From when I was about twelve, and mostly through high school, I made my allowance delivering my local afternoon paper, the Brooklyn Eagle.
The papers were issued in a central office, and all the carriers folded together, combining social time with work. Then it was off on my bike to my neighborhood delivery. It was a good run in an urban neighborhood; three to four hours a day, seven days a week, 100 papers, folded, bagged and delivered, rain or shine, delivery and collection, for about 5 cents a delivery.
The mailman got Sundays off; we didn’t. But like the mailman, we delivered, through wind, rain and snow. If a carrier’s family went on vacation, he paid another carrier, and sometimes several, to deliver his route. The delivering carrier got all the income. The vacationer got to come back to his job.
Since canvassing for new subscriptions was a part of the job, the new subscriptions were part of the game; they belonged to the carrier who got them. And when new subscriptions were in another carrier’s neighborhood or on their route, trade negotiations took place that would make any professional sport league proud.
Those days sadly, along with the Brooklyn Eagle, are gone. There are enough of us who remember the job well enough to tell our grandchildren about our first job and the lessons it taught us.
Today, cost strapped newspapers need bigger bundles delivered cheaply over wider areas. Enter the “independent delivery contractor,” the adult with a car who can deliver those large quantities of newspapers across a broad area, and quicker than a youth on a bicycle, whose bike bag’s limit generally topped at 100.
Additional reasons are that many families have increased delivery distance by migrating beyond the suburbs to the exurbs. Parents are now reluctant to allow their children to go out alone in the predawn dark in any kind of weather, and many teenagers I know do not picture delivering papers as an activity they would like their friends see them doing.
I rarely catch a glimpse of the “independent delivery carrier” who delivers my Sunday paper, but each time I do, it is a different person in a different vehicle, most more than a decade old. Many have a passenger who tosses the plastic wrapped paper onto the driveway.
Some last longer than others. One carrier carefully placed each paper in the rack under the mailbox. It was considerate, but probably not worth the extra effort. He lasted two weeks. Now, many times, I find it under my car.
Every generation has tales to tell of their youth and the life lessons they learned from the experience. When I was a boy my grandfather told me stories of how he learned carpentry, at sea, on sailing ships where the quality of a product held the ship together.
Delivering newspapers taught me many useful lessons for later in my life, like there are very few good reasons to fail on a promise to deliver. There are always ways to complete the job. That is what I taught my children, and will teach my grandchildren as well.