A Youth Well (Mis)Spent: Paper Routes

Do they even have paper routes any more?  I'm sure they do, but given the demise of the newspaper industry as a result of the internet, I doubt they are as abundant as they used to be.  It's been years since I've seen one.  But I grew up on a paper route delivering the Salem News.  I started with part of a route (the few farthest houses that my brother didn't want to do) when I was in second grade, and then, I took his route as he inherited an even closer route from someone else sometime around fourth grade and eventually both my route and my brother's route by sixth or seventh grade.

Implemented by my father to help my brother and I to learn to be responsible, it was one of the best decisions he forced upon us young boys.  The paper route paid me more than just a weekly allowance.  It generated a variety of life lessons and opportunities that helped me in myriad ways throughout my life.  

Monday through Wednesday, it was always a race to finish it and be off to other activities, playing with friends, sports, video games, etc.  But Thursday through Saturday were different (my paper didn't run on Sundays).  Thursday through Saturday was collection days, which meant the trip was longer, but often more rewarding.  Customers were quirky.  Some habitually left an envelope, almost never interacting with me.  Others would pay by check for weeks in advance (of which keeping track was a headache, but the boon of 10 weeks in advance was awesome), while others would constantly forget, or I would hound them, coming by several times over the weekend to collect.  Much akin to the paperboy in "Better Off Dead."

Saturdays were the trickiest because there were priorities to balance.  During the week, the papers were dropped off around 1pm and I had until 5pm to deliver them.  I also worried about this deadline (again, my dad takes responsibility for this in making both my brother and I a bit OCD about time--if I'm not 15 minutes early, I feel like I'm 10 minutes late), but I usually had ample time to spare.  However, Saturdays, the papers showed up around 9am and I had until 12pm to deliver them.  In general, this should be fine; the paper route, even with collecting would take about an hour.  However, it was that thrillful time of Saturday morning for a youth that it became challenging.  I had Saturday morning cartoons to watch and the paper route had to be addressed.  Eventually, the VCR became the nearly perfect solution.  It's only detraction is that starting the paper route meant a clear end to my Saturday morning, which was a ritual unto itself.  My Friday night treat was to get to sleep on the couch in the living room when growing up; I'd get up uber-early, 6am and start my Saturday morning cartoons (granted at 6am was only Bob the Painter most times, but it wouldn't matter).  But when it was time to do the paper route, I had to put away the sleeping bag and other such things.

For much of my middle school years, the paper route funded my other obsessions:  comic books and video games.  In fact, for much of my paper-route years, my parents' disposition to things I wanted was to save for it and buy it with my paper-route money.  Indeed, I had a running tally with my parents in that if I borrowed money, I would need to pay it back and it would be "on the wall" (my father would keep a small piece of paper tacked to his den wall of what was owed).  So it taught me to varying degrees, financial responsibility (which to some degree I lost much of during my college years--but that's another story).

One of the keenest lessons I took from that paper route was the ability to talk to adults.  Each week entailed encounters with some 20-35 adults in which we would have conversations or small talk while they fished for money for collection or even asked about me and my life.  That gave me upwards of 1000-1500 interactions a year with adults besides the usual interactions with parents, teachers, etc.  Some jokes, some were gruff, some were disinterested, but all allowed me to learn de facto lessons about dealing and interacting with people.  I was also taught well by my parents about being respectful (even if I had ulterior purposes:  better tips).  I remember I went the distance with passing out calendars that the newspaper company gave us to give away along with my own purchased holiday cards that I would sign and pass out a week before Christmas (to ensure great tips for Christmas week, of course).  And in hindsight, I realize that to my dismay, I most likely insulted several of my customers who I realize were Jewish or some other religion.  It was nice of them not to berate me for my ignorance at least.

Whenever I think about that paper-route, I also laugh at the names of people.  A paper route is speckled with characters and mine was no different.  There was the "man in the ditch"--who as a person was a nice man but whose house was in a small down hill section of the street that was characterized as a "ditch" because it was almost below street-level.  There was Mr. Tweed, who I always wanted to call Boss Tweed (not really knowing who Boss Tweed was but knowing the two went together), he was always smoking a cigar, looked like he could be the slimmer parental figure to the Penguin and always had a friendly disposition.  There was Gary who first enlisted my help  to show him how to get past an obstacle in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on Nintendo and later would be an adult who gave me good advice and even hired me for his landscaping company a few times.  There was State Senator, Frederick Berry, who taught me that someone with a handicap is a competent and intelligent person and not "handicapped person."  There were many other colorful characters and many were kind in many different ways.  They gave me tips, advice, and even sometimes, meals.  Others were less kind and gave me headaches...or dog bites.  I was bitten by two of my customers' dogs.

I don't know if there is likely to be a replacement for the paper-route in the 21st century.  Between the demise of the newspaper industry and a culture rampant with "stranger danger", I wonder how many kids will miss out on such an opportunity.  I know for me it made a world of difference in helping me as I became an adult.  I'm sure many jobs were acquired and approval of parents whose daughters I was dating came as a direct result of the experience and interaction I honed while on the route.

I wonder what ever happened to my paper route bag.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.