I’m proud to have been a “paperboy.” Perhaps the title’s not politically correct these days, but that’s what I was referred to back then. Throughout my 66 years of livin’, I’ve bumped into many people claiming the same childhood occupation. On rare occasion, I stumble across someone having delivered newspapers in Alaska like myself.
I was in seventh grade when this short-lived career began. A high school kid delivered the morning paper to our family. One afternoon he stopped by our trailer with an older route manager. They were canvassing the area in search of a new carrier.
My brother, Jim, already had the Anchorage Times afternoon route. I helped him most evenings. Taking on delivery of the Anchorage Daily News morning newspaper seemed like a smart thing to do. We’d monopolize the whole trailer park. It seemed a bit greedy, yet the money would be flowing in and that’s all that counted.
The month was January, and my first week meant walking with the retiring carrier in minus-10-degree weather to learn his route. I’m talking about a huge-trailer-court with well over 300 mobile homes. It was easily a mile hike plus some.
We waited for the bundle of newspapers to be dropped off at a tiny block building near the main park entrance. My ingenious mentor showed me a secret way to get inside the structure. It basically meant jimmying the lock with a screwdriver hidden within a broken cinder block.
There was a small electric-heater inside to keep pipes from freezing. That tiny heat source is what sustained us until papers arrived. This building housed a large pump which supplied water to the whole compound. Deep down a concrete shaft complete with ladder, water could be heard running from an underground artisan stream.
Weather was brutally cold during that time. I wore a military style parka with insulated underwear and warm boots. I recall the guy smoking cigarettes as we trudged through snow and lingering ice fog. His tobacco smoke hung in the air like a mystic cloud at each stop.
After finally going solo, it was a bit unnerving to be out there all alone at 5:00 in the morning. Feeling quite uneasy at the start, Jim accompanied me until I overcame my fear.
During my 3-years of delivering I encountered many strange and unusual sights. Moose were the most common hurdle. I’d been cautioned by other carriers to stay clear. On one occasion, a bull moose chased me down the street. Thankfully, a pickup was parked in front of one residence. I jumped into its open bed and waited until the huge creature slowly ambled away. Because of such incidents I learned to periodically glance over my shoulder. That habit remains to this day.
Another time I was stalked by what I believed to be dogs. Stray dogs were common in the park. Turns out these critters were either wolves or coyotes. It was dark so all I could see was the glare in their eyes from my flashlight. Only because someone was up that morning, and this man opened his door and scared the animals away, I was able to come out unscathed.
A tiny bar was located across the highway called, ‘Pastime.’ Back then in Anchorage, drinking establishments were open pretty much 24-hours. I was always coming across people stumbling home from that joint. One of them was a classmate’s dad. One morning I found him virtually crawling on the asphalt. I had to lead the poor man to his trailer.
One part of delivering newspapers that I didn’t like was collecting the subscription money. This chore went with the job. Some people faked like they weren’t there when I came knocking, even though I’d seen or heard them beforehand. Others asked me to come back in a few days when they got paid. Often times it took weeks to get the money. I believe the subscription rate for all seven days was $2.75.
On another occasion, I stopped by a place to collect and the owner answered her door in a sheer negligee. She asked me to come inside but I told her I’d wait in the enclosed patio. This intoxicated woman was a widowed school teacher perhaps in her 50’s, maybe older. That sight will unfortunately never leave my mind.
Sunday newspapers because of size were the heaviest to carry. It took multiple trips to that heated building to reload my bag. I’d stuff it so full that I could barely walk. These days, I attribute a small percentage of my bad hips to lugging Sunday papers.
One of my perks after the first year of delivering was being able to buy a used Honda 50 motorcycle. I tried to deliver papers on it but that didn’t work out. A snow machine was also used for a short period, but it made too much noise and people complained. Bicycles were too slow and cumbersome. A simple Red Flyer wagon worked great during summer months. I often dreamed of having a dog team. That would’ve made for a classic Alaskan paperboy photo.
Perhaps the one negative thing coming from my paperboy days was that my school grades suffered. I’d come home each morning after delivering, and attempt to take a 15-minute power nap before heading to the bus stop.
Sometimes because of a late delivery those naps didn’t come. There were a few times I missed the bus completely because of such. Mom drove me to Clark Junior High on those occasions.
Being a paperboy helped be to become somewhat responsible in certain areas. Back then, the carrier was called if a subscriber’s paper went missing. On occasion, mom took care of those complaints after I’d left for school. Mostly though, I’d take care of the dilemma when school was out.
It seems the name paperboy has gone the way of soda jerk. You hardly hear either word anymore.
I’m proud to have been a paperboy. It’s a much respected namesake. Had I been a soda jerk, and someone actually called me that, them would’ve been fightin’ words for sure!