This past weekend’s paper was the first that we delivered entirely by the U.S. Mail. That means we’ve said goodbye to the vast majority of our carriers.
I don’t relish that, not a bit. Many of these people served you day-in and day-out for years. They walked, biked or drove in the angry heat of August and the razor cold of January. They woke up early on Sunday mornings; they worked late on weekdays. They had to skip family events or other obligations to take care of you.
They put the paper inside the screen door if you needed them to. They put it by the side door, not the back door, the one that you can only find if you know what you’re doing. They stopped to chat about the weather, or about kids, or about school. You watched some of them grow up, and you saw their brothers and sisters take over the route, and grow up, too.
For many of you, hearing the thump on your doorstep when the paper landed there was a highlight of the day.
I know this. I fully understand it.
I know it partly because, many years ago, I was one of those carriers. I lugged those big, fat Sunday papers up that hill on College Heights Road, wearing moon boots and a gigantic down jacket in the snow, plus a face mask I think I stole from Erik Stone. Seemed like winters were way worse in the late ’70s.
Back in my day, I had to not only deliver papers, I had to insert all the sections and ads. I got multiple bundles that I had to combine before I could fold the papers. I also had to go around and collect every month from my customers. And I knocked on doors of homes that did not subscribe, trying to persuade them to start. These things went away as the gig evolved over the past 20 years. But anyway that meant I was in sales, service, logistics, supplies, collections, and — oh yeah — finance, or at least bookkeeping. I made sure I cleared a profit every month. I had to be insured and bonded.
It never stopped. The paper came out six days a week, and if I had a baseball game or a family vacation, I had to make arrangements for a sub. Responsibility. Call in sick? Pfft.
It was really a great lesson, a great experience. And of course it taught me that it’s all always about people, and about exceeding expectations.
I’ve heard all this reflected back to me many, many times, including quite a bit in the past few days. People who are now surgeons, venture capitalists, tech CEOs, and bank presidents. Stand-up comics and hotel GMs. (That’s you, Brad Everett, and your brothers and sisters.) Newspaper publishers, including my brother Jay, whose route covered Midland and Elling. I’ve heard it from lots of moms and dads — and by the way, my oldest kid had a route, too. He’s now running his own business.
I’ve heard it from people who wax less nostalgic, but who supported their families with extra income from a route. I heard it from Roger Reitz, who still had a route when he was also a practicing physician and a city commissioner.
I say all this partly to revel in nostalgia, I suppose, but mostly as a set-up for this:
To all our carriers, past and present, thank you. Thank you for your dedication, for your consistency, and for your service to your customers. Times change, and eras shift, and we all have to adapt. We have to leave behind some things that we like, or even love, but we won’t forget them. We will forever have the memories, and the gratitude.