My Year On A Paper Route aka My Year of Insanity
Let me preface this article by saying this whole experience is Bev’s fault. For the un-initiated out there, Bev is the love of my life, the woman I plan on living the remainder of my days with, and there is no other person walking this planet who I respect more. However, this experience was her fault.
Before I go any further you need a little background information. It would be silly to begin this story without an introduction; that would leave you roaming around lost like a dog without his bone and that would be cruel of me, so please, allow me to backtrack a bit so you don’t need a GPS unit to find the story.
In October of 2010 I abruptly quit my teaching job. While in a staff meeting the principal called me unprofessional at which point I picked up my keys, tossed them to her and walked out into the drizzle that is Olympia. I was embarking on a new life; only problem was I had no idea what that new life would consist of. Now some might call me impetuous for my actions but we just ignore those people so no harm, no foul. Fact is I had been slowly weaning myself off of the fixation with full-time work. For forty-five years I had worked full-time and I was beginning to question my sanity, so when the opportunity to make a meaningful departure was presented to me I grabbed it with both hands.
As I was driving out of the school parking lot that day I clearly remember both of those hands shaking. What the hell had I just done??? I was sixty-one years old at the time and I had just quit a paying gig that included health benefits and I was driving home praying to the gods I didn’t get in a wreck and require medical care.
Once the hands stopped shaking and I gained a semblance of calm I realized that all was okay in my world. I didn’t want to work there anyway so no big deal. Now, what was I going to do? It took me about a month before I decided I was going to become a freelance writer. What, no experience? No big deal, I’d just fake it until I made it! In the meantime, maybe a part-time job wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Enter Bev stage left! Bev had been a paper carrier for eleven years and she had just heard of an opening on a route. Would I be interested? I gave that about as much thought as I had given quitting my teaching job and said yes, I’ll give it a try!
The rest of this article is rather painful and I fear I’ll get a bit emotional, so please, be gentle with me, give me some understanding, and allow me to tell this to you at my own pace. I may have to stop for tissue from time to time but I’ll carry on as bravely as possible.
The first thing you need to understand is that paper routes are run in the friggin’ middle of the night. Gone are the days when a paper boy walks around the neighborhood flinging papers on the front porch. Most routes are run when the vampires are out for their nightly feeding, from one a.m. to about four a.m. If you are lucky you finish your route while it is still dark outside so you can scramble back in bed for a couple hours of sleep before the sun rises and the night people slink back to wherever they came from.
My route consisted of about 400 papers, sixty stores and 55 miles of driving nightly. My first night of training I was told to show up at twelve-thirty. I stumbled out of bed by midnight, found my way to the warehouse and then the fun commenced.
It would be hard to categorize the average newspaper carrier. My general impression that first night was of a collective moroseness. Being the new kid on the block nobody spoke to me other than the guy training me and he wouldn’t shut up. How could anyone have that much to say at that ungodly hour of the night? For three hours I rode with him on the route, learning the ropes and listening to his non-stop chatter about the nightlife and night creatures of Olympia. He wanted to train me a few more nights but I could not envision two more nights of inane conversation so I told him I was fine handling it from then on.
I had signed on to do the route three nights a week for $600 per month. Do the math! Nobody gets rich doing paper routes; I guess the attraction is the side show that goes on each night while you are on the route. My route took me right through downtown Olympia right about the time the taverns let out at two a.m. More about that later.
SLEEP, OH BLESSED SLEEP
I don’t know how many of you have ever worked a graveyard shift but let me tell you, man was not designed to work the middle of the night. I rapidly discovered that you are constantly tired when you work the graveyard. Tired as in zombie tired! I also found out that working three nights a week is a kiss of death because just about the time your body and mind shift into graveyard mode you are back to normal hours and just about the time you shift into normal mode you are back to graveyard. There is a very good reason why they call it the graveyard shift: you feel like you are dead each and every day.
