Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Paperboy

The hard copy newspaper model of delivering news is coming to an end. I wonder what kind of jobs kids can get these days.

I come from the golden age of paper boys walking up and down the streets of St. Louis dragging a large wooden box, with two steel wheels and a handle, filled with newspapers.

I don’t remember girls out there. It probably wasn’t such a golden age for them. In fact, I remember my mom complaining about woman making 1/3 what men made even though they did the same work. There’s still a disparity but things are a lot better. I bet single moms raising kids forced the issue.

I used to walk right down the center of the street with total immunity to cars. It didn’t matter how early in the morning or late at night. I’d lift my hand to my face and yodel into the sky as loud as I could, “Morrrnin’ Galobe Papurahhh.”

It reminds me of a time when I was a young adult. A bunch of friends and I were leaving an evening movie. Instead of going home we drove west. We had a bottle of whiskey. We stood under lamp posts in subdivisions and sang Christmas carols at the top of our lungs. Christmas gave us immunity from public disturbance charges.

I had to collect money from my customers at the end of the week. I was quickly educated about deadbeat adults. Customers I'd seen all week were suddenly not home. It’s amazing how many people will take advantage of kids. I guess anyone in a weaker position really. Maybe this was the beginning of my loss of faith in people.

The weekends were supposed to be more lucrative. Instead of the one or two pennies per copy I got a nickel. I also had a stand across the street from the Shenandoah Theater on Grand. I didn’t have to drag that box up and down the hilly streets.

There was a problem though. My boss always short changed us at pay time. He was also a bad drunk. This got to be really down heartening after throwing away your weekend.

One night we were supposed to go to a movie with my dad. We saw my boss’s station wagon parked at a paper stand. He was yelling at the paperboy there. “Is that the guy?” my dad asked. After we said yes my dad jumped out of the car and threatened the guy to within an inch of his life. My dad was a heavy drinker but even he was shocked at the how drunk the man was. The paper boy confirmed our boss was stealing from us.

I remember my mom getting pissed that my dad didn’t take us to the show. We were supposed to see True Grit. My dad gave us a much better show.

One afternoon I was walking home from my weekend paper stand through the alleys of South St. Louis. A huge, white German shepherd leapt from out of nowhere. My body went into automatic survival mode. I scaled a brick fence that was way over my head. I made it over but not before the dog locked his jaws around my ankle. I sweated out a few days thinking about a long needle penetrating my belly button. I don’t think they treat rabies that way anymore, anyway they found the dog and he had had his shots.

A word of advice here… I was attacked by a rottweiler the other day when I was rollerblading. Stand your ground and yell NO! This has saved me twice. My girlfriend Valerie delivers mail. She was bit last week. There wasn’t enough time to whip out her mace. Unless they’re rabid, dogs respect authority. Showing fear gets you bit!

After that, I discovered selling subscriptions paid a lot more. Man did I have adventures traveling the back roads of Missouri in a panel van with a bunch of other young boys!

Speaking of my dad, my grandfather owned paper routes for a large portion of South St. Louis. He and my grandmother spent a lot of their lives working while everyone else slept. My grandfather’s dream was to pass the business on to my dad. My dad had absolutely no interest in that line of work.

These routes were lucrative enough that when my grandfather did retire, he sold them and bought a motel.

My grandfather was blessed with the same bad judgment all Udells seem to share. He could have bought a motel at the new Lake of the Ozarks but he didn’t think the place would catch on. Instead he bought a motel at a new development near Hardy, Arkansas called Cherokee Village. That’s were my dad met my mom.

These memories were brought back to me because I was training a driver at my work the other day. He had two Post Dispatch routes but had to sell one because business was drying up.

I hope they figure out an internet news model that can pay for good investigative journalism. CNN is going down because their attempt to be non-partisan doesn’t generate viewers. Fox News is going gang busters though.

I’m worried about the ignorance and misinformation that’s becoming so prevalent.

Pics are: my grandparents at their newspaper truck; my grandma, brother Patrick and me in front of a Udell’s Motel unit; and a postcard from there. There’s a great photo of my mom posing in front of a Udell’s Motel billboard before she met my dad but I can’t find it.


Anonymous said...

One of my favorite memories is those cold winter nights when you guys had a paper stand in Webster Groves and you had a fire going in a barrel. some guy from Bettendorf's would bring rotten potatoes out to throw in the fire and listen to them pop. i also seem to remember you guys selling papers next to a church on sundays.I think a lot of the work ethic i have came from you two having jobs all through my childhood, i didn't get my first real job till i was 15, at McDonalds where i lasted all of about 6 weeks before getting fired for coming in stoned all the time. Since i moved out of my mom's and in with Jeff Golde at the age of 17 i have not gone without a steady form of income in my life. It's amazing to me to see so many people that hate working their jobs who don't realize how hard people had to work for $2.30 an hour in the '70's. sorry i haven't been able to catch up on your blog in a while... Geo

Doggie said...

Wow I forgot about my stand and the corner of Big Bend and Elm. On beautiful summer days I'd walk the few miles up the tracks from Oakland listening to Here Comes The Sun on my transistor radio. One cold winter Webster Groves passed new pollution laws and we couldn't have a fire anymore. It was unbearable! I did sell the weekend paper at a stand by a church. Sevices always started way too early.