out upon leaving North Carolina. The diminutive truck looked like something straight out of a Shriners parade, but for me it held an immediate charm that no amount of rusty, crumbling body parts could take away.

When my first heating bill came due in October it was a bit more than $100. I’d never had an eighty year-old Asbestos daub-covered natural gas furnace before, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. When the next bill topped $200, I turned the thermostat down to 59 degrees and assumed that it couldn’t get much worse. When December’s bill was more than $300 I realized that there wasn’t an ounce of insulation in the house’s external walls and I could no longer pay my heating bill in-full each month. In January, I started to put plastic on all the windows and would have re-insulated my pipes if I could have safely removed the crumbly Asbestos wrap. By February I began to look for a new place to rent, key feature being a furnace that was preferably less than ninety years old. In March, we moved into a rental on the East Side one week before my wife had our third child. The house was built in 1969 and its furnace was manufactured in 1993 (check). We still keep our thermostat at 59 degrees, but this place is so well insulated that now we only have to worry about Technicolor mold in the corners fed by condensation that literally pours off of the windows six months out of the year.

After six months on the job I still hadn’t sold a thing. While I was elaborating on my bosses’ sales efforts and working hard to penetrate a market that no other consulting firms seemed to be interested in, it became evident that the market itself wasn’t interested in what I was trying to sell, either. In early summer, the tsunami of old utility, COBRA insurance, and compounding credit card debts became to great to keep up with and I declared personal bankruptcy. By September, I was making calls to plasma hotlines and sperm banks looking for some other way to augment my income and keep a house over my family’s heads. I heard rumors that the husband of one of my wife’s friends was earning more than $600-a-week delivering papers, and after speaking with him about it he had his supervisor invite me in to see about giving newspaper delivery a shot. I’d never had to not be in my bed at 1:45AM in the morning before, but destitute times called for drastic measures and I remember thinking that $600-a-week was probably what it would take for me to even contemplate taking on a second job at night. I’d already spent the money by the time I showed up the following morning to ride with my future supervisor to get the lay of the land and the rhythm of my new paper route.

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