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The jams and slams of the paperboy business

Mike came in, talking fast, "Now don't get mad at me. Just hear me out. I got these four paper routes for you and me. You got a car, gets good mileage, so...."

"Mike, slow down. You signed us both up for...?"

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"Sure. You said you wanted to make some money. Before you get mad, just...."

"Mike. I'm not going to get mad. I might give it a try if you slow down enough so we can figure out what's happening."

When he did slow down, I said I'd help him get started, and we'd take it from there. I did need to make some money, but mainly, I didn't want to leave Mike stranded, without transportation.

It wouldn't be the first time I've delivered papers. When I was 13, I wanted to earn money. My neighbor said, "We'd like to get a paper. There isn't any delivery out here. You could start a route."

I called the local newspaper, found out what to do, then sold 75 subscriptions.

With gravel roads in our neighborhood, western Oregon's heavy winter rain, and dogs that threatened anyone on a bicycle, delivering papers became an adventure.

I learned to keep my bicycle between me and a growling dog. With the cooperation of their owners, we got most of the dogs trained to let me deliver papers in peace. I learned to ride with a heavy load of papers over my front wheel trying to pull the wheel from the path I planned through loose gravel.

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I learned that a few people wouldn't pay for their papers,. But the people who added a dollar or two to their payment as a tip more than made up my losses.

After two years of delivering papers, I learned that other work paid better. A friend took over the route, and I went to work setting up pins in a bowling alley.

Now I had the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with delivering papers.

By the time the circulation manager got the routes mapped out for Mike the next day, it was an hour and a half until dark. I drove, and Mike got in and out of the car and delivered the papers.

I said, "Mike, I know you're excited about the new job, but if you keep slamming the door, it's going to break. Everything we earn will go into fixing it."

"Sorry. I'm used to my pickup. You have to lift up on the door and slam it hard." He got out to deliver the next paper and slammed the door. I started reaching over to catch the door before it slammed.

Mike had been over the routes only once with the manager, and it took time to figure out where the papers went. Darkness descended on us in the old part of town, where street lamps shone dimly, far apart. Large trees blocked what light there was.

I said, "I have to go pick up my daughter at work. She can ride with us for the rest of the route, or I can take her home and then come back."

"Take her home. I can do this part on foot better anyway."

Mike stuffed papers in a canvas bag. Cold rain drizzled down. He slipped the bag over his head, so he had papers hanging front and back. He stepped away from the car, into darkness and rain. He said, "Good thing it isn't raining."

I took Amanda home, drove back, and found Mike walking up the middle of the street, wet and forlorn. He said, "It's too dark. You can't see the house numbers. Some of the houses don't have numbers."

"Get in. I called the circulation manager. I'll take you to the office, and he'll take you around the rest of the route. He'll take you around the next two days, so you'll actually know the routes. I told him you're really a hero, but even a hero can't learn four routes in one day."

Three days later, Mike and I played a game of chess. He won in about five minutes. He said, "You need to practice more."

I said, "I do need to make money, Mike, but not at $3 an hour for me and my car. You can fix your pickup and pay for the extra gas it uses with what you'd have to pay me, and you'll have money left over."

"I know. I fixed my pickup. I wanted to give you a chance to make some money, but I wouldn't want to work with you. You're too picky: 'Don't slam the door! Don't slam the door!' That's all I heard from you the whole time." He gathered up his chess set. "But thanks for helping me get started, and thanks for putting in a good word with the manager for me. Now he thinks I am a hero, getting these routes out of his hair." Mike headed toward the afternoon's papers.

I turned on my computer. I needed to try to make some money.

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