I learned a lot from my first job, as a newspaper carrier, namely:
1. Aluminum storm doors make an ungodly racket when struck by a well-folded brick of newsprint.
2. A person can eat just so many chocolate covered cherries.
3. Some adults “earn” their beer money by stiffing the paper kid.
4. Some minister’s wives would feel right at home on a burlesque stage.
5. That postman’s creed about delivering in rain, snow, darkness, etc., goes double for paper boys.
Oh sure, there were grand lessons of responsibility and financial independence, but the real nitty gritty came from the wildly unpredictable personal interactions and financial dealings with adults outside my family.
I was 13 when I assumed control of Route 60a of the Council Bluffs Nonpareil, about 75 subscribers over an eight-block area on the blue collar west side of town for which I would earn 11 cents per customer for delivering their paper seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, except for Christmas Day.
The Nonpareil was an afternoon paper six days a week, but shifted to mornings on Sundays. Those were the days I had to trudge nearly a mile in the predawn darkness, stuff preprinted sections and ads into the main paper and trudge back to start my deliveries. Obviously, this could be a brutal winter experience in Iowa.
Good service was the key to tips, which usually came a nickel at a time with the paper priced at 45 cents a week – except for Christmas, when roughly every other customer added a box of chocolate covered cherries to your booty. Good service meant not banging those aluminum doors. It was much wiser to slip the paper between the front doors, especially on days when lousy weather was expected.
Whatever the weather, customers expected timely, dry delivery of their paper. That made it doubly frustrating when customers just scratched their heads come collection day, usually on Friday night. It didn’t take long to realize who the deadbeats were, but the paper had a policy of not cancelling anyone less than four weeks in arrears and the carrier usually ended up eating the loss.
That sting was assuaged a bit by the kindly grandmotherly types who were generous with their praise and pocketbooks and the occasional floor show by a particular minister’s wife, whose collection-night attire (as filtered through the eyes of a 13-year-old) could best be described as “flimsy negligee.”
Being a paper carrier was hard, but rewarding, work. Having control of a few dollars a week at that time of my life was good training for the years ahead. I was able to start a savings plan for college, had a steady resource stream for my new hobby of coin collecting and learned plenty about dealing with adults I only knew on a business basis.
But, after a few years, it was time to move on. Next time, I’ll tell you about my working days at Twin City Bowl.
Flickr photo courtesy of ratigger76.