I uploaded the Projo app to my iPad the other day. I love it.
So why do I feel so guilty?
No, I don’t feel guilty because I am another one of those people driving the newspaper business to the brink — and I must admit, I am one who does love the feel of holding a newspaper and a book. No, I feel guilty because I feel I am driving the newspaper carriers out of business. And I say this as a former newspaper carrier. I say former because once you have been a newspaper carrier, you are always a newspaper carrier.
Ah, I remember it like it was yesterday....
Years ago, early, early, early in the morning — we’re talking like 3:30 a.m. early — when it was dark and ever so cold and no sane person should be awake, my father and I would be awake. At those times, we would be sitting next to each other in my father’s old, grey, piece-of-crud Chevy Nova with its AM radio and coat-hanger antenna. We were waiting for the ProJo truck so that we could begin our paper route.
I was siting in the passenger seat bundled up in almost every piece of clothing that I had been able to find in my drawers. At 3 in the morning, fashion meant nothing. Warmth--that was my only thought. So I had a system: It usually began with a T-shirt and underwear. The next layer was long-johns followed by a couple of short-sleeve T-shirts (why, I have no idea), jeans, two-long sleeve shirts, a thick hooded sweatshirt, a heavy winter coat (typically one with a huge rip in the back which exposed all the stuffing), a winter hat and gloves (which never matched, naturally). This delightful ensemble kept me warm but allowed for minimal movement. In truth, it allowed for minimal blood flow, but that was unimportant at the time. In fact, except for the steam of my breath, it was difficult to see if I existed at all under the clothing. (I often fantasized about just putting my clothes in the car to see if my father noticed the difference. I could imagine him driving along, humming to himself: ”You’re awfully quiet today son.”) Yet while these clothes might have seemed like overkill, they were a necessity stemming from the fact that my Dad would shut the car off while parked. No running car meant no hot engine. No hot engine meant no heat. (Notice though I said no heat while parked. This I will get back to later.)
So there I would sit, hoping the feeling in my cheeks would fade, while my father was enraptured by the wild antics that can only come from AM radio at 3:30. In those days, my father especially loved his WBZ radio out of Boston. For some reason, although we sat in a freezing car in Burrillville, my Dad enjoyed listening to the traffic report from Boston. I never understood this. What possible good could be gained from the fact that there was no traffic on Storrow Drive? Yet my father always seemed genuinely pleased when there was no back-up on 93 North. Ahhh... AM radio.
Eventually — mercifully — the driver would arrive with our bundles. Day after day, we would be in the same car, in the same spot, at the same time, yet time after time, the driver would ask us the same question:
“You guys waiting for papers?”
Now if I had just the slightest bit of consciousness at that time, I would have replied to his insightful question with any equally insightful response:
“No buddy, we just wanted to see how long it would take for two fools to freeze in their car.”
“No, we just didn’t want to give up our killer parking space.”
But I never did. Instead, I would smile, pull myself out of the car, grab the bundles and throw them lovingly into the back seat. Then, my dad and I would drive off, our front tires now barely touching the ground due to the added weight that filled the back seat and the trunk. For those who were wondering — nothing is cooler than being 14 and doing wheelies with your old man at 3:30 in the morning!
Over the years of working together, my father and I had developed a system. He was the driver and gunner. He drove the route and was responsible for throwing the papers or putting them into the mailboxes early in the route. (Later on in the route, we divided that duty.) Because of this, he drove with his window down. I, on the other hand, was the bagger and supplier. It was my job to put the papers into those wonderful little plastic bags and then hand those bagged papers to him when needed. Consequently, my window was up. (Note: Early in the morning, look to see if the car in front of you has a sleeve of bags hanging from its rear-view mirror. Tell-tale sign of a newspaper carrier.) Now, because my father had his window down, the heater would be going full blast because he would freeze. I knew that. I understood that. I respected that. I, on the other hand, not only had on my thermal clothing but I had the added insulation that can only come from hundreds of rolled up bagged newspapers stacked all over my body. Now, add to that, the heater blowing full blast in my face, I would be, for lack of a better description, in hell. So my father would be driving along comfortably while I was sweating off a good five to six pounds of water. However, this plastic-bag insulation served as a poor-man’s airbag because if there had ever been an accident, there was no way in God’s green earth that those bagged newspapers crammed around my body were going to let me go anywhere.
