I started out as a walker. It was torturous. On some mornings I really did feel like a zombie from Walking Dead. To walk my paper route in Little Rock, Arkansas would take me a least an hour on most mornings. My dad would kindly drive me on Sunday mornings when the job was overwhelming. Those Sunday papers were larger than a chihuahua, although more loveable.
It all changed when I got my first car – a 1981 Subaru GL ( read more about my Fast and Furious prototype here). Soon, I was zipping around Marlow Manor between 5:00 and 5:45 a.m. flinging papers with deadly accuracy. In fact, a car was a large reason of why I took the Arkansas Democrat paper route to begin with. My uncle kindly sold me the Subaru after he bought a new car and set up a payment plan of $100/month. I made about $400/month with the paper route (to the best of my recollection), so it was a great job for the last two years as a high school student.
The paper truck would drop the bundle of newspapers on the concrete sewer cover at the corner of our yard. I’d carry it up to our front porch. After cutting the plastic binding, I’d begin to rubberband the papers and toss them into my yellow paper bag. It displayed the proud logo of the Democrat emblazoned across its front.
The Democrat in those days was the underdog competing against the much older and established Arkansas Gazette. Here’s a fascinating history of Little Rock’s paper war which resulted in the 1991 closure of the Gazette. The Democrat bought all its assets at the time and changed its name to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to reflect “The Best of Both.” (source)
It wasn’t long before I got so nimble at rolling and banding papers that I simply tossed the paper bundle into the backseat of the Subaru and was able to reach back, grab an paper, roll it, band it and throw it while driving, even managing to hit the driveway on consecutive houses. Before there was Tom Brady setting records for touchdown passes with under inflated footballs, there was Jeff Noble, hitting driveways with eerie accuracy. On occasion, I was known to even stun a cat or two.
Managing a paper route taught me a lot besides cat concussing. Money management and stewardship (it was the first time I began to tithe a portion of my income to my church), customer service, growing a business, and billing and collections were some of the main lessons. I also developed skills such as tossing a seven pound Sunday paper over the roof of my car and watching it smack loudly on a driveway.
Icy or snowy driveways were my favorite times to throw. With the paper encased safely in a clear plastic baggie, it would slide all the way up to customers’ garage doors if you adjusted your throw and timing. If I waited too long, I’d have to stop the car and backtrack to find where it had slid down the side yard or buried itself in the snow off the driveway.
Another perk to being a paper boy was being the most informed person in town (after the editors, reporters and columnists), even if it was for only an hour or so before the town woke up and began to read the daily. This was 1984-1986, pre-Twitter. There were no smart phones to get your news from, and CNN (the first 24-hour news channel) was only four years old. I remember many a morning, sitting in my Subaru and simply… reading the paper. Those were slower days of enjoying news. These days, it’s like putting your mouth to a fire hydrant. Then, it was sipping slowly. After reading it, I threw it away… to my customers.
One of the few downsides (besides inclement weather and unhappy customers) was actually a health hazard. I can’t tell you how many times a rubber band would break while in the middle of being stretched around a paper. The resulting missile was uncannily accurate. It was a split-second between “snap” and pain. Getting popped in the face was the most common result and would often bring newsworthy language.
These days, “breaking news” means a major story is being broadcast immediately for the first time. Those days, breaking news usually meant I’d hit a mailbox with a Sunday paper. Thanks to the folks at the Arkansas Democrat for giving me my first job and making every morning for two years of my life a good news day.