Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Greatest, Bestest Job in the Whole Wide World

Ronald Tipton (pictured left) and I were hanging out together in the middle of December 1955. We had been spending more of our weekend free time playing pinball at the Farmers’ Market and less riding into the hills. Some of this was due to the arrival of winter and cold weather. Some was we were changing. He said he was giving up his paper route. He didn’t say why. His reason was more emotional than reasoned, a sudden peculiarity of puberty, the sudden idea you are too old for what you’re doing. It was not delivering papers that he believed he’d outgrown; it was the bicycle. Like I had come to the conclusion that big boys didn’t wear shorts, he decided big boys didn’t ride bicycles. It was a time where you seldom saw an adult riding a bicycle and those who did were usually considered to be a bit strange.***
His only miscalculation was being a bit premature. He wasn’t old enough yet to drive a car so he was giving up his prime method of transportation, and in turn, the job he enjoyed. After this he worked weekends at the Farmer’s Market and at cleaning Guindy’s offices during the week.

He asked if I had any interest in taking over the paper route. I said I did.
He said he was going to finish out the year and then quit after New Year’s Day. He got extra tips at Christmas and he wanted to collect those before he quit.
Our Ditching Club period left my old bike pretty banged up. I had asked for a Three-Speed bike a year ago for Christmas and gotten it. It had skinny tires, but I never did really like the gear shifting after I got it. I told Ron my bike didn’t have a basket. He said I could buy his. I did. I paid him out of my first earnings.
During the last days of his delivering and collection he took me along. He introduced me to each of his customers. Most of them were very complimentary of Ronald’s service. I constantly heard, “Oh, we’ll be so sorry to lose you,” and directed at me, “If you’re half as good as Ronnie we’ll be happy.”
He left me with a lot to live up to.
When I returned home from hiking the Mason-Dixon line over the weekend of January 7 it was still extremely cold. School was closed due to ice. On Tuesday, January 10, 1056, I went to Ronald’s home and he introduced me to the lady that would be collecting from me, a Mrs. Linderman. She interviewed me for the job and gave me some forms my parent’s had to sign. She explained how I must collect from my customers and then turn over most of the proceeds to her. I forget the exact breakdown, but she got about the same as me. She was the Supervisor and I wasn’t her only route, so she was collecting an equal percentage from several boys. (There may have been a Papergirl somewhere, but I never saw a girl delivering papers anywhere in those days.) The smallest share went to the truckers who dropped the bails of newspapers off daily and the newsstand owner for being the drop off point.
I worked seven days a week, rain or shine and no holidays off.  The six-day daily paper cost a nickel. The Sunday edition was fifteen cents. I think the split on the dailies was one and a half cents for Mrs. Linderman, one cent for the truckers, one cent to the newsstand and one and a half cents for me. However she doled it out, my commission was just under $12.00 a week. I started with 98 daily papers, somewhere around 60 Sunday editions and one Saturday Evening Post magazine. I received a nickel for each Sunday edition, so 60 papers times $.05 was $3.00. 8 daily papers at $.015 each came to a $1.47 a day for 6 days, which is $8.82 a week, plus the $3.00 for Sunday, so I earned $11.82  a week. 

I went about one day each week and collected from my customers, except for a couple who paid me once a month. I generally had no difficulty collecting, although there was one customer who kept avoiding me. I had to get rid of such people as fast as possible because it didn’t matter if I got my payment or not; I still had to pay Mrs. Linderman for those papers. If you stiffed me you didn’t hurt the Bulletin, you hurt your paperboy. Remember too, the fee being paid for the paper wasn’t how the Bulletin made its money. Their revenue came from the advertising printed in the paper. The fee from the customer paid for the delivery people.

I picked up the dailies on the front stoop of Sam Charles’ Newsstand every day after school. (The picture on the right was the future site of Charles’ Newsstand as it looked in 1900.) The Philadelphia Bulletin was the afternoon paper. The Philadelphia Inquirer was a morning paper. I didn’t do any Inquirers.
When I arrived at Charles’ Newsstand there would be bundled stacks of the paper already waiting on the front stoop of the store. There were several newsboys doing other routes in town showing up, too. Whoever arrived first cut the twine and undid the bundles. We boys counted out our papers for the day, over counting by a few copies just in case something happened to ruined a few, like heavy rain. Sometimes you could sell your extras and keep all that nickel for yourself.  I picked up the Saturday Evening Post there as well. It had nothing to do with the Bulletin. I think it was just a courtesy from the Newsstand to that customer and I didn’t get a commission, but I got a tip from the customer. The magazine cost fifteen cents at the time.

The truck dropped off the Sunday edition right at my house curb early in the morning. This is probably why I got five cents for each paper, a three way split between Mrs. Linderman, the trucker and me. There was no newsstand fee involved.
It took me an hour a day to do the dailies and 45 minutes on Sunday.
On January 15 my mother took Ron and me to the movies in West Chester. Sometime in the preceding year she had learned to drive and gotten her license. We went to the Warner Theater, but I don’t remember what we saw. It began to snow sometime in the night and I started my first day as a paperboy in a blinding snowstorm.

