Times have changed, but a paper route still delivers pride
My 10-year-old son recently made his first venture into the world of free enterprise, taking over his friend’s paper route for the weekend when that friend had to be out of town.
Well, the truth of the matter is his first venture was a lemonade stand, but he and his sister lost money on that enterprise because as it turned out they were more charitable than enterprising.
They thought everybody should have a cup of lemonade, even those without the required dime, so instead of waiting for business to come to them, they took the business to the neighborhood customers and ended up netting less than a buck.
So, with that experience in hand, my son folded all 120 papers, slid them into their plastic bags, threw them into a wagon and employed his sister once again, this time taking the news to the neighborhood customers rather than sugary water.
Now, of course, having had a taste of the good life that comes from getting his palm greased to the tune of 10 semolians, he wants a paper route of his own this summer. He hasn’t stopped asking about it. At first I had an image in my head of his mom or me delivering those papers, and I was hesitant, but I also remembered how a paper route once taught another kid the value of hard work.
Come back with me once again, won’t you, to a simpler time in the early ‘80s; a time before politicians, retailers and the media had people in a panic over something called global warming, middle income families could afford food and gas, and I had my own paper route on the 2000 and 2100 blocks of First and Second Avenues Southeast in Austin (again, better leave the name of that paper a secret).
I don’t mean to belittle today’s paper carriers, but man, that was when a paper route was a paper route. I’d throw my bulging paper bag over one shoulder, strap my monstrous Walkman over my other shoulder, hit play on the cassette, and walk my route, dropping the papers right into the mail boxes.
Once a week, I had to go door to door to collect the money to pay for my papers, and whatever was left was mine to keep. I think it was usually about $30-$40.
As a result of those door to door collections people actually got to know their paper carrier by name. The kid who’d had my route before me was the last in a line of brothers to carry that route, and my customers let me know that I had big shoes to fill. It wasn’t long, though, before I formed relationships with my customers.
I knew my customers counted on me, and I always felt a sense of pride after taking care of them. I must have done OK, because I got some nice Christmas bonuses. I suppose any bonus my son gets would be called a "holiday" bonus.
Anyway, these days there’s no collecting, and I wonder if people even know who their paper carrier is. Mostly, I just see people walking the sidewalk, impersonally chucking the paper up to the house and moving on.
I see a couple similarities, too, though. After doing his route my son wore black ink on his hands, smearing it all over everything he touched just like I once did, but he also wore a familiar look of pride and satisfaction on his face that comes from taking care of responsibilities.
Add that to his enthusiasm, and it’s worth my having to pitch in when needed.
Reinartz is a longtime Austin resident. His column appears weekly.