That shift may be fine for raccoons and possums but for a human being it is taxing at best and hell at worst. I would get done with the route by five, slip into bed for two hours, get up and write until dinner time, then back to bed at six and up at midnight. After a few months of that nonsense Bev got the opportunity to take the route from my supervisor and she asked me if I wanted to do it seven nights a week. Naturally, because I was brain dead by that time, I said okay. How could it be any worse? At least I would be on the same schedule every night, right? My body would get accustomed to it, right? WRONG WRONG AND MORE WRONG!!!!!
NO CONTINGENCY PLAN
Here’s something to consider when you are working seven nights a week: there are no breaks, no sick leave and no back-up plan whatsoever. You could be bleeding internally and you are expected to deliver those papers. Substitute? What’s that? Your car breaks down? Find another one and hurry! Tossing your cookies from food poisoning? Suck it up and get out there! What, you want a vacation? Hahahahahahahahahaha!
I have no idea how Bev did it for over a decade. I know for a fact she ran that route at times so sick she could barely stand up. I know she went through, easily, ten cars during those years. Hell, the truck I had had for ten years finally gave up the ghost on the route leaving me scrambling for a solution one evening at seven. Thank God I still have friends who like me and who loaned me vehicles.
And oh my God, the weather! Through rain and sleet and snow and whatever the papers must be delivered. Mail carriers are wimps compared to paper carriers. At least they get to drive around during the day when there are normal people walking around who can help them. If we broke down we had our choice of asking the homeless for help or else the drug dealers. Either one was a crap shoot and could earn you a knife in the gut for being so bold as to ask for help.
OH YES, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE PEOPLE
I learned early on never to make eye contact. It’s simply safer that way! Be polite in a distracted sort of way, never stop for small talk with the street denizens and always carry pepper spray. Running the tavern gauntlet every night taught me to be aloof, be wary and be outta there as quickly as possible. There is no way to reason with a drunk; if anyone should understand the wisdom of that statement it is me. One night I found myself in the middle of a small riot involving maybe thirty hell-raisers. I just shut off the engine, locked the doors and became as invisible as possible. Twice I was accosted but those incidents ended quickly when I took out the pepper spray and declared my intentions to blind anyone within five feet of me. Three times I was approached by teenage girls at three a.m. who wanted a ride and more times than I care to think about the homeless asked me for extra papers so they could use them for insulation in their coats on a cold winter night.
For the most part I found the night people to be grudgingly acceptable because after a time my worst nightmare became a reality: I had become one of them by virtue of longevity. By the way, the Olympia police were wonderful and deserve a round of applause. They watched out for me, gave me a break on more than one occasion and were friendly and courteous. The Tumwater police, however, really need to get a life! I was stopped once because the trailer hitch ball on my truck blocked one of the letters on my license plate. Our tax dollars at work! Tumwater either needs more crime or more donut shops!
ONE YEAR AND SEE YOU LATER
I had promised one year and they got thirteen months. On December 31st, 2011 I ran my last night of the route. Because I had lobbied hard during the months leading up to that night it was also Bev’s last night on the route as well. I had finally convinced her that the job was bad for her health and we both needed to work as a team on the freelance writing business to get it up and rolling.
How long did it take me to adjust to a normal life again? Oh, about one day! Are you kidding me? I was elated and said goodbye and never looked back. Bev had withdrawal for a few weeks but now, five months later, she is rested and happy and oh so glad she listened to me and made the break.
I’m not sure what your impressions are of paper carriers. I have to admit I have a different opinion now than I did when I began. What I found for the most part were people who had regular day jobs who simply needed the money that a second job brings in. These are tough economic times and they call for tough decisions. More than once I had someone ask me why I was doing a route when I had three college degrees. I had one friend suggest that the job was beneath me.
My dad provided the best answer to those questions and comments. He told me a very long time ago that no job is beneath me. Every job is an opportunity to learn and grow and that I should treat each and every job as if it were the best job on the planet. I should always work harder than expected and I should never complain because there are a lot of people who would be very happy if they had my job.
Would I do it again? There is no way to answer that; if I had to, yes, because we all do what we have to do. I am not too proud to take on a job like that again but good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise I’ll never have to.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
A great hub about running a paper route: