My first job was in the newspaper business.
The closing this week of the Ann Arbor News has a rush of memories coming back. I delivered that paper on two different routes for three years as a teen back in the 70’s.
It was afternoon delivery except for Sundays. Delivered in stacks by a stocky, gruff but somewhat friendly fellow in a pickup truck to my parent’s house in Ann Arbor. If it was raining, he might throw some plastic over them. Six days a week, they were at the house by 2 or 3pm, then off to the races to deliver. Sunday mornings, usually by 6am.
I started delivering the paper in the summer of 1972, just after my 13th birthday. My parents and I did one last vacation together, to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. After that, school, band, theater, student government, choir, and more kept me busy – but the paper route was there, every day for the three years to come.
I was not en employee, but a contractor. I bought the papers from the Ann Arbor News at wholesale and sold them to the customers on the route at the agreed (price fixed!) price.
Bonded, I had to pay the Ann Arbor News, Inc. once a month (on a Saturday). Collection from customers was our job – and if you as a customer called to take a vacation from delivery, I had to cut my order down or pay for my lack of diligence. I had to open my own checking account at the credit union and learn to reconcile a lot of transactions, starting at the age of 13.
Still, with the daily commitment and the need to collect from each customer each month, a large paper route paid quite well. When I gave up the route as a Jr. in High School, I had stashed away enough money to buy a car, have a social life and pick and choose what music or DJ gigs I would take for spending money.
In three years of managing thousands of transactions, I only had one bounced check.
Walking and Wagons
My first route – Arborview – Linda Vista, Brierwood, Paul, Wesley. It was a large route for “walking” delivery, about 100 customers, five blocks from my house. The one gift from my parents to support the effort was a child’s red wagon (my first), a reasonable way to haul 80 pounds of newsprint that far away.
It was a good route, with steady customers and good tips. My favorite tip was from an elderly gentleman, a 100 year old silver dollar.
This was just after the Ann Arbor News stopped binding the stacks of papers together with wire and moved to plastic straps. There were no little plastic baggies around the papers like today – what ever happened to the paper after the stacks showed up was up to the carrier.
I learned the ways to fold the papers to toss them on the porch efficiently. I never used rubber bands, but tight, two handed folding, usually done while walking, door to door.
A tight one-quarter fold was my favorite, but only worked on moderate to thin papers. A Thursday or Sunday paper was thicker and would get folded in thirds. A really thick paper filled with ads and stories (Thanksgiving, Easter Sunday) would be too thick to fold and would have to be carefully placed on the porch or behind the screen door.
A year into my time as a “paperboy,” the route by my parent’s house became open. Two routes, actually, with about 120 regular customers. I leapt at the chance to stop using the red wagon.
Oh – and while the Ann Arbor News called us “carriers,” customers (even enlightened Ann Arbor customers) called me “paperboy” or “newsboy.” When you come to the door and the person who answers hollers to get the one with the cash or the checkbook, that’s what they would say.
In the early and mid-seventies, just about every house took the paper. That made it easy when I had to recruit a sub for the route – just take it to every house! On a sunny, dry day with a medium sized paper, my best time in delivering was about 25 minutes. In the winter, I moved so fast that even a wool “letter jacket” was plenty to keep me warm even when the temperature neared zero.
I remember going on collection rounds the night Nixon resigned. Everyone was home, and everyone was somber.
I work in radio, now. About the same time I had the paper route, I was learning how to edit reel-to-reel audio tape with a razor blade. Like the “quarter fold” of a newspaper, not really a skill you need so much anymore.
So, my thoughts are with the folks of the Ann Arbor News, the readers, the city and the carriers. The skills I learned in my three years as a news carrier had a big impact on me to this day. And for a kid in Jr. High and High School, the money was really quite good.
While AnnArbor.com will have a two day a week delivered component, something tells me it will never be the same.
But then again, nothing ever is.