Before I had the long green Cadillac, I had several other cars. I may have mentioned my childhood was spent in a rural area. Like there were four houses on our mile-long block. And the rest of the land was truck farms. For the first couple of years of school, I walked half a mile to the bus. Of course, some neighbor boys walked with me, so I wasn’t alone.
This being a rural area, if you wanted to go somewhere, you had to drive or be driven. I missed out on a lot of after-school activities because my Mom, saddled with a bunch of little kids, (there were eventually seven of us), couldn’t leave to pick me up without packing up the whole tribe. So the minute it was legal to drive, I had a license of necessity, and my Dad got me a car.
Unfortunately, to pay for the car, he also got me a paper route. A rural paper route. This wasn’t one you could do in half an hour on a bike. This one was an hour by car, twice a day. Yes, we had two papers in town, with a joint operating agreement, and so I had to deliver both the morning and evening papers. So we delivered about 100 papers twice a day. Except on Sunday, which only had one edition. Thank heaven. Then we delivered about 300, with the extra subscribers.
And so there I was, with a sister riding shotgun, delivering papers. In an old green Comet, one of the ugliest cars on earth next to the Edsel. It was a stupid car to be doing the start-stop driving in, because it was a manual transmission. One of those with the shift on the steering wheel post. A three-speed. My dad ended up replacing the clutch in that car about every six months. He finally got smart, and got us a station wagon with an automatic transmission in it.
I learned to hate that car. And I still didn’t get to go to after school activities because now I had to be home to do the paper route right after school. And go collect for the paper on the weekends. It’s a good thing gas was 25 cents a gallon.
Delivering the morning paper was bad. The paper showed up at the drop point about 2:30 AM and my dad insisted we deliver it then. So halfway through our night, we got up and went out and delivered papers for an hour. The farmers who were out setting their irrigation water loved us. My grandmother was afraid that we would be raped and other horrible things would happen, so she gave us a battery operated cattle prod to fight off our attackers. Of course, nobody bothered us, and after a while, we couldn’t have found the cattle prod in the mess of papers and wires in the car, anyway.
One of the problems with this set up is that I have a deficit in being able to judge where something is in my visual field, so I was always getting too close, or too far from the boxes. Too close was a bad thing, and I sometimes, well, OK, frequently landed in the ditch. This was bad enough on a summer afternoon, it was really bad on a snowy morning. I think you can guess when I landed in the ditch most frequently. And since it was the Dark Ages, I couldn’t just call home on my cell phone.
Fortunately, most of our customers knew us, a lot of them had tractors, and would pull us out of the ditch. If not, then we had to call home and get Dad to come pull us out. If he wasn’t on night shift. Then we had to wake up Grandpa to come pull us out. Not much fun.
Sundays were the worst. Not only did we have more papers to deliver, they were thicker and heavier. Where you could fold the other papers easily and get them in the box, these were a bear to fold. Some of them, especially the “Sunday only” subscribers, didn’t have a box, and had to be rubber-banded and thrown. Sometimes they were so heavy the rubber band would break, and then you had to get out of the car and put the paper somewhere where it wouldn’t be blown all over the place.
And then there was the Progress Edition. I don’t remember precisely when it came out, but it was always a hassle. It was the great-granddaddy of all Sunday editions. The papers were so thick you couldn’t fold them. So thick only ten would fit in a bundle, so we’d have 30 bundles on that Sunday. In order to get done in a reasonable time and not have to back-track to pick up bundles we’d take two cars and split the route. This was always problematical because one of the drivers wouldn’t know who had stopped the paper and who was new. It was not fun.
Thankfully, when I got to college, I could quit, and let my next-in-line sister take over for me. But I learned a lot on that route. I learned to be a good driver, I learned to judge distances by rote. I learned to go out and collect money from people. I learned not to drink the dago red people offered me when I was collecting. I learned to pay bills and make car payments. I learned not to trust my sister with the money. And I learned I never wanted to see another bundle of papers I was responsible for delivering again.