Paperboy Chronicles: first job joy
No 1 in a series about being a paperboy in the 60's
There was no such narrowly thing defined as child labour in the 60’s. As a boy having a paper route was a sort of right of passage for kids that looked to be independent.
I was so excited to get a paper route and had so many adventures. This is a first of a series of what it was like to be a paperboy and the feelings and things I learned doing the job.
It wasn’t so hard to get a paper route. It was hard to get a good paper route. I learned all about that later.
How I got started was because of a next door neighbour who had a route and talked me into going with him as much as he could. They had their dad helping them deliver the papers in a car. They had very big routes and it was kind of a family thing.
Where I got the idea was when he had to go to the paper shack and pick up extra papers that weren’t delivered. There I was able to meet the shack manager Mr. Skidmore, are as we called him Mr. M. He was a very charismatic person. Fun. Made you feel really good. You could also get the sense that he was strict and could flip from mr smiles to mr stern. I kept on his good side.
One day when he got me away from my friend he asked me, “Why don’t you get your own route?”. I said, “can I?”, and that was it. I had to get dad and mom’s permission, which was almost a given. I think mom would love to get me out of her hair and dad liked the fact that I was energetic and wanted to do things, except clean the garage, wash the dishes, clean my room and cut the lawn. I did plenty of that when I got in trouble.
The paper shack was quite a way from our house, but I remembered where it was. There were no pagers or mobile phones in those days so you either had to go somewhere or make arrangements and keep to a schedule. Mr. M was always there in the morning and in the evening at 3–5pm for the evening paper.
Besides being eternally happy, Mr. M was such a great and fun manager. We had bingo games every Friday and he would give out prizes to the winners. They were neat things like crystal radios, bike reflectors, lights and pocket warmers. It seems they were always useful for paperboys no matter the prize.
I got my afternoon route close to our home. I had fifty subscribers and it was my duty to get more. Mr. M said my area could easily be double that. I think he never saw who was living in my area and he was an eternal optimist.
Being a paperboy is having your own business. They sold you the newspapers and delivered them to your house. You job was to deliver, collect money at the end of each month and canvas to get more subscribers.
Mr. M made everything into a challenge. No complaints was a good thing. Normally complaints range from not getting their paper or getting a wet or dirty one. The wet and dirty ones were bad shots and the missing ones where probably the neighbours or me forgetting one guy on a street.
We got extra bingo cards when we had no complaints and got points too. When we canvassed for subscribers we got bonus points and gifts if we met goals that he would set. When you accumulated enough points you would get to go on trips. I earned enough points and went on a trip to Disneyland and Seaside beach. I had to do a lot of begging to get people to subscribe to my paper. You learned quickly who in the family to talk to and what you needed to say. It helped that a few of the older ladies said I looked like Glen Campbell.
I got most of my new subscribers when it was cold and rainy. They would answer the door and I would be dripping wet and shivering. It was hard to send me out with a no. I was as important as the internet in those days. There were customers who would be waiting in their yard for me to get there. God help me if I was late for some of them.
On my first route I was first accompanied by the boy who had the route before me. The deal was he would show me all of the ins and outs and would show me each of the subscribers. We had a subscription book that had all of the details of each customer. We also had a receipt book with duplicates for collection. Our collection bag as dark green with pull ties. It would fit around our hand and droop and swing from the handle bars making clinging sounds since we usually had plenty of coins from collections.
I was able to learn my route in a week. Actually the guy was supposed to stay with me for two weeks, but he was in a hurry to get out of the business. He got a job somewhere else. He didn’t tell me what and he wasn’t that friendly either.
My first day solo was great, it was spring and the weather was exceptionally nice. Warm, birds singing, the smell of cut grass and dogs barking in the distance waiting for me to pass by.
My stingray bike was not exactly designed for delivering newspapers, the handlebars were too big and if the bags were on the rear seat they would get caught in the chain or get spoiled from the tire and chain rubbing against them. I managed a system to make them stable on the front by wrapping the straps around many times. I had to sit way back if they were fully loaded otherwise I could go head over heals and tip over. The bike was only fun when the bag was mostly empty. What was neat about full bags was going down hill, until I had to break.
It was a great feeling to have a responsibility that actually paid money. Chores in the house were not exactly the same feeling. For some reason it was always easier to do good things for complete strangers than your own family. Maybe it was because you had to and not because you wanted to.
When I did do things on my own, I usually got in trouble because I did the wrong thing. Like cutting the lawn, but forgetting to clean up the dog poop. The lawn mower spat the poop on the house exterior. Not my fault, but did it sure stink. Big dogs for some reason liked our lawn. My dog choo-choo was sort of the neighbour hood honey. She was so small, but dogs of every size loved to hang around once a month.
Getting that paper route was the first step in becoming independent. People also depended on me, from Mr. M to all of my customers. Later I will tell you about many great experiences, funny and chaotic things that happened to me.