Monday, June 08, 2009

Paper Route Redux

I could be wrong but I believe 1965 is the year I got tricked into a paper route all over again. Not only a paper route but a bigger, harder, more complicated paper route. This kid in town, Bob Cocozza, approached me and asked if I’d like to take over his route. I’d need a bike with a basket because this was a Philadelphia Evening Bulletin route with over 50 customers. He said I could make a lot of money. He was a year or so older than me so I believed him.

I went to my Dad and told him all about the route. How much money I’d make, the responsibility it would teach me, etc. Basically all the bullshit parents want to hear and kids know they want to hear so they buy into it. Everyone involves knows it’s a lie but they want to believe. In its simplest form this usually results in Mom walking a dog at 6am every morning in the rain. In my case it had no real hardship for my Dad. Only me, only me.

My Dad wouldn’t buy me a bike however. He said if I wanted a bike he’d buy it and I’d have to pay him back. It was the first of thousands of times in my life to come where I made an insane calculation and told him I could do it. So off we went to Woodbury to the bike store. Both Mick and I bought bikes. Mine was a red Schwinn Typhoon. Basically a hunk of iron with a foot brake and one gear. Since Wenonah was largely flat this wasn’t a real problem.

We bought a basket as well and I was off to the races. For two weeks I shadowed Bob and learned the route. Every afternoon after school we’d drive to the Earnhardts and pick up our papers. We’d wrap them in rubber bands, put them in our bags, then in our baskets and off we’d ride. Bob’s route covered primarily the south side of Wenonah. He had customers on both the east and west sides of the railroad tracks but there were a lot of them.

After our first week Friday rolled around. Friday was collection day. This was the day we got off our bikes and walked up to the doors of the customers to ask for the meager amount the weeks worth of papers cost. Your collection money would pay for your cost of the papers and provide you with a profit. That profit depended on everyone paying. Therein lay the rub. They didn’t all pay. So there you’d be Saturday morning driving around hitting up customers again before you went to see “the man”.

This was a guy in his thirties or so who serviced the routes. Nowadays he’d be the sadsack driving around with the papers in his mini van with his wife at 5am but back then he got to be a sadist with an army of minions. Besides badgering you constantly for money he weaseled you into being a circulation agent. Contests would be formed for you to grow your route. You’d ride around with an extra twenty papers to distribute to new potential customers. After they’d gotten a free paper for a week how could they tell a thirteen year old boy they didn’t want the paper? How indeed? Let’s keep in mind there were only x number of houses in Wenonah so all these people had been hit up by generations of bike riding paperboys. They were cold hearted monsters and they weren’t buying our spiels.

Or at least not mine. My friend Don Adams and later my brother Ted used superior customer service to expand their base and improve their bottom line. I did not. I used lazy paperboy skills coupled with zero follow through to shrink my route and my bottom line. I was no better at this shit now than I had been when I was younger. Just bigger.

There were benefits to being a paperboy however. More about that in my next post.


Jim Maddox said...

Never had a paper route of my own. I did substitute for some of my friends when they were on vacation, and that was enough for me. The horrors of collecting, and the overbearing attitude of the circulation guys kept me away from that. Lawn mowing for me. Your own boss, your own hours, and the sweet smell of freshly cut grass.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?