Paperboys Now and Then


A former co-worker of mine in Cleveland, Dennis Seeds, recently wrote a blog about his days as a paperboy. Dennis, who later became a real newspaperman, waxed nostalgic about the $2-a-week income, the neato coin changer that he won for getting new subscribers, and the whole experience being a good thing to bring up in future job interviews, where he made more than $2 a week.

As a newspaper employee, it was drilled into me and everyone in the newsroom that might be slightly full of herself with her fancy journalism degree that without those skinny little paperpeople, we wouldn’t have jobs. (I don’t like to call them carriers because it sounds like they’re people you should avoid like the plague. Literally.)

When I was young, my family was a substitute paperfamily for the Johnsons. Both Johnson boys, who were my brother’s friends, had paper routes and the parents had a motor route, which means instead of riding a bike or walking from door to door, flinging papers on porches, they rode around in their car flinging papers onto porches. Motor routes were the big leagues.

In the summer, when the Johnsons would go on vacation, my brother would take the boys’ paper routes and my mom would take the motor route. I got to ride along on Saturday and Sunday mornings and fold papers and hand them to my mom to fling. I first had to be taught how to fold the paper into thirds and tuck one end into the other so that it could be flung without the inserts and the Rotogravure flying all over the neighborhood. It was so early in the morning, it seemed like we were out extremely late on a Saturday night. Pitch black outside and with that raw, sleepy feeling of not having enough rest (I would later recall that feeling when pulling all-nighters in college and would instinctively want to do a tri-fold-and-tuck with my hot-off-the-manual-typewriter term paper), I felt like I was on an adventure of epic proportions. I couldn’t believe that the Johnsons got to do that every weekend. I thought the whole Johnson family was an entrepreneurial newspaper empire.

We lived in a neighborhood not unlike the Bunkers’ neighborhood in All in the Family, so we had a walking paperboy, the Budd boy and then later the Kozar boy. The Budd boy grew up to be an opera singer and the Kozar boy grew up to be my friend’s boyfriend. Hubbard was a small town. We got one opera singer and chances were pretty good everyone in town would have some slim connection with him. Ours was the paper.

Our house had no lock on the front door (I can tell you this now, because we don’t live there anymore and I’m certain that the current homeowners have replaced those rusty old skeleton-key holes with modern-day safety features). Once a month, instead of flinging the paper onto the front porch, the paperboy would open our door and walk into our house, yelling, “Collecting!” The Kozar boy would open our front hall built-in cabinet, take out the card that my mom kept there, punch a hole in it and wait for one of us to go get him a couple of ones. It was a grand system and it worked for generations.

I’m not one to wish that things were like they were back in the good old days. But I will say that the fact that at any moment the paperboy could walk into your house unannounced and uninvited and start rooting through your cabinets kept a person honest and decent, even in the privacy of his own home. At least once a month.

I get a newspaper delivered to my home, but my paperboy is a motor-router who I don’t know. He would like to change that. He tucks Christmas cards into my paper at around late October, wishing me and my family a joyous holiday season and reminding us that he lives at such and such an address, just in case we want to return the wish and maybe put a little something extra in there.

I usually send him a little something. But it would be easier if he would just walk in my front door and yell, “Collecting!”

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick can be reached via diane.fitzpatrick@mac.com or by walking in her front door yelling, “Collecting!”

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