The U.N. General Assembly has declared May 3 World Press Freedom Day. To commemorate, I’ll relate my four experiences selling and delivering newspapers.
The first two were fleeting and unsuccessful. When I was 11, I answered an ad on the back of a Little Lulu comic book, which promised me that “Grit, the Family Paper” would fly out of my hands as I trawled door-to-door through my neighborhood. I didn’t get one subscription. Not even from my mother.
When I was 12, I had a career hawking, newsboy-style, The Daily Oklahoman at the local strip mall. I was way too introverted for this job: Instead of waving the paper aloft and yelling, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Paperboy overcomes shyness!”, I stood on the sidewalk in front of Sears Roebuck, arms at my sides, making eye contact with no one. One lady did divine that I was selling papers and wrestled one from me, but when the supervisor came by after a couple of hours to see if I needed more papers and saw that I had sold only one, it spelled the end of Adam Granger the Newsboy.
But things got better: I got a paper route. Today, your newspaper is probably delivered by an adult in an automobile, but 50 years ago, kids delivered newspapers, on foot or on bicycle. A paper route was a franchise: The company gave you papers, you delivered those to your customers, you got money from your customers and from those proceeds you paid the company what you owed it.
I delivered my hometown newspaper, The Norman Transcript (commonly called The Misprint in those days, but only because the joke was so convenient that one had no choice). It came out six afternoons and Sunday morning, and I delivered it to about 60 addresses. When I’d get home from school, the papers would be waiting for me in a bundle tied with white twine. I would fold them into triangles that could be flipped like Frisbees, stuff them into a wheat-colored canvas bag with “Norman Transcript” silkscreened on its side in red and black letters, sling the bag over my shoulder, hop on my bike and “throw the route.” This took about an hour, and I made just about a dollar a day. Not bad work for a 13-year-old at a time when a car-hop salary was 35 cents an hour.
There were downsides, however. Sometimes, on the top of your bundle, under the white twine, there would be a small pink slip. This was called a Kick, and it was issued when a customer supposedly didn’t get their paper. The address of the offense would be written on the slip and printed below in quotes was “Kicks cost you a dime.” The carrier had no right of appeal. Never mind that the dog might have taken Mr. Foster’s paper or that Mrs. Jones might have kicked hers off of her stoop.
The other hassle was collecting. I had a book containing a card for each of my customers. There were little perforated rectangles on each card, and when I received payment from a customer, I’d tear off one and give it to them as a receipt. Ultimately, my salary was based on how accurately and thoroughly I undertook this endeavor.
So, off I would go on my bike after dinner (when people were home, I hoped) to knock on doors. Most paid promptly, but some would hide behind the curtains and not answer, necessitating repeat visits. You know you’ve sunk low when you hide from a 13-year-old paperboy because you don’t have the $1.65 you owe him.
My final paper delivery gig, in 1966, was again with the Transcript, when I was in high school. I would come to the office at 5 o’clock, as the staff was leaving. I’d lock the front door and sit for two hours at the switchboard—a cool, old-fashioned behemoth—taking calls from people who hadn’t gotten their papers. At 7, I’d shut down the switchboard, grab a handful of Transcripts, turn off the lights, lock the door, get in my car and, having arranged the addresses in logical fashion, deliver the missing papers. I was paid 25 cents per—which amounted to about $6 an hour—plus an hourly wage for my time at the office. It was a wonderful job: It was fun running that switchboard and I got to know Norman, Okla., really well.
Those, then, are my newspaper experiences. I wish I had stories of my nailing revolutionary broadsides—under sniper fire—to ghetto walls, or of my defending an honest editor against a lynch mob in a small, corrupt town, but this is what I’ve got: modest stories of deeds noble and necessary, if not heroic and dangerous.
Happy World Press Freedom Day.
Adam Granger makes his home with his wife, son, dog and cat in St. Anthony Park. He is a frequent contributor to the Park Bugle.