Originally published January 29, 2013
I remember my first newspaper job but I’m not sure how old I was – I’m guessing I was probably 9 years old. Actually, it wasn’t called a job in those days – it was called a “paper route”. Everyday a truck would deliver a bundle of Oshawa Times newspapers to the corner of my street. The bundle was secured by metal wires wrapped both ways around the bundle – which I guess was a theft-prevention measure – you couldn’t steal a paper from the bundle unless you carried wire cutters around with you. Paper boys (as we were called in those days) would carry a small set of cutters that were fastened to the side of a large canvas bag with a shoulder strap that was used for carrying the newspapers. You then put the loaded bag onto your bike carrier and delivered them to each of your customers’ homes. But I didn’t have a bike, so I would have to carry the bag, slung over my shoulder and walk around the streets delivering papers to each of the 50 or so customers on my route. And I did this Monday through Saturday – in all kinds of weather. I remember that we used to get a lot more snow in those days – or at least when it snowed, the snow was a lot deeper than what you get these days. But as I was writing this blog, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I was wrong – the snow wasn’t deeper – it was just that a 9 year old kid’s legs are shorter, so it just seemed to be deeper. In any event, I remember days when I walked in snow up to my knees.
I also remember that all of my friends had bikes but none of them had newspaper routes – instead, they had weekly allowances! I wasn’t jealous or envious of my friends – I just felt embarrassed that I had to “work” for a living. Being one of six kids, the word “allowance” didn’t exist. Now don’t get me wrong – whatever money I made I kept for myself – I didn’t have to turn it over to my parents. But I was smart enough to know that no kid ever got rich delivering newspapers. I just hoped that I would be able to save enough money to eventually buy a bike. I also shoveled snow in the winter and cut lawns in the summer to supplement my income. But it was no use, I was hardly making any money and I had too many expenses for things such as hockey sticks, baseball glove, lacrosse sticks, weekly dues for Boy Scouts and, of course, candy and comics. I was destined to be a poor paper boy until I got old enough to get a grownup job.
Then one day I got a huge surprise! My Mom bought me my very first (used) bike. I’ve written about that bike in a previous blog, so I won’t go into any of the details but needless to say delivering newspapers by bike became so much easier! The big difference in delivering papers on a bike is that you needed to fold each newspaper into a bundle and then stand all of the bundled papers in the carrier. You would ride your bike on the sidewalk and then throw each bundled newspaper at the porch or front door of each house on your route. The only time you had to get off of your bike was when your aim was off and the paper ended up in the garden or on the lawn, or the bundled newspaper fell apart. But after a while I got pretty good at tossing newspapers. And I used my bike everyday – unless there was too much snow which meant I had to go back to carrying my bag of newspapers and walking the route.
I had this route for a couple of years and then I got a chance for a much better job, but it was with another newspaper company – The Toronto Star and Star Weekly. I had had several opportunities to work for the Star before but I was never interested because of logistics: the paper had too many pages, it was too heavy and it was too thick to fold into a bundle for throwing. But this paper route was special – it was and probably is to this day the best paper route in Oshawa. It was a job I just couldn’t refuse – nobody could – it was awesome! I gave my notice to the Oshawa Times and then I started my new job with the Toronto Star and Star Weekly.
C’mon Danny, enough with the suspense – get on with the story!
Patience Spanky, patience!
My new paper route was at the Oshawa General Hospital which was about 4 blocks from my house. I would go to the hospital after school, pick up my bundle of Toronto Star newspapers at the hospital’s service entrance and then carry an armful of newspapers as I walked room to room through the hospital asking “Star or Star Weekly”? When I sold a paper (10 cents) I sometimes got a nickel tip – it was great because it eliminated having to do weekly collections which was the drill with all regular paper routes. Another great thing about my new route was that I was “inside” and sheltered from the weather. Oh, and did I mention all of the beautiful nurses, in spotless white uniforms who would greet me by name each day? I was even able to sell newspapers on the Maternity, Intensive Care and Isolation Wards by simply leaving a stack of papers with the nurse on duty in each unit who would then go room to room selling them for me. I would return to each unit at the end of my rounds and the nurses would give me the money and/or any unsold papers. It was almost like having employees working for me.
But there was also a very scary part of this job. It happened one day when I was inside the service entrance area, where I had just cut the wires of the bundle and was getting ready to do my “rounds” when suddenly, the service elevator door opened and a really scary-looking guy, dressed in a black suit jacket and grey-striped pants came out pushing a stretcher. On the stretcher was a body – a dead body! I couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman because it was in a leather bag that was strapped down to the stretcher. Obviously, he was an undertaker from the funeral home – but to me, he looked like someone from the Twilight Zone. He scared the daylights out of me – I sat frozen in fear.
He bent down, grabbed a newspaper from the top of the pile and then stared at me with cold and dark eyes. “How much for the paper?” he asked.
I tried to answer but all I could do was stutter “I uh, um, oh, I..”
“How be I give you a quarter and we’ll call it even?” he asked, as he continued to stare at me.
“No, that’s okay, I uh, duh, um…” I stammered, shaking with fear. There was no way I could touch any money from this man – he had just picked up a dead body – he was almost as scary as the dead body that was within inches of me.
The man then stood up, smiled at me and said, “Okay, thanks son!”
I sat there on the floor and watched as he opened the door to the outside. But there wasn’t a hearse – he was using a plain-looking van. He loaded the stretcher into the back of the van, closed the doors to the van and then turned and looked at me. He looked down at the pile of newspapers and was probably wondering why the quarter he left sitting on the top of the newspapers was still there. He shrugged his shoulders and then got into the van and drove away. I never touched that quarter – even though it was a lot of money – I just brushed it off the top of the pile and watched as it rolled across the floor. There was no way in this world that I would touch that coin, much less keep it in my pocket! From that day forward I would never go near the hospital service entrance when I saw that van parked outside. I would just wait in the parking lot until the grim reaper left. I never saw that man again until I was in my early 20’s and attending my Grandma Puffer’s funeral. As I entered the funeral home, there he was – standing in the lobby. We made eye contact but he didn’t appear to recognize me. I immediately felt a chill running through my body and the fear returned….
Okay Danny, nice ghost story – but can we get back to the newspaper job?
Don’t rush me Spanky. And by the way, why are you trembling?
Anyway, things went along smoothly until I got my first month-end bill from The Toronto Star – and it was a lot more than the money that I had collected. It turned out that people were stealing newspapers from the pile I kept at the service entrance. Remember, I was back to carrying papers – I didn’t have a large canvas bag anymore, so I had to carry a few under my arm and then go back several times to replenish. The problem got so bad that my parents had to help me pay my monthly bill. After a few months I gave up the route – it just didn’t make sense to work for little or no pay.
Thinking back on it now, I probably should have sold my bike and bought a cart that I could have used to carry all of my papers at once – thereby eliminating the thefts. Would have, could have and should have – but what the heck, I was just a kid.
I think that people that steal from kids are nasty and evil.
I’ve spent a lot of time at the Cancer Centre and Surrey Memorial Hospital over the past 3 years and I have never seen a paperboy or papergirl selling newspapers. Maybe I’ll start a new paper route at the hospital selling both the Vancouver Sun and the Province newspapers. But first, I’ll need to invest in a cart…..
Dedicated to paperboys/girls – past, present and future!