Paper Routes, Now And Then

I’d like to apologize to my neighbors, in advance, just in case. During our daily walks around the neighborhood my boys have honed in on the secret code system that the Washington Post delivery person uses as he speeds through the neighborhood at 4:30AM. Most subscribers have a little Washington Post boxes attached to their mailbox post where the drivers stuffs the paper without ever having to leave the car. On those boxes are either a green dot or a red dot.

I have no idea what these stickers are for, but I imaging they signify what type of delivery the house gets (Sunday only or daily delivery). My boys think peeling those stickers is greatest thing since sliced bread. We try to stop them from ever getting to stickers, but they are fast, and occasionally they get one off before you can catch up with them. The stickers are the glow in the dark kind so once you’ve peeled them once they never stick quite the same. I did find a green sticker in one of my boy’s hand one day when we got home, oops.

The old paper route ain’t what it used to be…

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Growing up I had a paper route. A paper route was a rite of passage for many youngsters. I never much considered the various cogs in the newspaper delivery system; I just showed up at my drop location on my five-speed bike, carrying my rubber bands, and my paper bag. Somehow two bundles of papers magically appeared at 5:30AM on a street corner 1/2 mile from my house, and I appeared at 5:45PM.

My first task was “the fold”. Each paper had to be folded and bound in a rubber banded. Depending on the day and the capabilities of the advertising department there may have been an “insert”. An “insert” was an advertising supplement that needed to be folded into the paper. The technique to do an “insert” varied by carrier, but my preferred method was to just lay it on top of the paper and fold the paper in half. The danger to this approach was that the “insert” was not held in by the internal fold of the paper, so you had to be a little more careful in your tosses.

Loaded to the hilt with 50-75 San Diego Unions, I would wobble off from my start point after hiding my extra supplies in the usual location behind a bush. I had the kind of paper bag you see in movies, front and back pouch. Days where it was raining or was supposed to rain meant that you had to bag the newspaper, which is the norm for home delivery papers now. Carrying bagged newspapers in a paper delivery bag was like holding a handful of snails though, very slippery.

Now I was a master at the “toss”, I didn’t have to slow down as I rode by a house and I could deliver a sidearm toss to any spot I wanted. Delivering papers was not easy, you had to remember every house on your route, the customers location preference (porch or driveway), and whether they got a Sunday paper or not. You had to be in full control of your mind and body, since you didn’t want to wake anyone. To remain unseen and unheard you needed to avoid two things: dogs and doors. You never wanted to hit a house with a flying paper, as the sound would startle the residents. The best tosses slid into the location you were aiming for. Dogs you just wanted to avoid altogether. If they weren’t barking at you they were chasing you.

Sunday was the workout of the week. The paper was delivered in two parts, the soft section was dropped Saturday (evening as I recall) and the news section came at the normal time. It was not physically possible to carry all your Sunday papers at once so there where two drop locations. I made delivery runs from the two locations.

Paper delivery has changed, everything is done via car, papers aren’t thrown, they dropped. Delivery is now all about speed and there’s no personal touch. The stickers illustrate the depersonalization. The only personalized service you get is if you “miss” a paper. A supervisor will redeliver a paper to you after you call the circulation desk. Remember to call by 10AM or you are going to be making a trip to the newsstand.

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