another pSecret pSociety pshort pstory
The Paper Route by Mike Bozart (Agent 33) | JULY 2016
Back in 1978, at the ripe old age of 14, I had a paper route. It was bequeathed to me by a two-grades-older, same-street best friend named Scott, just before his family moved to Philadelphia. The newspaper was the now-defunct Charlotte News, the city’s six-days-a-week (no Sunday edition) afternoon newspaper. I delivered it to about 80 customers in the Idlewild Farms neighborhood in east Charlotte.
This paper route was my first job, and I took it seriously. I even made a pegboard map of my neighborhood route and hung it in my closet. Each active address had a golf tee next to it. I wonder where it is now. Probably under 30 feet of junk and earth in Renaissance Park (formerly a landfill site). Why, maybe it’s under the 14th green.
The best way to ‘route the route’ was always on my mind. I was constantly trying to figure out the best – least mileage – Pacman-esque path. It was like a game-theory problem. Not sure if I ever solved it correctly. But, I certainly learned the safest way to weave my bike along those curvilinear streets.
As soon as I got home from my parochial school, typically around 3:30, I would get on my saddle-basket-outfitted chestnut-brown Schwinn Continental 10-speed bicycle and head for the drop site on Hitching Post Lane (unless it was raining; in which case my ever-helpful mom would drive the route with me). It was only about a kilometer (.62 miles) from our house, which was in the middle section of Powder Horn Road.
Another paperboy lived at this house where the newspaper bundles were left off. They were dropped off at his house, as he had seniority. Tony had been doing his route, which was primarily in Easthaven (the adjacent neighborhood), for over two years, and he was older than me. When he sometimes saw me, he would say hello, but we never really became friends. I wonder what became of him. Maybe an auto dealership owner? Not sure why I thought that.
The paper route usually took about 50 minutes to complete. That is if there were no adverts to insert. In such case, it could tack on another 15 minutes, even more if there were multiple inserts. There was no additional pay for doing the inserting. Needless to say, I really despised inserts.
Doing the route had its scary moments. I remember a German Shepherd chasing me in the bend of Fox Hunt Road. Even though I was able to increase my speed in the slight decline, he caught up to me. I kicked at his head with my right foot to fend him off. However, doing that made the dog more aggressive: He suddenly bit the heel of my boot! I jerked my right foot back and forth a few times before the large, growling, black and tan canine released the boot’s heel from his mouth.
That episode sure got the heart pumping. I was very cautious in that street curve from that day on.
Then there was the time that some preteen boy threw a bottle at me on Idlebrook Drive (near Helmdale Avenue). The juice bottle crashed into my left-side metal basket. It was like a bomb hitting my bicycle. Glass shattered everywhere, but I didn’t get cut. I stopped and yelled at the giggling urchins: “Who did it?!” But, all the nefarious rascals ran away, hopping over the back yard chain-link fence.
I then knocked on the front door. No one answered. There were no parents at home. In fact, I would notice over the schoolyear that there were never any parents at home before 5:30 PM. Thus, it was a two-hour after-school free-for-all, Monday through Friday. I wonder what other mischief found them. Did the neighbors ever alert their parents? Did the little monsters straighten up later in life? Maybe the bottle thrower became a quarterback … who got crumpled.
And there was the time when I was descending the steep hill on Riding Trail Road (upon which you can see the tops of the tallest buildings in uptown Charlotte). I must have been going 25 MPH when a car backed out of a driveway, right into my line. Luckily for me I was able to find some open lawn to take evasive action and slow down. Though, I still raked my knuckles under a mailbox.
Oh, speaking of mailboxes, the newspapers were placed in proprietary newspaper boxes (made of plastic) or tubes (made of metal) that were mounted under the curbside mailboxes (which were on a four-foot-high post). I would reach back into a side basket, pull out a paper, fold it, and then stuff it into the newspaper box/tube without stopping. I could usually maintain a speed of about 8-10 MPH. Though, I didn’t make them all. I’d have one or two misses a day on average.
