My First Job

I like to think I’ve worked pretty hard my whole life. I got an early start since our parents did not give us an allowance and there were always things that I thought I needed: baseball cards, sodas, candy, and whatever else young kids think they need. The first job I can remember was shortly after we moved to Summit Avenue. My dad offered me a nickel for every dandelion I picked (root and all). Dad thought I’d be bored after too long. Several hours later I presented him a basket of 500-plus of those invasive weeds. Yes, we has a very large yard and yes, it was overrun with weeds! Though my dad was impressed, I think he “renegotiated” our deal and I got something closer to $20. Still, I earned a decent amount, which certainly helped soothe my blisters!

The next job I got was a “real” job. That meant working for someone besides family. In the seventh grade, my buddy Martin talked me into delivering papers. I helped him on his route a few mornings and it intrigued me. I started in the early Fall, just after school started. I worked for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and St. Paul Dispatch. The Pioneer Press was the morning paper and the Dispatch was the afternoon edition. Sunday was a combined delivery. Even though it was a heady load, I liked the fact that I had only one delivery on Sundays.

I did not come from a family of early risers, but there I was at about 4:30 every morning delivering the papers. My route was fairly short – two blocks on Goodrich Avenue between Chatsworth and Lexington Avenues. That route also included at least one apartment building, where I had multiple deliveries. Those are long blocks and I delivered on both sides of the street, so it generally took about just over an hour every morning. The afternoon paper was a little easier since I had less subscribers to the afternoon edition, though some homes took both. Sunday was different. It had the normal news section, but also the weekly insert. We all had to spend about a half hour at the drop off spot combining the papers into the one edition. Since most homes took at least a Sunday paper, I had more deliveries that day. Because of the size of the paper and the number of deliveries, I had to use a wagon to haul the papers. The entire route took around two hours on Sunday.

I delivered papers EVERY DAY that school year. Rain, shine, or snow. There was quite a lot of the latter, so it was really grueling work. Even the most diligent homeowner didn’t shovel their walks by 5AM, so it was tough trudging with that wagon if it snowed. Still, I don’t know if I missed more than one or two deliveries that entire year. Carriers took care of each other if we were deathly sick, but for the most part, you were on your own.

I was an excellent paperboy. My biggest problem was that I was a crappy collection agent. Back then, carriers were considered independent contractors. We had to pay for the papers and collected the subscriptions on a monthly basis from our customers. Our only pay was the difference between what we paid and the subscription amount, plus the rare tip or two. Some months I did okay, but most months I was lucky to break even. I just had a few of deadbeat customers and others who simply never seemed to be around when I came calling to collect. Others would short me because they never seemed to have enough cash. Still, I delivered those papers every day.

I continued my route into the Summer of the following year, but it became much more difficult. My family routinely went to the lake for a week every month. The first month I stayed at home with my dad, but quit the route by the time the next lake week came around. I just wasn’t making enough to make this worth my while and summer was quickly slipping away.

There is no doubt that I learned some very hard lessons that year. I was afraid of and respected my boss. He met the paper carriers at the pickup point every week or two. I can’t imagine being the boss of a number of very young teens, but he did pretty well. He stressed the importance of being diligent. Every day and on time! I think that was one of his constant challenges. I always knew who had and had not picked up their papers based upon the size of the stacks of papers left on the curb. By listening to my boss said and by what some peers failed to do, I learned how to do a job well. I prided myself on being the best paperboy in the neighborhood. I never missed a delivery and I was always on time.

I learned how to strategize my route for maximum efficiency. In the winter I learned how to run the route with the apartments spaced out, so I could get relief from the cold. I learned how important the proper boots and mittens were to help survive the winter weather. I learned how to listen to my customers with special requests (in the mailbox, under the mat, inside the screen door, or even in the doghouse out back). Paying attention to those typically led to an extra dollar or two at collection time.

The hardest part of the job for me, though, was not the wind, the cold, the early hours, the afternoons missed playing. No, it was collecting the darn money from my customers. To this day, I have an extremely hard time asking people for money. When I walked away from my law practice 35-odd years later, I did so with accounts receivable well in excess of $100,000, so this was a lesson definitely NOT learned.

One thing to add here. I mentioned my affinity for dogs in a previous post. My paper route taught me something more. My dog, Tanya, was a boxer rescue. Okay, she was only part boxer. Over that year, Tanya never missed a route. She was my constant companion every step of my paper deliveries. I cannot overstate her importance to me. In the lonely mornings, dark and cold, and in during collections with pockets full of change, Tanya was alway there as my protector, my confidante, and my companion. On that job I learned the value of a true friend!

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