Early morning for Paper boys is a magical place in time.
|The Lucky Paperboy
Twelve-year-old Brent awoke on a January Sunday morning to the only 24 hour radio station available in his town in 1970. Someone was talking very seriously about UFO sightings and “extra-terrestrials moving among us unawares”. Brent thought these guys were looney tunes but he liked waking to them better than the alternative grating buzzer of his clock radio. It was 3:30 am.
Brent dressed methodically; donning long underwear, sweatshirt, jeans and two pairs of socks. One cotton and one wool. It was cold in Minnesota. Brent went downstairs and over to the window above the kitchen sink and looked intently at the thermometer. Five above zero Fahrenheit. Not bad if the wind was low, he thought. He put plastic bread bags over his socks and slipped his feet into the new “snowmobile boots” he had received for Christmas. Taking his army green “snorkel” parka from the hallway, he put it on, zipped it up, found his scarf (in case of wind), his purple Vikings stocking hat and chopper mittens and left the house quietly. “No need to wake up the whole family” Dad had told him.
He moved out onto the step. The snow crunched under his boots. The cold felt sharp in his nose. His breath hanging in the stillness. Man! It was quiet. So quiet his ears began to ring. Then a familiar sound broke through the chill of the early morning air. An 18 wheeler, avoiding the touchy air brakes, was Jake-braking down the hill over on Old Shakopee Road trying to stay safe on the icy pavement. It stopped as quickly as it started. All was quiet again.
He crunch-crunch-crunched his way over to the side of the garage and wrenched his newspaper delivery cart out of the snowbank where it had frozen in since last week’s use. It came along grudgingly at first as he dragged it into the street. The bearings loosening up as he went, the cart was soon rolling along nicely with only the occasional squeak, which in the silence sounded like tiny mechanical screams.
He had a good mile to walk, towing the empty paper cart on snow packed streets in the quiet cold of the predawn Sunday. The Minneapolis Star Tribune delivery truck would arrive soon and drop 400 or so papers, heavy with extras for the weekend. They came in 3 bundled sections. Each of the paper boys were required to break the bundles and assemble his papers. The “News” was placed on top of the “Want Ads” and then both of these inserted into the “Funnies” creating a large paper which was then stacked in the cart. Each boy was responsible for his route. Each route consisted of delivery to 50 or 60 suburban homes over a couple square miles of bedroom community.
It was important to get to the pick-up station early. Or at least not late. If you were the last to arrive, you got the leftovers. A shortage, and there was always a shortage, meant a two mile hike down to the newspaper vending machine at the strip mall. Then purchasing at your own expense, the papers needed to complete the now, late deliveries to your customers. Some of these customers had the unfortunate habit of waiting angrily in bathrobe and slippers to tongue lash the little reprobate who had the temerity to bring THEIR paper late.
As he trudged toward the paper pick-up station. Brent began his practice of listening to hear sounds of the neighborhood stirring. Partly out of fear of the dark and the unknown but also out of a keen interest in all the details of life. A screen door opening noisily and clamping shut to let a dog out for a pee. A car door slamming, either from some early shifter making his way to a weekend job, or a bar patron arriving home after closing a favorite watering hole. Dogs barked. People coughed. Cats scurried from shadow to shadow. Various doors opened and closed. Lights went on in small windows, then, after a few moments they went off again. The sights and sounds seemed always the same to Brent and yet they were a fascinating snapshot of his suburban, upbringing. A snapshot that the vast majority of people would never know. In some ways, Brent thought, us paperboys are lucky.
J. Lynn Lindsay