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.

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