Missed ride-by stuffs really aggravated me. I can remember screaming, “Motherless whore!” in the middle of the street on more than one occasion. Yeah, that’s where my dad’s colorfully vulgar language was first re-expressed. Damn our red hair.
Of course there were many days when kids, usually teenagers, yelled a slew of names at me. Some would even demand a free newspaper. I just kept riding. I wasn’t much of a fist-fighter back then. Nor ever was later in life.
Now, about my newspaper customers. What a varied assortment. This was a real life lesson for my inchoate adolescent mind. I found that 85 to 90% of them were consistently paid up, and that 10 to 15% were in arrears, as the bankers say. I once wondered if everyone, as in 100%, in Myers Park (a high-end historic neighborhood) was paid-in-full at all times. But, I’m sure that there was ‘that’ one.
Now, get this: One of the deadbeats had a last name of Fink. No, I’m not making this up. The odd little things that one remembers. Maybe Mr. Fink went on to invent a Ponzi scheme. Or, maybe he’s doing time, thinking about the paperboy he stiffed. Ok, I doubt both, too.
These deadbeats were listed as ‘delinquent’ on the weekly report that came atop the Friday bundle. Guess who had to try to collect from the delinquent customers? Yes, you guessed it: me. This could turn into a real cat-and-mouse game. Some wouldn’t even come to the door when I knocked. I wonder where that lot of folks are now. On relief?
Most of my customers had pay-by-mail prepaid accounts. I wished that all of them were like this. However, about 30 to 35% were PTC (pay-the-carrier) accounts. I was the carrier. This meant that I had to collect from them in person.
The receipt that I gave them was a little red tear-off tab measuring ⅓” x 1” (8mm x 25mm). I wonder if any of those little tabs have survived. Probably not. But, maybe one fell into an HVAC vent in a home, and is lying in the dusty ductwork right now.
I still remember the monthly subscription rate: $3.90/month. Yeah, the odd things that lodge in one’s cranial crevasses. Most of the PTC-ers would let me keep the dime as a small tip when they handed me four singles. And some would even give me a $5 bill. “Keep the change, sir,” they would say. I tend to think that their success in life continued to the grave.
My district manager was a porn-stachioed, hard-charging yet jovial, sandy-haired Caucasian fellow in his late 20s. I forget his name, and it really bothers me that it has slipped my mind. I would love to look him up on Facebook. Anyway, he encouraged me to try to get more subs (subscriptions), as he called them. Since the whole neighborhood had already been carpet-bombed by the newspaper’s promotion team, I tried a nearby office park on Executive Center Drive.
In the now-razed Rotunda Building, I signed up a lone customer. He was a one-man operation in a small office. I was never really sure what his business was, but I believe that he had an Eastern European last name.
“What shall I do with your Saturday paper?” I asked him, as the building was all locked-up on that day. He told me to hold it until Monday’s delivery and instructed me to always slide the newspapers under the door, fold-side first, and to never use the mail slot. He cogently stated that he didn’t want any pages to get ripped.
One Friday afternoon on a collection run, I stopped by the Rotunda Building. After knocking several times on my customer’s paneling-veneer door, I looked around and noticed that everyone in that wing of the building had already gone home for the weekend. It was 4:55 PM, just before security would lock down the building.
Curiosity got the best of me. I pushed open the mail slot in the middle of the door and peered inside. And here’s what I saw in a frame, leaning on the desk:
The author recalls some hairy incidents and particular customers on his newspaper route in east Charlotte in the late '70s. The ending is a graphic surprise. Approx. 1500 words. If this tale were a movie it would most likely be rated PG-13 (for a foul language outburst). Sex: None. Violence: None. Mr. Malloy: Absent. Real-life accuracy: Extremely high. Strangeness level: Low.