My father and I also developed our own language. Well, mostly my father. My father was a true vulgarian and utilized profanities the same way a chef would play with spices. My father believed that any situation could be rectified if one simply used the correct expletives in the correct sequence. Certain profanities had come to correspond to certain unexpected mishaps which would occur in the route. It was my job to hear the profanity, understand the meaning of the profanity, and provide the appropriate response. Some of these were verbal, such as making some sort of guttural sound in recognition, but most of them were physical because certain profanities were usually followed by a slamming on of the breaks, which could, if I was not prepared, give me whiplash. Yet over the years, my father and I got it down pretty well.
An example of some of our code would be:
**#$#&&&$: usually said by me in response to the tiny plastic bag ripping when I tried to put the paper in it.
!@#$%^&&: said by my father when he would miss the newspaper tube and still had possession of the newspaper in his hand. This would be followed by a rapid de-acceleration as my father would jam on the brakes. Then, a sudden weightlessness as my father would slam the car into reverse, back up to the tube, and then the whiplash as he returned to drive, now at an even higher rate of speed to make up for the missed tube.
*^&#%#$#$: same as above except this time my father missed the tube and the paper was now on the ground blowing in the wind.
!@#!@#: this one meant that my father had thrown the newspaper, but the newspaper had missed its mark.
$%^&$%##$ followed by “Oh Well”: This one meant that my father had thrown the newspaper, the newspaper missed its mark and he sure as heck was not about to go look for it.
#$%^*&**#, followed by sudden press on the accelerator: This one meant that either he had thrown the newspaper and broken the potted plant left so lovingly on the front porch or he had hit the elderly man wearing pajamas who had been waiting for his paper dead in the head, knocking him on the ground.
So, in a nutshell, a sequence for delivering a newspaper in a tube often went: Drive up to tube. !@#$%^&&. Jam brakes. Shift to reverse. Back up. Drive by tube. Jam brakes. Forward again for another try. *^&#%#$#$: Hit brakes. Door opens. Dad out. Paper put manually into tube. Dad in. Door slam. Shift. Hit gas. Accelerate to 75 to go 5 feet. Repeat.
As the copilot, I felt the brunt of every stop, every go, every swerve, every corner, every reverse. Like being trapped in the Scrambler at Rocky Point ad nauseum. (Pun intended.) These sensations when coupled with the stifling heat often made me quite queasy. One cold morning, I had gotten especially sick. I told my dad that I felt like I was going to vomit. He looked at me, saw that I spoke the truth, stopped the car and let me out. I got out and my dad said, “Shut the door.” I looked at him. He was serious. So I shut the door and he drove off — leaving me to heave into some poor man’s shrubs. He had gone on, delivered the paper to some more houses, and then returned to find me sitting on the side of the road. He stopped — which I guess I should have been grateful for as I look back. I got in the car and made some comment to him. He looked back at me saying, “You’re fine. We are running behind enough as it is.”
True enough. My vomiting was akin to a slow-down in the Mass Turnpike — both were totally unacceptable to my father.
Mercifully, the route would come to an end. We would return home and I would get ready to school, knowing that I got to do the whole thing over again tomorrow. So, to my fellow newspaper carriers, I say, “I feel your pain.”
Yet maybe my ProJo app is saving some poor soul from the paper route experience.
Well then, to that young man no longer being awakened by his father at an ungodly hour because I downloaded the app, all I can say is: you are welcome.