Not only newspapers, but the boys and girls who deliver them, are a dying breed. When I was in high school, between 1972 and 1975, I was a morning paper boy, delivering the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Before I was offered the opportunity I couldn't fathom why anyone would want to get up so early in the morning to do this job. Yet there I was getting up with my father at 5:30 as he got ready for work. Perhaps I was motivated because my route manager, Mr. Grega, was also my geometry teacher. (I always thought that this helped me with my grades in his class.)
I had 35 customers whose homes were scattered over a six-block area; it took me about an hour to complete my route. (About 1/4 of the houses in the neighborhood subscribed; the afternoon Pittsburgh Press was more popular.) Each customer had a particular place they wanted their paper placed. Some liked it inside the screen door, others under the welcome mat, or in the holder under the mailbox, or inside their milk box. (Nowadays my mother's paper is delivered by an adult in a car and they rarely put it on her porch since they throw it from the car window.)
When I got to the last house on my route I hoped I had no papers left in my bag, otherwise it meant I probably forgot someone - which rarely happened. When I returned home I'd go back to bed for an hour before getting up for school.
We lived in a suburban neighborhood (10 miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh) that was surrounded by woods, but despite the early hour my parents never expressed any concerns about my safety - nor was I worried. That's the way things were back then. The only danger I encountered was an occasional snarling dog. (For such encounters I carried a few rocks in the canvas bag hanging around my neck.)
For me, the worst time of year was September and October when the first cold mornings arrived. Luckily the winters during the three years I delivered weren't severe and no mornings had sub-zero temperatures. (After I stopped delivering, the next four winters were particularly harsh.) The biggest snow occurred the first Monday of Dec. 1974 when 14 inches of snow fell, making it very difficult walking up my customers' sloped driveways. And my route manager delivered the papers to me late.
Because the papers were literally hot off the press the newsprint easily came off onto my hands and gloves. Also, the fumes from the newsprint would cause my eyes to sting and tear, much like how pollen would do the same. And speaking of pollen, to this day I still remember the thick scent of tree pollen that hung in the morning air in late May and June.
Despite having a larger circulation, the Pittsburgh Press (now defunct) didn't publish on holidays, so I had twice as many customers on those days. I'd load the papers into my wagon rather than use my paper bag (sometimes my brother would drive me around.) Not only were there more papers to deliver, but the papers were much thicker because of advertising inserts touting holiday sales.
Perhaps the most traumatic experience during my years of delivering papers occurred the morning of Jan. 1, 1973. As I was getting ready for that morning's deliveries I turned on the radio in the kitchen and heard the shocking news that Roberto Clemente of the Pirates had been killed in a plane crash. I walked my route in a daze. The craziest thing that happened to me while delivering was being asked to get a crow out of a house after it had fallen down the chimney.
I delivered papers until the week before I went away to college (Penn State). After returning from my senior prom, I went to bed for a few hours and then got up to deliver the paper. That summer between high school and college (gap months?) I'd deliver the paper and then go to my summer job on the road maintenance crew in my town, digging ditches, weed whacking and taking trips to the local dump.
This was my first job. It was a great way to learn responsibility and gain experience with money management. Each customer paid between 60 and 75 cents each week, and I'd usually get tips that ranged between fifteen cents and a quarter (today, adjusted for inflation, that would be between 75 cents and a dollar). I never really enjoyed collecting, which I did on Saturday afternoons, because not everyone was home so it required a number of visits. The son of one of my customers was Tom Clements, who at the time was the starting quarterback for Notre Dame, and he occasionally answered the door when I collected. Collecting during Christmas was better because of the tips, which were usually around five dollars.