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The Newspaper Route; In Business With Sally

10/01/2013 13:50 ● Published by Sandy Kauten

My 11-year-old daughter Sally lay sleeping under her blankets. It was 6 a.m. and still dark out. I picked up her stuffed Paddington Bear and marched his yellow boots across her body, saying in an annoying falsetto English accent, “C’mon, wake up! Oi’m Wellington the Beah and we have newspapehs to deliveh.” No response, except a slight tightening of the fetal position. But she would not resist my child-wakening expertise for long. Annoyance is the key; it’s hard to sleep when you are angry. So using the bear’s wrong name is a child-baiting refinement that increases the effectiveness of the basic English-accented stuffed-bear wakeup technique by about 60 percent. 

“’Ey, Sally! Wot’s the matteh wiv yew? Oi’m Wellington and yew ‘ave to get up! Roise and shoine!” And he tromped across her body again.

“Shut up,” said Sally thickly. “Stop it. Go away.”

Paddington shrilled, “But the people need theh newspapehs! Oi’m Wellington!”

“No they don’t!” said Sally, her anger completing my work.

“Oh yes they dew! (tromp tromp) “Oi’ll pull yeh blankets off! Oi’m Wellington!”

So far she’d been talking to the bear. Now she said to me, “You’re the most annoying person in the world!” Score another victory for Wellington. Sally was completely awake now, her eyes open and flashing a bit.

Resuming my normal voice, I said cheerfully, “You can’t lie in bed playing with your stuffed animals all day. We’ve got work to do. See you downstairs.”

Give or take a bear in a blue coat, this was our routine every Thursday for three years. Downstairs we’d stuff each of about 50 newspapers into its own plastic bag. Depending on the weather, we’d deliver the papers on foot or I’d drive and she’d hop in and out of the car. Our territory was the northern half of our little town.

We had four elderly widows on our route and Sally would put their papers on their porch chairs so they wouldn’t have to risk a fall bending over to pick them up. Getting back into the car from one of these deliveries, Sally said, “Oh, I saw Mrs. Schneider walking her dog yesterday and she wants to renew her subscription. She told me to drop by and she’ll give me a check.” 

I told her (not for the first time), “Sally, there are two rules for a business like ours: 1. Give super service; and 2. Get the money.”

“I’ll try and go today after school,” she said.

Sally, being little and cute, handled all direct dealings with customers. All tips and sales commissions were hers, but we shared the wages. My friends would frown when I told them that. But what would Sally learn about business if I did half the work and she got all the money? Besides, I needed the extra $13 a month for yachts and diamond pinky rings.

At first, working with Sally was like coaching Little League. You’d just like to pick up the bat yourself and hit the ball over the fence. But delivering newspapers is not a business with a lot of subtleties and nuances like, say, forging documents. And soon she knew as much about it as I did and we worked together with companionable efficiency.

The job wasn’t a laff-riot, but we mixed a little kidding around with the work. One of our customers had a harmless old cocker spaniel that was usually out in the yard “powdering her nose” when we came along. We pretended that she was vicious and rabid and was named “Killer” instead of “Josephine.” Our route took us past a clothing factory, and we would pretend that its perfectly amiable owner was going to leap out at us and try to make jackets out of our skins. Sometimes we’d make up songs using the names of our customers. When news of our customers or their kids appeared in the newspaper we’d enclose a friendly note, such as “Hey Adam, looking good on Page 4!” or “Congratulations, GRANDMA!”

When the weather was dry and the waterproof bags weren’t needed, we’d fold the papers the old-fashioned way. Throwing these papers was exciting because you never knew when one of them would pop open in mid-air like a parachute and cause us to run to capture the pages and reassemble it.

Every once in while we’d forget a new customer or toss a paper that would hit an aluminum storm door of a sleeping household with a resounding BOOM. Once Sally “roofed” a paper at the home of a very particular couple and we had to rush home to find a pole with which to bring the newspaper down. But our job was eminently do-able and we did it.

It was a good time for us. During those years Sally and I were not connecting in many other ways, so it was good to have this shared adventure every week, when the sleeping town seemed to be ours. We had a sense of taking care of it.

But time marches on. At least it does when there are kids in your platoon. We gave up the route when Sally went into high school. In order to catch the school bus, she would’ve had to get up at 4:30 to deliver the papers. She didn’t see that happening and neither did I (although Wellington said he’d like “to ’ave a go at it”). 

By Rick Epstein

Parenting, In Print, Today, Today humor dads eye view october 2013 newspaper route
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