Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Stop the Presses- It's the End of an Era

Stop the presses! 

I just got this newsflash: a local newspaper is discontinuing their ‘junior’ paper carrier jobs… for good.

Back in the day, we were paperboys, regardless if we were a boy or girl. We walked the streets after school (when we could wait until the afternoon for our news), dragging around bags heavier than ourselves, nearly tipping over until we delivered the first few to make the weight more manageable. 

Now, a car slowly creeps by in the wee hours of the morning, whipping papers out the window into snowbanks or bushes or - in the case of my older delivery person- carefully placing each one on the doorstep, leading me to believe he learned the importance of good paper placement back when he was a paperboy. Back when it was a job to be proud of.

Yes, it was a job- probably our first job.  We learned to earn our own money to buy our own stuff. And we learned that if the stuff we bought was penny candy our money wouldn’t last more than a swallow. But if we bought something like a scribble pad and colored pencils, or splurged on a model from the craft store, we could enjoy that investment for weeks.

If you were a budding entrepreneur, you’d act as a general contractor, sub leasing your route to friends for a piece of the action on the days you weren’t in the mood.

I remember when carrying papers was often secondary to checking up on an elderly neighbor whose only visitor of that day, week or even life was the paperboy .

When my brother Stephen was a paperboy, he not only knew the names of his customers, but also the names of their kids, grand kids and pets, not to mention what each house would offer him for a snack.  In some cases, he knew more about his older clients then their own families did, coming home with information about their health or living conditions, even helping one of his diabetic clients tend to her ulcerated foot when he realized she could not do it herself. He was a paper carrier, companion, dog walker and personal assistant who left each house with more than he dropped off- usually an envelope with money and a list of grocery items he delivered the next day.  He was so important in their lives I wonder if they read the newspaper at all, or they just paid to have a daily visitor who cared.

Paper boys knew who they were delivering to, and the tips were personal with a sincere thank you, sometimes along with a cookie or a date nut bar home baked by the customer which we would eat on the route, delivering the next paper with the added bonus of a chocolate fingerprint.  

We were even little debt collectors, given a list of the ‘deadbeats’ whose papers would be shut off if they didn’t pay up.  Our service was so personal that we often knew why that bill was unpaid, as some of our older clients clearly lived below poverty levels, and when asked to bring in their mail along with the paper we'd carry in a hefty load of ‘final notice’ bills back when they tried to embarrass us to pay by printing that on the outside of the envelope. We knew their circumstances so well, that we’d sometimes go into our own tip drawer to mark the account ‘paid in full’.

The image of kids delivering their afternoon papers reminds me of the innocence and simplicity of times gone by; when our local news was truly local. When the newspaper was still made only of paper, and when everyone seemed to know someone who wrote, printed, sold or delivered it to us. It was a chain of humanity, and the paperboy was an important part of that chain- the face of the newspaper.

Delivering the paper helped us to learn about news personally impacts lives, as our customer would retrieve the paper and immediately read the headline aloud - sometimes followed by a gasp or sigh. They would go to the death notice page and tell you a story about friends and neighbors listed there as their eyes glistened. Or they would ask if we wanted a laugh and read their favorite cartoon to us. 

Yes, we knew how the news affected its readers, up close and personal. We knew more than anyone ever gave us credit for. But no one asked us what we thought.  

We were just paperboys.

And now we are gone.

1 comment: