Monday, September 19, 2005

Anniversary of Note

The date September 9th of any year has always jumped off the calendar for me, especially seeing it noted 9/9. The reason is that on 9/9/1980, at the age of 12, I took on my first daily newspaper route. We received a weekly bill for the papers we bought and then re-sold. Every bill had the carrier's start date printed on it. My 25th anniversary recently passed, and I didn't want it to slip by without comment.

Remember the old newspaper carrier, who delivered the paper at 6am, putting it inside the box, or the screen door, per your instructions? That was me, the paperboy. We didn't toss the paper from a moving car. We walked from house to house and delivered the paper to a place convenient to the customer, even if it was a little less convenient to us.

Of course, we were hoping for tips. We made 4 cents per paper Monday through Saturday, and 20 cents per paper on Sunday. 44 cents a week was ours out of a weekly charge of $1.50 to our customers. If the service was good, I would often see a tip greater than the expected profit- $2 tendered, and I could keep the change. Today's carriers are generally adults. They take several routes and work on volume, with no expectation of tips, and moreover, no expectation of getting to know the neighbors.

It frosts me to get a wet newspaper today. The carriers wrap the paper in a plastic bag, but because they toss it from a moving car onto concrete, the bag rips open, and if its raining, the paper gets soaked and ruined. We prided ourselves on delivering dry papers without using bags, and while running through the rain. (Yes, you can begin the "It was better in my day, son!" routine now.)

I crabbed about having to get up at 5:30 every morning, but I look back fondly at the experience. I did get to know everybody in the neighborhood. I did learn how to do a job, even on the days I didn't feel like it, or when the weather was lousy. I learned how to manage purchases and inventory. I learned how to make customers happy- all at the age of 12. In sum, it was a valuable experience.

I have unfortunately learned that most morning newspapers no longer employ kids for delivery. As employers, they would rather not deal with liability and child labor issues. Parents would rather not have their kids out in the wee hours, for fear of the boogey-man.

It's too bad. As you can see, I learned very important lessons as a young independent contractor. It was better training than a fast food job, because I had to know my route. If I bought too many papers, I was cutting into my profits. Not enough, and I disappointed some customers. That's training and responsibility that mere burger flipping doesn't provide.

By the time I was 16, I also had three other part-time jobs in addition to the paper route. I loved working and making money. But the work ethic was formed on the paper route, some 25 years ago.

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