Every morning I use the ‘newspaper toss’ I learned 60 years ago to land the morning newspaper squarely on Carol’s seat. Nine times out of ten I nail it. Beyond retaining that skill, I think that my 18 months as a newspaper carrier (paper boy) in the mid 50’s was an important step in my maturity process. Interestingly, my first answer was no. One summer afternoon in 1954 as I sat on my bike near my house, a man in a black truck stopped and shouted, “Hey buddy, do you want to become a Blade carrier?” Without much thought I answered, “No.” That was my automatic answer to most questions that challenged my current status. Several minutes later I wished I had said yes, but the truck was gone.
Some weeks later I heard that the carrier on the next street wanted to sell his route so I asked my parents if I could do that. My ‘savings’ so to speak were birthday cash and money from odd jobs and it was just enough for the big purchase. I think I paid 50¢ per customer for a grand total of $39. For that sum I was given a Blade carrier bag and a ring of collection punch cards and a list of addresses along with the phone number of my manager. One perk was that I didn’t deliver the early-morning Sunday paper. Someone neatly extricated that Golden Fleece from the route as it paid 5¢ per!
The next Monday afternoon, the large Toledo Blade truck stopped along Marvin Avenue, threw out my bundle, and sped off. Thud! There they were: 78 copies of the news. My entrepreneurial enterprise had just begun. I had found a giant steel basket and fixed it to my sister’s old, one-speed bike into which I threw the load of newsprint. Steering that front load was quite the trick but I managed. Down Drummond Road I went, stopping at 7 houses: my friend Bobby Patterson, Maryanne’s, Punky’s, old Mrs. Fischback’s, Dr. Sullivan and the Mack’s. Other houses there were customers of Johnnie Fitzpactrick- the kid who lived behind me. He had over 100 customers, mostly in the new apartments beyond the cornfield. We used to be friends in younger years but some misunderstanding ended that friendship.
Off I rode, right onto Central Avenue which, at that time was a 2- lane brick road. Two stops. One was at a house where I got a $2 bill for a tip for Christmas, thinking at first it was a twenty! The next was close by- the farmer who planted the corn between Drummond and the new apartments. This was a rugged place with several cats, a mangy dog and an odd odor emanating from the back porch. On Saturdays I’d hear country music bellowing from the house. Today a slick public library sits on that site.
Crossing Central, I stopped at the first house on Middlesex and rested my bike on a tree. I pulled 15 papers from the basket, slid them into my bag and walked the first block, ending back at my bike. I headed for blocks two and three repeating the process, then I headed to Meadowwood to complete most of the remaining route. A few houses on Drummond north of Central and I was done. If I did my route perfectly I’d have a single paper left for our house. If there were two, I knew that around 5:00 I’d get a call and be back on my bike apologizing for the missed address.
During that first week, however, I got two calls from the same house about a missing paper. What? I had ended with just one, claimed by my parents. After some investigation I discovered that an untethered dog next door to the ‘missed address’ was stealing them. This was the same dog who, on unannounced occasions, would dart for my pants cuff as though they were meant to be shredded. Damned dog! After several encounters with the mutt I strategized an avoidance plan which, I’m happy to report, had a 99% success rate.
“Collecting for the Blade.” I said as the door opened on a Saturday afternoon. Seventy-seven times. An entire Saturday until five or six in the evening. There I stood, card punch in hand and a coin holder secured to my belt: quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies at the click of a lever. A wallet for the bills. Few gave me the exact change and so, subtraction became an important skill. Lots of unopened doors necessitated a return trip on Monday and Tuesday. I came to realize that several addresses were never home on Saturday and shared that conundrum with my parents. “Maybe they’re Jews,” I was told. Huh? Oh, so they might be at ‘their’ services. My parochialism expanded slightly.
I recall a particularly contentious address on my collection day. An elderly lady with a foreign accent wanted to know how I charged for the papers. “It’s $1.80 a week,” I said. “What? You don’t charge per paper?’ she replied. “Well, yes but that adds up to $1.80 a week.” She paused and said, “So how do you figure from there?” I realized that this might not end well in that it was already getting dark and my tolerance level was near empty. Pointing to the collection card I said, “See, there are 4 Saturdays in this month so 4 times $1.80 is $7.20. You owe me $7.20.” The old lady told me to wait a minute then returned with a calendar. “Here is the month and look, one, two, three…” She counted each day (as if I were an ignoramous) and at the end said, “See, there are only 23 days!” Technically she had me so I subtracted 30¢ and scoffed off. Apparently the woman told the couple with whom she lived the story of the great rip-off because the next month, when I came knocking, a younger lady answered and shushed my nemesis in the background who was about to grab the calendar for a repeat performance.
Once a month on a Wednesday evening my Blade manager stopped by to collect my collection minus my 1/2¢ per paper profit. This was not a get-rich enterprise. It did,however, teach me bookkeeping skills and organization as well as honing my interpersonal relationship skills. And survival skills during those cold winter days.
My job came to a halt a few months into my freshman year of high school when academics took priority over personal financial gain. Those disgruntled Oblates, newly dispatched from the east coast and commissioned to teach us prairie barbarians, found a need to release their situational disdain in the form of endless homework assignments. Not only did my financial well run dry but also my love of learning which was minuscule at the outset.
And so I sold my route to a young lad, recouping my initial investment in the deal. The bag, coin changer, punch and even the basket went with him. D.E.Enterprises, L.L.C. was no more.