And I loved it.

My route ran from Charles’ Newsstand in downtown Downingtown, east along Lancaster Avenue. I did a house or two up Uwchlan, and then went down and back the length of Washington Avenue. Finally I had a few deliveries out past Pillsbury, which had a plant a few blocks south along Whiteland Avenue at Acorn Lane. The last deliveries were down on Lincoln Avenue or Woodbine Road. Woodbine Road back then was like a country lane. I delivered to a somewhat run down house on that street and I think this was either Franny Henderson’s house or his grandmothers. I also believe it was there I delivered the Saturday Evening Post.
The first time I ran my route I made a big mistake and went straight up Whiteland Avenue. Although this was the shortest way to Woodbine Road it took me through the Black section between Jefferson Avenue and Thomas Road. (Yes, the irony was that one of the Black areas of the town was on a street called Whiteland.) I got halfway up that block of Whiteland and a-sudden these kids were coming out of the yards calling me names. They picked up stones and bottles off the ground and threw these at me. What’d I ever do to you, I wondered. It taught me that prejudice is a two-way street, something a lot of people won’t admit.
I took the long way up Chestnut to Acorn Lane and then over to Whiteland from then on.

It snowed a good bit that winter, but I didn’t mind. I loved the cold weather and the challenge of the snow. I would pretend as I did my route that I was a character in a Jack London novel. I was mushing some arctic trail trying to survive a blizzard, not riding a bike, but driving huskies ahead of my sled.
It was on such a snowy day I came down Acorn to the loading dock for Pillsbury. There was an 18-wheeler pulled in getting loaded. The forklift took a bump or something and several cartons of “Oven-Ready” refrigerated biscuits tumbled to the street and split. Cylinders of the biscuits rolled around my feet. The guy on the platform said I should take some. “They’ll just be tossed out now anyway,” he said. I stuffed as many into my basket as possible, thanked the man and headed off with my treasure. This arctic musher had struck gold.

The customers need not have worried about losing Ronald. I matched his conscientiousness  and they were happy with me. In no time my tips were near matching my commission and I was pulling down an average $18 a week. That came to $2.67 an hour. $18 a week was a fortune for a fourteen year-old boy in 1956. Eighteen dollars a week in 1956 was equal to earning $150 a week in 2012 dollars. If I could get that job today as a retiree, working 7 hours a week, one hour a day, and be paid $150, my life would be almost on easy street.

What made Ron and I such beloved paperboys was a shared flaw. Neither of us could fold the papers for throwing. I would fold up a paper, tuck the sides as I had been shown, but when I flung it toward the target it simply unwrapped and became sheets at the mercy of the wind. Since we couldn’t toss our papers we took them to the porches. I always put my paper in a secure spot, between front and storm door or under the welcome mat. One windy, rainy day I got an angry call from a customer saying they hadn’t gotten their paper. Yes, they had. I had put it safely under the doormat to keep it dry. They just hadn’t noticed. They apologized and thanked me.
Being a Bulletin paperboy was the besets job in the world!


There is an old saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” When I got the Scheuermann”s Disease it forced my neck forward. I walked with my eyes on the ground because of the hump in my back and my decreasing self-image. I began to find money, generally change, two or three dollars a week. People are always dropping coins without realizing it. They reach into their pocket and when they pull out their hand a coin or two comes with it unnoticed. This was quite common around the bus stops. Later in my life during my Hippie phase, when I had very little money, I would walk about the Trolley stops of Philadelphia. I always found enough to buy something for lunch.


  *** The picture of that small man next to a large bike covered with baskets is of Willie Minor.
I never knew Willie personally, but as a boy living in Downingtown I did sometimes see him peddling along on that bike. He would put piles of newspapers and rolls of string in those baskets and his vehicle was festooned with lights and horns. He was a beloved character and for a long time lived and worked at the Guernsey Cow restaurant. The Larry and Gladys Polite Family, who owned the place, looked after Willie. He was so friendly and outgoing and such a familiar sight that he earned the unofficial title of “Exton’s Ambassador”. Willie died in October 2011 at the age of 89.



In 1955 I wrote possibly my first non-parody poem, “Goodbye at Sunset”. It is a somber subject for a 13 or 14 year old, don’t you think? So, what was my state of mind…
GOODBYE AT SUNSET

         When parting            At sunset
            Separate            Roads We go
            Lives            Never to be met
            On some road            We know

            Tallying            Under moon glow
            Totaling            Our final sum
            We gave less than            We owe, but
            All            Our earning’s done

            When parting at sunset
Pulling shut             the last gate
            With the last look we get
            At this time and this date
Our setting sun won’t wait
When it’s time we should die
Chiron’s boat shan’t be late

You shall go                                                                                                            So shall I

When parting at sunset what will fading be like?

            Do you feel?             Do you fret?
Do you burst like a dike?
Or like a wheel-less bike

STAND

            In one place turning pedals with all your might?

            Is parting cold            Or burning?

Let’s hope when daytime’s done
(Despite odds opposing the bet)
There are new roads to run
When goodbying at sunset
                                                            1955

No comments: