WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE PAPERBOY?

Paper Boy

Thirty years ago, newspapers in the suburbs were delivered by boys on bicycles. Rain or shine, the paperboy would drag into his house the heavy bundle of newspapers dumped on his driveway, stuff the papers and inserts into individual plastic bags, and load them into his delivery bag. Then off he would go on his bicycle.

The routes were close to home, right in the neighborhood. The parents knew each other from school functions, block parties, and Boy Scout events. The neighborhood was considered a safe place for children. Kids played outside with their friends. They rode their bikes on the dirt hills in the new subdivision, used their skateboards on the sidewalks, and played baseball on the school baseball diamond.

Almost every family in the neighborhood subscribed to the local newspaper. Some even took a local paper and a big city paper. It was easy to remember the route. Just put a paper on every doorstep.

Newspapers had strict rules in those days. First, the paper had to be placed next to the door with the name of the paper right side up. That rule was relaxed in later years. The new rules warned against throwing the paper into the bushes or on top of the house. On top of the house? Some kids had better aim than others.

Once a month the paperboy would go door to door to collect the money for the subscription to the paper. Many customers would pay for the paper and, in addition, give the paperboy a generous tip.

The job sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Let’s list some “challenges.” Prior to major holidays such as Christmas and Easter, thick bundles of ads had to be inserted into the paper. This extra weight made it almost impossible for the paperboy to deliver the papers on bicycle. The paperboy had to deliver part of the route, return home for more papers, deliver those papers, and repeat the process until all papers were delivered.

Weather could be a bitter enemy. In the winter, deep snowstorms, frigid temperatures, and icy roads and sidewalks challenged the resolve of the paperboy. In the summer, there were severe thunderstorms with lightning, drenching downpours, and extreme heat.

A paper route was a family project. If customers worked during the day, Mom or Dad drove the paperboy to the customers’ homes at night to collect money for the subscription. If the paperboy went to a Boy Scout camp for a week or two, another family member had to deliver the papers. Still, having a paper route was a good job for a boy aged nine to fifteen.

The paperboy has largely disappeared. Newspapers are delivered by adults who throw the papers out of the windows of their vehicles. No one even tries to get the newspaper next to the door with the name of the paper right side up. The customer is lucky if the paper is not out by the curb buried in snow by the snow plow.

— By Karen Centowski


To see a video about a paperboy, go to The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey—Narrated by Forest Whitaker at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-_FHRK_QwQ.

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