I spoke a bit last week about my disastrous foray into babysitting in my early teenage years, but what a lot of people may not know is that after that failed business venture I had a very successful run in the news delivery industry. I still don't really know what organization puts these things out, but I started off working with my mom and sister delivering those bags that show up on your porch on Mondays -- or, if your carrier is breaking the rules, Sunday evening. It was kind of a frustrating job, because I knew that it couldn't be more than 10% of the people who received them that actually wanted them. I know that in all my years as a renter and homeowner here in Columbus, every single one of those bags has gone directly into the trash. Not a big morale booster when you're the one delivering them, but I knew it was the truth. But the worst part of the job was on the random weeks that a soda manufacturer would do a "special promotion." I remember very distinctly lugging six-packs of Dr. Pepper down the streets of the Strawberry Farms housing development, leaving a bag and a single can on every porch. I remember just as clearly a gang of neighborhood kids following about half a block behind me, picking up those cans and stashing them in their backpacks.
After a year or so of this, I stepped up to the big leagues: The Columbus Dispatch. Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper. Since I had been delivering in the Strawberry Farms neighborhood for so long, I jumped at the chance to pick up a newspaper route that had become available in the same area. It seemed like a no-brainer: I already knew the route, and now people actually wanted what I was leaving on their porch. And really, it was a good job for a kid to have. I learned about responsibility, punctuality, and depth perception. I also learned exactly how much busting up someones screen door would cost you, and that some people are really particular about people walking across their lawns in the winter. This is also where I learned that not all cats fit into the stereotype of standoffish and snobby. Some cats come running when they see you, and will follow you for blocks if they think you may have a piece of PopTart to share.
My dad and I were discussing this first job just the other day, and how much it may have helped shape the direction my life took. In a minor part, there was the college scholarship that helped send me to the school I wanted to go to, but even more so I had the opportunity to buy my first computer. A 386 DX IBM clone. With four whole megs of RAM. Does anyone want to guess what I shelled out for that, back in 1992? Without this income, there's no way we would have been able to afford a computer at our house in 1992. When you're young and waking up every morning at 5:30 to throw newspapers on people's porches, it's hard to think that what you're doing has any lasting effect on your life, but that job definitely did.
The paper route has affected me in other, more negative ways as well. I think it's a fair statement to say that anyone who attended college has experienced, for many years after leaving college, dreams in which they're in school and realize on the day of the final exam that you were enrolled in a class that you never attended. Long-term paperboys have a similar dream where they're back on their old route, with that bag slung over their shoulders, and they can't remember who they should deliver to and which house gets skipped. It's every bit as terrifying.
So while babysitting and yard work wasn't really my area of expertise, my five year stint as a paperboy was a big part of my adolescence that I look back on fondly. From what I understand, The Columbus Dispatch doesn't directly employ kids for paper delivery anymore, and while I understand why it kind of makes me sad. I like the idea that there's a kid out there at 5:30 in the morning, going through the same drudgery that I went through, in order to earn a little cash to work toward something that will change his life.