On the glories of dairy product home delivery
|I awoke from a dream, ceiling above and Warren’s face blocking the view.|
“Dan! Wake up. I need your help.”
What the hell?
“I need help delivering the route. Come on- we gotta make tracks.”
Then I remembered- the milk route. I looked at the time- 3 frigging a.m. Unlike the other guys in the apartment, who had regular jobs, I was trying to get by on side work like bucking bales and dish-washing; hence my portion of the rent money was sometimes subsidized by fellow roomies- an embarrassing situation, but one I had to live with for the time being. And since they’d already had their turn in the dairy barrel, to me fell the task of running product up to someone’s front porch. I stumbled into my clothes, sneakers and a light jacket, then made it out to Warren’s car, the coolish spring air waking me up, a hint of nearby sage mingling with the delicious odors of pine and mowed lawn grass.
Off we went through the well-lit but deserted streets of this small, Eastern Oregon college town. Within a couple minutes we’d arrived at a storage building where the product orders awaited. Looking over his route list, Warren handed me a square metallic basket and pointed in the direction of a decrepit delivery van. I opened the double back doors and slid the dairy products inside, then made several more trips back and forth for the rest of the orders. After double-checking the master list, we hopped in the vehicle and were on our way.
This being the third or fourth time I’d worked with Warren, we’d fallen into a routine. As he drove down the street, he’d read off an address, then tell me what to grab for that particular customer. He’d stop and I’d run up to each porch to deposit the ordered goods. As I dashed from door to door, I’d start waking up and get into the spirit of the work. After all, I told myself, this was something unique and straight out of the past. The last time I’d seen a milkman making the rounds in my home town was during the early 1960’s.
But the first night out, things had been a little rough. I was clumsy, not accustomed to running around in the dark with fragile containers entrusted to my care. There were steps to climb, uneven sidewalk sections to watch out for, and the occasional dog to avoid. On one of my first times out of the chute, I tripped and took a header right in front of the van, headlights catching all the action as the milk carton I was carrying hit the asphalt and exploded, covering me with milk and no small amount of shame. All Warren could do was sit there and laugh. But then again, he was sleep-deprived, this being a side job to supplement his income from a security guard job at the local paper mill.
As I became more proficient at my role, I learned how to quietly pad across the shadow-drenched front or side porch, lift the lid of the white, 12” by 15” pressboard milk box and deposit the goods before slowly lowering the lid and sneaking back to the van. I was actually starting to enjoy these early morning jaunts. The air was fresh and cool, the scent of neighboring hay and wheat fields mingling with dew-soaked lawns and lilac blossoms. Then again, this was only natural, considering that the town was a speck of civilization surrounded by the forested hills of Mt. Emily, Mt. Fanny, the next town or city many miles distant. It was one of many things I loved about that small burg.
As we rode along, I found the assortment of goods interesting. There was 3% milk, 2% milk, skim milk, chocolate milk and low-fat milk, some in glass containers with crimped paper caps, others in lowly cartons. Orange juice, cottage cheese, and sour cream were available, too. There were other items, as well, which I no longer remember- but I finally understood why this stuff was delivered so early. Brought to homes after sunup would have meant a lot of spoiled product.
And so it was that we made our way through dark alleys and brightly-lit avenues, cul-de-sacs, and wide suburban streets, everyone asleep but us. After an hour had passed, we were nearing the end of the route, and I was looking forward to a quick crawl back into bed. One of the last stops was on the outskirts of town- a run-down, poorly illuminated trailer court, where the heavenly scents of mowed grass had long ago been replaced by the smell of rancid beer bottles, rotting garbage, and the like. Anxious to be finished, I jumped out of the truck and was placing a load of produce on a wooden stairway, when I noticed the back end of a bike sticking out from under the porch steps.
As of late, I’d developed a keen interest in bicycles of the ten-speed variety. After my 1964 Dodge Polara stopped running, months earlier, a red ten-speed bicycle had become my only mode of transportation. I rode it to the college, to work, and out into the country for treks along narrow country roads flanked by wheat and alfalfa fields. Believing that since I was in such a small town, most folk in it were honest, God-fearing citizens- so no one would bother my bike if I left it outside my apartment all night. For a week or so, that plan worked. But one morning I went out front and the bike was gone. Suddenly, everyone I saw who looked even a bit shady was a potential criminal. Unwilling to admit that the bike theft was my owned damned fault, I began taking a dim view of the small town I lived in. So much for it being any different from the big city I used to live in.
One day, after having given up hope of ever getting my beloved bike back, I was driving my roommate’s car along a side street, when I glanced at a front yard. And there it was- my bike! I parked down the street and walked back to the house. Moving as close to the ten-speed as I could, I could see that it was mine. But to grab it risked violence, as several men were just inside the front door, laughing and carrying on. Realizing I’d never be able to outrun a speeding car full of reprobates, I sped off to the police department, returning shortly with an officer. But the bike was gone. After the cop told me how difficult it would be to regain possession of my bike without something called an “affidavit,” I drove home, pissed off and disconsolate.
And so, here it was, a couple months later- me staring at what was possibly my stolen bike, and wondering what to do next. Could this really be happening? Faint hope stirring, I took a closer look through the gloom, as a large dog started growling from somewhere on the other side of the porch. The bike was red. I stepped forward and carefully pulled it out in the open. The dog was still growling, perhaps a bit louder than before. I recognized the brand. It was mine. The seat was gone, but I didn’t care. Thrills of adrenaline coursing through me, I looked at the van, then at the trailer windows. No one was up yet. Yanking the bike out in front of me, I ran like hell for the van, as the dog exploded with a volley of barks. Breathless, I told Warren to get out of there as fast as he could. Then I tore out of the court with the bike at my side, dashing down a dark street some one-hundred yards to the waiting delivery van. I whipped open the back doors, tossing the bike and myself inside.
As Warren drove to the end of the route, I explained my actions, overjoyed at the fact that for once I’d beaten the bad guys. I’d stolen back what was rightfully mine, affidavit be damned. All the way back to the storage building, I watched for the inevitable flashing red and blue lights of a patrol car, sure we were going to be stopped. But the lights never appeared. After returning to the apartment, I unloaded the bike, put it in a safe place, and went upstairs to a blissful and untroubled sleep. Thus ended my milk delivery career.